Saturday, April 6, 2013



I have a powerful love for Trader Joe's green chili tamales. I love the fatty, puddingy, cheesey texture. I love how pillowy the dumpling part is. They're rich and fatty, and they aren't chewy at all, unless you microwave them until the cheese oozes out and gets stuck to the plate, but I like those parts too, so it's all good. But they cost 3 bucks for 2 tamales, so they aren't actually cheap.

I finally made some of my own. They aren't identical to TJ's, but the key factor, the fluffiness of the dough, is very close. Pete & Cynthia were out of town, so I went over to their house and borrowed their Kitchenaid mixer. It was awesome. I am so geeked. This  recipe made 19 tamales for me.

a bag of corn husks
Fill them like this

1 lb masa for tamales
2 1/2 cups hot water

1 1/4 cup shortening or lard or butter
2 cups broth or stock, cold or at room temperature

1/2 lb cheese, cut into matchsticks
roasted green chilis

Put at least 24 corn husks in a large pot of hot water to soak over night. They float, so you'll need to put a heavy bowl or something on them to keep them submerged.

Mix the masa with the hot water until it forms a thick paste. Cover it and set it aside for at least 30 minutes. I left mine over night.

When you're ready to make tamales, put the shortening in the bowl of the mixer, and beat it at high speed using the wire whisk attachment until it gets light and fluffy. Begin to drop 1" bits of the masa mix into the fat, allowing each piece to get somewhat broken up before adding more. Once half the masa is in the bowl, start alternating masa and broth or stock. When all the ingredients have been added, mix for a few more minutes to make sure there are no lumps.

At this point, the masa should look and feel like a rather light but stiff cake batter. Check to see if it's done by dropping a small dab of it into a cup of cold water. If it floats, it's got enough air beaten into it. If not, keep mixing. If it's too stiff, it won't hold air bubbles, so add a few spoons more water or broth.

They are a little messy
Drain the corn husks. Spread about 1/3 cup of masa on a husk, add a stick of cheese and a couple chilis, then roll the husk up. Fold the tail end of the husk up to keep the filling in, and tie a string around it. If you're freezing them, set them on a tray in a single layer until they get hard or the filling will ooze out. If you're going to steam them right away, make sure they sit upright in the steamer the whole time or again, the filling will ooze out. Fresh, they take about 25 minutes to steam.


1. I would never even try this without a mixer. The ability to get the dough full of tiny air bubbles is all-important to get the fluffy texture.
2. Whatever kind of fat you use, it should be solid at room temperature, or it won't be able to keep air trapped in the dough. I used Crisco, because I was scared of the packages of lard sitting on the shelf. Not rational, but there you go.
3. Don't worry about rolling them up tightly. As they cook, the masa expands a lot. A bit loose is better than a bit tight, because you don't want the husks exploding.
4. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups shortening, but I think just one cup would be enough. I'm going to try the smaller amount next time. I think a slightly stiffer dough would keep its shape better during cooking.
5. The tamales will taste like whatever broth you use, so make sure it is a kind you like. I used concentrated chicken bouillon, which is fine, but next time I may use plain stock.

These are most satisfying. I'm not sure they're good for you, but I don't care. I even cooked a few in the microwave, which was a little sloppy, but it still worked. And it made those crunchy chewy cheese gloops on the plate. I admit that one of the things I like best about the TJ's tamales is the convenience of being able to throw one in the microwave at the end of the day like the lazy-ass I am. Eat them with salsa. You need something to balance out the grease. Unless you take them with you on a 7 mile hike, in which case just eat them like a barbarian with your fingers and lick the husks when you're done. And don't throw the corn husks into the gorge, that's crass.