Pork Tamales

PSA: I wrote this a few weeks ago (this being the text after the ***), after I'd finally gotten back into cooking and made both the Egg and Tofu Spring Rolls with Nori and the Sausage and Rye Bread Pudding.  I hadn't cooked in a very long time, which, as you might guess, was both indicative of the mental hole I was in and instrumental in keeping me down in it.  I was planning on posting this soon after I'd written it, but it became tangental rather than central to both of the other two posts as I tried to write them, so I cut this out.  I've included it for this post instead, since I enjoy writing in stream of consciousness sometimes.  I like the way it turned out, anyway.

This week, now that I've been sleeping more in addition to cooking more, I've been feeling so so so much better.  My work ethic has decreased to accommodate an adequate amounts of sleep each night, which isn't an excellent thing to do, but it's important.  You have to take care of yourself sometimes.  I've overcommitted myself this quarter for sure, but I am surviving, and now I know what my limits are.  I just have to hang on, get my schoolwork and work assignments done, and not ever ever ever again give myself a schedule like this.  Not ever.

Note 11/21/2013: Pictures are up, finally!


I went grocery shopping after practice and made myself a nourishing meal.  Several meals, actually, for the days to come.  I haven't done that in quite a while, mostly subsisting off the tamales I'd made with Jimmy and Stefan a couple weeks ago and stashed in the freezer.  But yes, oh how lovely it was that I came home after practice and didn't do any school work, no real (that is, job) work, no coding psych data.  I just set my groceries on the counter and went to work: sautéing sweet onions and sausage, chopping up stale rye bread into fragrant hunks redolent with caraway seeds, tossing them in a quick milk-and-egg custard with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of nutmeg, and throwing my savory bread pudding into the oven alongside a couple sweet potatoes, before setting my sights on some rice paper wrappers and nori sheets I conveniently had in the pantry.

I heated up a skillet with canola and sesame oils, put my pretty red kettle on to boil, and broke apart a slab of silken tofu, tossing it with the warm oil and a mound of grated fresh ginger.  I pulled a couple eggs from the fridge and beat them before tossing them gently with the tofu to make something of a tofu omelet, which I cooked completely and chilled before slicing into strips.  Avocado, nori, omelet, and a sauce of tahini and soy were folded into the rice paper, which had been softened by the hot water.  I took photos in our apartment's bright living room, filled with light from the east-facing windows, first of the delicate spring rolls, and then of my sausage and rye bread pudding that was still steaming from the oven.

Pork Tamales:

1/2 pound dried corn husks

Soak the corn husks in water overnight.  When you're ready to make the tamales, drain and rinse the husks.

Braised Pork Shoulder:

4-5 pound bone-in pork shoulder
1 bay leaf
1 large onion (or 2 small)
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano (it's okay if you just have regular dried oregano)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
~1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Place the pork shoulder in a large slow-cooker and cover with water.  Peel the onions, quarter them, and add them to the pork, then peel the garlic and add the cloves whole as well.  Add the bay leaf and spices, adding more or less of each as you see fit.  Cover and cook on high for ~6 hours until the bone basically comes out of the shoulder on its own and the meat falls apart at the touch.

Let cool slightly before transferring the meat to a bowl and shredding, either with your fingers or two forks.  Remove the bay leaf from the broth, then blend the vegetables into the stock in a blender (or with an immersion blender, which is especially useful here).  Add enough broth to the bowl of shredded pork to keep it moist but not drown it (you don't want the tamales to be too watery).


1 1/2 c lard
6 c masa harina
~2 teaspoons salt
~2 teaspoons chili powder

In a large bowl combine the lard, salt, and chili powder, then whip thoroughly until aerated.  Stir in the masa harina.  Begin by adding 1 c of broth, and continue to add more broth in ~1/2 c increments until the dough has come together and it doesn't crumble when you try to roll it into a ball with your hands.  I mixed my masa by hand rather than with a utensil, but you could use a hand mixer instead if you'd like.  If you put a little ball of masa into a cup of water, it should float when it's properly hydrated and beaten.  When you're mixing the masa you really want to make sure to aerate it by beating well.

Fill a large pot with a steamer basket in the bottom with about an inch of water.  If you don't have a steamer that can fit inside your pot, you can just throw a bunch of silverware (that won't melt with the heat) in the bottom so that you can put tamales into the pot without them touching the water (you just want the water to create steam).

To form the tamales, take a couple tablespoons of masa and roll it into a ball between your hands.  Hold a corn husk such that the tapered end is facing away from you and the edges are curling upward.  Smear the masa against the front half of the corn husk such that you have a 1/8 inch thick rectangle with an inch or so border of husk showing on the bottom, right, and left sides (you're going to fold up the back half, so you want to keep that empty too).  Take about a tablespoon of shredded pork and place it in the center of the masa, making sure to leave some masa showing all around the filling.  Fold up the right (or left first, if you're so inclined) side such that the exposed edges of masa touch and create a seal all around the filling.  Fold the other side over to enclose the masa pocket with the corn husk, then fold over the bottom half to create an envelope (the end that was closest to you will be left open).

Fill your prepared pot with tamales - you can just stack them on top of each other.  Set over high heat to bring the water to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for ~2 hours.  Make sure to check the water level often and add more water as necessary.

I served my tamales with salsa, sour cream, and black beans.  I wish that I'd had some cilantro too!

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