Tamales, a new gastronomic proposal

To achieve a gourmet tamale, you need attractive and new fillings that awaken the diner's interest, as well as giving you something to eat that is familiar but improved, with a different flavour and an innovative and pleasant presentation.

Preserving the traditional preparation and using haute cuisine, you get new tamale options with different flavours and a novel proposal to the palate of the diner.

Traditional tamales
Traditional tamales

Corn

It is originally from America. Prehistoric remains of tiny ears of corn have been found in the Valley of Tehuacán

Because of its importance, corn became an object of religious worship and various types of ceremonies were organized around it. Before eating it, they treated it with tenderness and delicacy. Before cooking it, they warmed it with the breath so that it would not suffer from the changes of temperature and if they found some grain in the ground they would pick it up and pray a prayer, to excuse the waste and prevent the gods from taking revenge by producing droughts and hunger.

The succulence and variety of Mexican cuisine have made it one of the most appreciated food items. Its origins go back to the prehispanic period, to the so-called Culture of the Corn, since around it and complemented with chillies, pumpkins, rabbit meat, armadillo and turkey, the most varied dishes were elaborated, which would reach a ritual character at times. Corn constitutes one of the main offerings to the gods and dead. Excavations in the Valley of Tehuacán, in the state of Puebla, revealed the consumption, for more than seven thousand years, of the basic cereal par excellence in the Mesoamerican diet: a tiny wild ear, complement of hunts along with roots and fruits.

A taste of the history of tamales

The prehispanic origin of the tamales is documented, as an offering to the Goddess of Corn, especially by Sahagún, who offers a true recipe book about it. Many of the tamales had a ritual nature and there are many that were linked to funeral rites, a custom inherited until today.

The offerings that are still made in towns in the states of Michoacán, Mexico, Puebla, the Valley of Mexico and other regions of the country, contain various foods and among them, the tamales stand out.

With tamale (which comes from Nahuatl Tamalli) we understand a food based on the corn dough, filled with various ingredients, wrapped in a packet of vegetable leaves, and then cooked.

Although most frequently tamales in Mexico are wrapped in corn husk leaf or banana leaf in the coastal and tropical zones, there are also varieties that are wrapped in leaves of other plants: reed, chilaca, papatla and milpa leaf, that is, of the corn plant.

The most widespread tamales on the cob are green (with tomato sauce and pork), mole poblano with turkey meat, rose-coloured sweets with raisins and sweet corn, which can also be salted; now the poblano pepper or jalapeño rajas with cheese are added to the list.

Oaxacans of black mole and costeños with tomato sauce stand out in the genre of those wrapped in banana leaves. In different states of the altiplano, neutral tamales of butter are used to accompany some stew, and in the peasant communities, bean tamales are common.

The origin of the tamale

The origin of the tamale dates back to pre-Columbian times and the custom of eating it is grown throughout Central America and part of Latin America including Mexico since it is the most representative in terms of typical food.

The said dish is served in important celebrations and therefore in the most special meals: birthdays, Christmas, and Day of the Dead among others.

Currently, the tradition has changed, and today it is consumed every Saturday of the week. The tamale is prepared in the same way everywhere, unlike some ingredients, which makes it very varied.

Some pompous Baroque provincial poet of the beginning of the century, very much in tune with the refinement of the time, said that: The tamales were as old as Mexico itself.

Delicious corn cakes wrapped in natural strips that, leaving the steamy pot, were intended to decorate the tables of the Aztec emperors' snacks Mexican parties.

The way of making them does not differ much, although they are filled and seasoned in different ways, because they are made of sweet, with anise or without it, filled with rice with milk, mole, spice, poultry, pork and even of picadillo and fish.

Definition of tamale

A culinary description of tamal is a mixture of batter with fat, stuffed and seasoned according to the way of each place, wrapped in corn or banana leaf and steamed.

From the pre-Hispanic era, in the Aztec Imperial cuisine And at the Moctezuma table, the tamal has been an important part of Mexican cuisine

Carlos Lumhotz, in his book Unknown Mexico, mentions "the ritual tamales" (tamales in honour of the gods) found among the Huicholes of Jalisco, Tarascans of Michoacán, Tarahumara of Chihuahua, and Tepehuanes of Durango.

The word tamal comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli, which appears in the prehispanic vocabulary elaborated by Alonso de Molina, a dictionary of the XXI century.

Let's see what the Mexican Cook tells us in the form of a dictionary, 1888 about the definition of the tamale and its varieties:

"Tamal: Voice that brings its origin from the Mexican Tamalli, and means a kind of tasty and delicate bread, made with the mass of corn, which the ancient inhabitants of this continent used more than the tortillas that were their common bread, as they are so until the day not only of their descendants but of many others who descend from the Spaniards, who eat them for pleasure. The same happens with the tamales, which are not taken to replace bread, but rather with it an appetite, because they are very pleasing to the palate, at the same time as nutritious and of good digestion. "

Ingredients of the tamale

Ingredients for the tamale dough:

Dough

Butter

Beef calx (or cinnamon infusion for sweet tamales)

Baking powder, tequizquite or tomato leaf cooking

Salt (or sugar to taste for sweet tamales).

Preparation:

Accrete butter. Add alternately the meat and flour dish previously stirred with the salt and baking powder (or the tequizquite or tomato leaf cooking). Beat the mixture until it is at its point, this is when dropping a bit of dough into a glass of water, that is floating on the surface.

If it disintegrates or goes to the bottom, it is necessary to beat a little more. The consistency of the dough should be smooth if it is a little hard add more meat or water soup and continue beating.

How to make tamales

Wash the corn leaves thoroughly with water, then soak them for about an hour and drain thoroughly.

How to make tamales
How to make tamales

Take leaf by leaf, on the concave side, and apply a spoonful of the dough, then put a little filling in the centre. Double and form the tamale. As you do, place them vertically in a tamale pot, steamer or prepared pot. Steam without getting wet and without water reaching its level, for an hour until it is easily detached from the leaf

You can use

a) nixtamal masa for tortillas, or

b) nixtamalized special flour for tamales.

If the flour is used, it must be moistened with a little stock (pork or beef) warm and strained, until it reaches the consistency of the dough. A kilo of lard is usually used for two kilos of dough.

First butter is beaten (it is recommended that it is cold) in a large bowl. A wooden spoon is used. Cold water is added little by little until the butter is white and fluffy. A kilo of butter takes approximately 30 minutes to reach this point. You can also melt the butter instead of beating it.

To the whipped butter add the dough or flour (previously moistened with broth), broth and baking powder, as indicated by the recipe. The mixture of dough or flour with butter should be light or fluffy.

The broth that is added to the dough should be warm and strained (as indicated in most recipes). It is known that the dough does not need more broth when it does not drain when putting it on the sheet that will wrap the tamale.

The dough is ready and has the necessary lightness when a ball (half a teaspoon) put in a glass of cold water does not sink.

The wrap of the tamale

It is very important to properly treat the leaves that are used to wrap the tamales. The function of the leaves is to shape and enclose them gently during cooking in certain cases also provides aromatic elements.

Types of tamale leaves

Corn leaves are those that wrap the fresh corn, are tender and flexible. They are separated from the corn using a knife, carefully, trying to keep them whole. Wash them and dry. With one or two leaves each tamale is wrapped, the ends are bent and tied with a strip taken from a large leaf.

The dry leaf of the ear or the dry leaf is called totomoxtle, with them, bundles are formed and, with several bundles, large moored wheels that are sold in the markets, to make them flexible they are left to soak in water for two or more hours, as they dry that they are.

The wrap of the tamale
The wrap of the tamale

Maize leaves of milpa are the leaves of corn plants not of the ears. They are used when they are still green, fresh and tender; If necessary, soak in water for a few minutes. They wash and dry; they are used almost exclusively for the small tamales typical of Michoacán called corundas.

Banana leaves: with a well-cut knife the central rib of the leaf is trimmed, starting at the tip. Cut into square pieces of 30 cm. on the side, discarding the broken or perforated parts. To soften the banana leaves there are three methods.

Boiling them in water or putting them in a water bath (30-20 min.)

Passing the square pieces by a hot comal first on one side and then on the other, until they are flexible and change colour.

Put them in bundles in the microwave oven for one minute.

Tamales wrapped in other leaves

Occasionally tamales are wrapped in reed leaves, chaya (in the Yucatecan tamalito called tzotobilchay), holy leaf (also called acuyo or momo), spinach, chilaca, etc. When the leaves are not flexible, they are left in water for a few minutes, for the lashing a string is used, without tightening a lot.

The original text of this article was published by the Yazmín Hernández Castañeda for Revista Vinculando, at the following address: https://vinculando.org/articulos/sociedad_mexico/el_tamal_una_nueva_propuesta_gastronomica.html