Tamales are the quintessential community project. The production is well suited for an assembly line, there are periods of sitting and waiting (i.e. drinking and gossiping), and the final products come pre-wrapped in little distributable packages. I’ve been wanting to make them since returning from Tulum with Tami.
Only problem is, not only have I never made them, but nobody in my family ever has either. The same was true for the crew that assembled last weekend for a tamale making party of my own organization. Heck, most of us had never even eaten that many tamales.
In an attempt to make up for a collective inexperience, I read Tamales 101 by Alice Guadalupe Tapp pretty much cover to cover (thanks for lending it Sally!). I love Alice. I want to hang out with her – she explains it all simply and uses little hand drawn illustrations. I also recommend this video tutorial from Carmen…it reminds me of a Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow segment. Carmen’s enthusiasm is catchy.
On Wednesday we agreed to tackle two recipes: Chicken Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa and Chocolate Tamales. On Thursday and Friday we searched our respective neighborhoods for ingredients like corn husks, tomatillos, and fresh masa. Market Basket and Whole Foods had everything except the fresh masa. The owner of a Hispanic grocery in Waltham told me I wouldn’t find any in Boston. Anywhere. Community boards around the intranet – here and here – suggest directly approaching tortillarias. Gillian sighed, “I bet I’ve walked ten miles looking for this stuff.”
We gave up and bought a bag of masa harina.
Saturday afternoon we fixed up a pitcher of margaritas and started doling out jobs: Salsa-maker, husk-soaker, masa-mixer, chicken-cooker. It was cooking by committee. Everyone was called in for consultations – too hot? too thick? more broth? – and gathered around to witness the first tamales going through the assembly line. Here’s what that looked like:
And the final product? I guess I’d set the bar low, seeing as how we walked into it blind, because after taking one bite I announced, “Wow – they don’t suck!” Two or three tamales into our little feast everyone agreed that not only did the tamales not suck, they were pretty freakin good. I think Alice would be proud.