I grow really fond of my cooking tools. Most of the Mexican ones have come straight from Mexico. Some have been passed down from my family, like the comal my mom gave me in hopes I would become a good cook. Some I have shamelessly taken, like the lime squeezer, which comes from her kitchen, too. The many wooden spoons I have come from different regions in Mexico and have come tucked in my suitcase. As for the molcajete, I asked my father-in-law to get me one from the Mexico City market, and he lugged it for me in his carry-on bag (he reminds me to this day…). Yet, I found my tamalera, a special pot for steaming tamales, here in DC!
When my dad visits from Mexico, ever since we moved to the U.S., he has brought some for me. And I didn’t start making tamales at home, until I had kids. First, I used a vegetable steamer. Once I moved to DC, I found this one at Panam, the mostly Mexican (Latin) grocery store on the corner of 14th Street and Parkwood.
Yes, you can improvise and steam tamales in a seafood or lobster steamer, a Chinese steamer, any steamer, or even a pasta pot if it has an insert that sits above the bottom. However, the tamaleras are one of a kind. No wonder: Mexicans have been steaming tamales since pre-Hispanic times, so it’s no surprise the Mexican tamalera outdoes all other steamers when it comes to cooking tamales.
See above, the tamalera has three parts: the pot, the lid and a stand. The tamalera is tall for setting the tamales upright. It has a removable, perforated platform or stand to place the tamales on so they sit above the water. It is sturdy: if you pack it up with tamales it gets heavy!
Most cooks line the platform with soaked corn husks or any other husks or leaves you will use in your tamales, like banana leaves. That ensures not much water bubbles through the perforations. Some larger tamaleras have vertical dividers that allow for cooking three different kinds of tamales at once and also helps to set the tamales upright; mine doesn’t, because it is rather small…
Tamaleras are also fitted with lids for keeping the steam in, which is so vital for even cooking of tamales. Yet, I tend to pack it up with tamales and cover it with extra husks or leaves, so many times the lid won’t close tight, so… I wrap a towel through the handles, so there will be no steam escaping.
But if I did what I need to do: get a bigger tamalera, I wouldn’t need to worry about that towel.