Tamales are practically required on so many December holidays. Take Posadas. And Christmas. Not to mention New Year’s. Wait, of course, that spills over to January with Día de Reyes. Then it continues in February for Día de la Candelaria…
There’s also any morning after a big Mexican wedding… and all Mexican weddings are big! I could go on with every month of the year, but tamales are especially craved in December.
Of course, tamales are also everyday food for Mexicans. All sorts of tamales are found daily in lots of places, from markets, to food stands, to restaurants. Why then, if they can be eaten everyday, is there that crucial need for having tamales in December?
Well, I do not know. But what I can say is that I can eat tamales every day of the year and then feel the desperate need to have them for Christmas. To the point that it can be a pretty sad Christmas if tamales aren’t there.
Since the tamal love is spreading beyond Mexico, let me give you the recipe for a tamal I am pretty sure you haven’t tried. Unless you are Norteño, from the Mexican north.
The tamal coloradito, which translates to “infused with color,” takes its name from the filling of meat cooked in a mole sauce by the same name, coloradito. It has an intense color and a deep, rich, complex taste. It is made with ancho and guajillo chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cinnamon, cumin and cloves. Then it coats the meat and simmers with olives, almonds and raisins, resulting in a teasingly sweet/spicy, savory and crunchy mix. The full-blown exotic flavors of the filling contrast beautifully with the mild, fluffy tamal dough.
It seems to me that this tamal is particularly festive because, aside from tamales screaming out for celebration on their own, even with no filling, this one is filled with quite a stunner of a mole sauce. And moles are cause for celebration, too! Pair the two into one bite, and you have a happy crowd.
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For the tamal dough or masa:
- 1 cup lard vegetable shortening, or seasoned oil*
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt or to taste
- 3 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth or store bought, divided, more as needed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pound (about 3 1/4 cups) instant corn masa flour preferably for tamales
For the filling:
- 3 guajillo chiles stemmed, halved and seeded
- 3 ancho chiles stemmed, halved and seeded
- 1 ripe Roma tomato
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano preferably Mexican
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ceylon cinnamon or canela
- Pinch cumin
- 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup white onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 pound pork tenderloin diced **
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt or to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth or store bought
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds
- 1/3 cup manzanilla olives stuffed with pimientos chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
- 25 dried corn husks
To make the tamal dough or masa:
- Place the lard or vegetable shortening in a mixer and beat until very light, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and a tablespoon of the broth and continue to beat until it is white and fluffy, about 2 more minutes. Add the baking powder and beat in, then take turns adding the instant corn masa and the broth in 3 or 4 additions. Continue beating for about 10 minutes at medium speed, until the dough is homogeneous and very fluffy and aerated.
- To test to see if the tamal masa is ready, drop 1/2 teaspoon into a cup of cold water. It should float. If it does not, beat for an additional 4 or 5 minutes and do the test again.
To make the filling:
- Heat a comal or skillet over medium heat and toast the guajillo and ancho chiles for about 1 minute, flipping them over a few times, until they become more pliable, lightly toasted, fragrant and their inner skin turns opaque. Transfer to a medium saucepan. Add the tomato, cover with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the tomato is very soft and the chiles are fully hydrated, plumped up and soft.
- Place the chiles, tomato and 1/2 cup of the chile simmering water in a blender jar. Add the oregano, whole cloves, cinnamon, cumin and vinegar, and puree until smooth.
- Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large, deep skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and the edges begin to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the meat, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium, pour the chile puree over the meat, and stir in the broth. Add the raisins, almonds, olives and brown sugar, stir together, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture should cook down and have the consistency of chile con carne.
To assemble the tamales:
- Soak the dried corn husks in hot water for a couple minutes, or until they are pliable, and drain. Lay out a corn husk with the tapering end towards you. Spread about 3 tablespoons of masa into about a 2 to 3-inch square, the layer should be about 1/4-inch thick, leaving a border of at least 1/2-inch on the sides. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the masa square.
- Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together (you will see how the masa starts to swaddle the filling) and fold the folded sides to one side, rolling them in same direction around tamal. Fold up the empty section of the husk, with the tapering end, from the bottom up. This will form a closed bottom and the top will be left open.
- Assemble all the tamales and place them as vertically as you can in a container.
To prepare the tamalera or steamer:
- Place water in the bottom pan of a steamer (so that water is under the steamer) and bring it to a simmer. Line the steamer with one or two layers of soaked corn husks.
To cook the tamales:
- When you have all tamales ready, place them, again as vertically as you can, into the prepared steamer with the open end on top. If there is space left in the steamer, tuck in some corn husks, so the tamales won’t dance around. Cover with more corn husks, and steam covered with a lid for 50 minutes to an hour. You know the tamales are ready when they come easily free from the husks. They will still be moist, and as they are released from the husks, you will see the moisture, like when you remove good moist muffins from their paper baking cups.
- Finished tamales will stay warm for about 2 hours in the steamer. They can be made ahead several days before and stored in refrigerator, well wrapped. They can also be frozen for months. In either case, reheat in a steamer. For refrigerated tamales, it will take about 20 minutes and about 45 minutes for frozen tamales.
- * Note: To make seasoned oil, in a medium saucepan, heat 1 cup vegetable oil over medium heat, add a thick slice of onion and 4 garlic cloves. Cook for 15 minutes until completely browned. Remove onion and garlic before using the oil.
- ** Note: You can substitute the pork for any other meat of your choice, you can also combine different kinds of meat, like ground beef and diced pork, like my mother does.