The Tactical Tamale Plan

It’s tamale making time. The season is just like Christmas. You look forward to the joyful day with some trepidation. Why? Because of the time it takes for planning, buying, wrapping, steaming. See, just like Christmas.

After Thanksgiving my family, including my brother, sit down and draw up our tactical tamale plan. First we have to decide on a day. Who’s working, who’s not, who’s traveling, and all that. This is how the initial conversation starts:

1. How many pounds of masa do we need? We did 35 pounds last year, not enough. Yeah, not enough green tamales, let’s make more of those, and less of the red pork. No, more red, less green. Let’s do chicken ones. NO, stay traditional. How about sweet? Hmmmh, we stink at making sweet, let’s buy those. We need a vegan recipe (for the vegan son). Forget that, do those on your own. Okay, okay, let’s get back to how many pounds of masa.

2. We decide on 40 pounds: 10 lbs. red pork, 20 lbs. green chile, and 10 lbs. of chicken with tomatillo (mom makes a disgusting face like she’s throwing up-she hates chicken). Phone rings. Add 5 more lbs for nephew who can’t join us but will pay for additional tamales. Use pork shoulder, lean but not too much. How many dozens does 40 lbs. make again? Geez, this year someone write that down, please.

3. Where are we buying the masa preparada? L.C’s is $1.79, forget that, it’s masa not dark chocolate. But it’s smooth and covers the ojas so well. No, last time there was a fight in the line, ‘stas loca. Women rolling on the floor for a bag of masa.  P.V’s is $1.19. Heck no, it’s crowded 24/7 and we have to masarle (knead lard into it). What about your neighbor with the bakery? Okay bro, that’s your job.

4. Who’s making the chile? You? Maybe next year. Ancho? Poblano? New Mexican? Okay, Ancho.

5. How many can’s of green chile’s, how many pounds of Monterey Jack cheese? Buy the shredded one, not the 5 lb blocks. Who cares if they cost a little more, if you buy blocks you’re shredding the stuff.

6.  Olives, no olives? Some olives, yes, some.

7. Ojas from P.V’s? They’re a good price but the cornsilk is still on them and some are too little, we got to piece them all together and stuff. Winco in Fresno has  ‘pre-soaked’ ojas? No me dijas. And they’re big and pretty? Yeah, they’re all evenly cut and no cornsilk, soak for 10 minutes. Really? Buy us those.

8. We’re starting at 9 in the morning because that means 10. Make sure everyone does the prep work before we get together (8 pairs of eyes shift to the one who insists on buying cheese in a giant block).

9. What kind of munchies? The baked Brie at Costco is the bomb, would go well with Ramos Torres Vino Tinto. Bring a Cabernet, don’t forget white for mom. Somebody better bring salad too. Who’s bringing the See’s Nuts and Chews and Peanut Brittle? We gotta eat, those tamales take three hours to cook. We need to put the first batch in the tina (see above photo) by noontime, 1 o’clock by the latest. Remember, everyone over the age of 5 spreads. No work, no eat.

10. Redo all of the above two more times before December 15th.

The conversation is exhausting. Imagine the shopping and set up. On the appointed day we suit up in our various aprons and lay out the various utensils we use to spread the masa on the ojas. We inevitably have the argument of butter knife versus spoon as the best utensil for a smooth application, who spreads the best, who’s taking too many breaks along with the family gossip and remembrances of previous years of tamale making.

Someone starts a pot of beans and throws in onion and a jalapeno for flavor. We spread, fill, fold, and stack at least four tamale pots. After the first batch is done, we unroll, sample, and decide if they need to steam longer or not.Time to make some Mexican rice to go with the meal. The kitchen is filled with the earthy smells of nixtamal corn, spicy chile, garlic and roasted chicken. We’re done with eating salad, brie, and crackers.

Few things are a better sight to see than steaming tamales unrolling onto a plate with just the right amount of pork in red ancho sauce enclosed with a layer of masa that is not too thin and not too thick. They go well with  Tempranillo, Malbec, or Vino Tinto.

After a couple of pots of tamales are ready, we sit down with throbbing feet, red sauce stained aprons and sore backs. We fill our plates and wine glasses too. We count our blessings, say a prayer and dig in. Hard work, but like Christmas Day, it is so worth it.

photo by robjtak


Categories: Christmas Traditions, Family, Latino family tradition, Mexican Cooking, Tamales, Wine and Tamales

3 replies

  1. loved this!!!! I am going to try and make a few this year, few meaning 15-20. I am also an Alvarado . My grandma used to make them every Christmas. And the conversation sounded like yours. Oh, by the way, I'm way down south… thanks for sharing. gloria

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  2. I'm happy this brought back memories for you, tocaya Alvarado. Feliz Navidad Gloria!

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  3. How nice to hear from you. Hope you had a very merry Christmas, and a great New Year. I am looking forward to a wonderful year. My tamales did not happen. I started a little late, when I went to the store to purchase the corn husks, they were gone!!!!! The produce manager said that they will get some more in a few days, well that would be AFTER Christmas!!! Our son and family would be here for just Christmas and the day after. Maybe next year. have a Blessed New year.

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