La Navidad, Christmas, is over, as is Año Nuevo, the New Year, but the festivities are still in full swing. In many Mexican households, Epiphany is almost more important and El Día de los Reyes, the Day of the Kings, is the chosen day to exchange gifts. Hot chocolate and churros are served for breakfast, and tamales, that quintessentially historical Mexican dish, take pride of place on the table. While every family has its preferences and specialities, red and green tamales, flavoured respectively with dried chillies and tomato sauce or green chillies and tomatillo sauce are particularly popular at this time of the year. I always set aside and freeze some summer tomatillos for this occasion and use them to make a bright, sparkling salsa to go into the stuffing for the tamales and to partner the finished dish.
Pork or chicken are fairly traditional in tamales verdes, and my recipe below uses a simplified version of pork carnitas steeped in a Salsa Verde Cocida, cooked tomatillo sauce.
Tamales are conventionally wrapped in either dried corn husks or fresh banana leaves, and while these envelopes do very definitely contribute to the flavour, I never hesitate to resort to baking parchment if necessary – but if you would rather be authentic, follow the instructions for using husks via the link below to Cheese and Roasted Green Chilli Tamales.
Don’t be put off by the length of my recipe – the pork and the sauce can be made two or three days in advance, and the tamales can be shaped and wrapped several hours ahead of time.
Green Tamales – Tamales Verdes
Makes 4 large tamales
For the pork:-
250 g/9 oz stewing pork
100 g/4 oz red onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp ground cumin
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp sea salt
15 ml/1 tbsp lard, duck/goose fat or butter
5 ml/1 tsp bouillon powder
For the tomatillo sauce:-
15 ml/1 tbsp lard, duck/goose fat or oil
150 g/5 oz onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
75 g/3 oz poblano chillies or green bell peppers, deseeded and chopped
15 g/1/2 oz green chillies, deseeded and sliced (more if you want extra heat)
400 g/14 oz tomatillos, rinsed and husked (or drained tinned/canned tomatillos)
15 g/1/2 oz fresh coriander/cilantro, coarsely chopped
200 ml/7 fl oz/scant 1 cup double/heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tamales:-
250 g/9 oz masa harina for tamales
400 ml/14 fl oz/1 3/4 cups warm water
75 g/3 oz butter, softened
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp baking powder
2.5 ml/1/2 tsp fine sea salt
15 ml/1 tbsp bouillon powder
4 pieces of baking parchment, approximately 38 cm/15 in x 28 cm/11 in
For the carnitas, place all the ingredients in a medium, heavy saucepan and and pour in enough cold water to cover the meat by 1 cm/1/2 in. Bring to the boil, turn the heat right down and leave it all to simmer, stirring every now and then, for about an hour and a half, until the meat feels really tender when pierced with a fork. If there is any liquid left in the pan, turn the heat up and let it bubble until it has evaporated and the meat is starting to fry in the fat. Turn the heat down again and continue to cook, stirring often, until the surface has begun to caramelize and turn golden. Remove the pork from the heat and shred the meat with two forks. Set aside or refrigerate.
And now on to the sauce: heat the fat in a large frying pan. Add the onions, garlic and chillies and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft and golden. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor, add the tomatillos and some seasoning, and process to a relatively smooth purée. Scrape it all back into the frying pan and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until nice and thick. Cool before mixing half the sauce and half the coriander into the pork, and whisking the cream into the remaining sauce. Check the seasoning in both.
The dough for the tamales is the last step. Place the butter in a large bowl and beat it with an electric whisk until fluffy. Mix in the salt, baking powder and bouillon. Add about a quarter of the masa harina followed by a quarter of the water, whisking in between and repeating the procedure with the remaining masa harina and water until you have a thick batter.
Lay the pieces of baking parchment out on the work surface. Spread 1/4 of the batter on each one, leaving a 5 cm/2 in border, and top with 1/4 of the carnitas. Fold one short side of the paper up and over the batter and the filling and roll it firmly into a sausage shape, then twist the ends like a Christmas cracker. Place in a steamer, seam side down, and repeat with the rest of the batter and filling.
Steam the tamales for 90 minutes.
Reheat the tomatillo and cream sauce. Check the seasoning and add the remaining chopped coriander.
Serve the tamales with the sauce.
Chilli and Chocolate Stars of the Mexican Cocina by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.co.uk
Just The Two of Us Entertaining Each Other by Isabel Hood is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk