Tamales with Red Chili Pork
I love tamales but I am rarely happy with the ones we find at restaurants or even on the street corner being sold out of a cooler. My biggest complaint is they are usually all masa with very little filling. So when I get that tamale craving I know there is only one choice, make them myself.
I also have to admit that my methods of slow cooking the pork is not the fastest option out there. For today I am following what I would normally call Chili Verde. My chili verde is different every time as I use what ever types of chilies are available to me and I always use a mixture of dried chili’s and fresh chili’s that I roast. The big difference with the following recipe is that there are no tomatillos. I am currently living and writing to you from Spain and there are just some products that are near to impossible to find here, at least in the Valencia region and tomatillos happen to be one of them. Other then that you may certainly follow this recipe and use it as a guide for chili verde, just add the tomatillos to your roasted chili’s.
As I said I follow no set recipe but it is always pretty much the same. I feel that the greater number of chilies you use the deeper and more complex the flavor will be, especially when combing dried and fresh. I’ll list the ingredients from the picture above. As you may know I measure nothing, food is art not science.
Fresh padron chili’s, fresh Serrano, fresh Italian sweet chili’s, dried Anaheim, dried sweet ghost peppers, dried birds eye chili’s, bay leaf, cilantro, garlic, onion, canned tomatoes (which I ended up not using) cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, sweet Spanish paprika and a fatty pork such as shoulder or butt. Pictured behind is the masa ingredients but we’ll get to that later.
You may use any chili’s you like, poblano, jallapeno, habanero, hatch…. anything! The more the better!
For the dried chili’s boil some water and place the chili’s in the pot to soften. I like to let this go for about 30 minutes to get them super soft. Today I was also making Costa Rican black beans or Gallo Pinto so I chose to let them sit in the water with the beans to soften which of course made my cooking liquid for the beans more flavorful. This is also where the bay leaf ended up.
For the fresh chili’s I roast them. Place in a roasting dish (I am using my paella pan) toss with some oil and sprinkle with rock salt and place in the oven at around 175 Celsius (about 350 Fahrenheit) for around 30 minutes until done.
Remove your dried chili’s from the water and place them with the roasted chili’s in a blender along with about 1 cup of the re-hydrating liquid. Add 1 full bunch of cilantro. This is also the time to choose your heat level. Obviously you can see I like it hot due to the types of chili’s I am using. If you would like it more mild take out the seeds. (And do NOT use ghost chili’s)
Now for the meat. A great thing about braising meats is we get to use the cheapest cuts. The fattier the better. Braising turns what might be a tough piece of meat into super tender fall apart heaven. Cut your meat into chunks about 1 inch squared. Toss the meat with salt and pepper and working in batches brown all sides in a skillet or dutch oven. This is a very important step in all braising. DO NOT over crowd the pan. Ensure that there is space between each cut because if not your meat rather than browning will steam and therefore cook. We just want a nice sear all the way around. This is a bit time consuming but absolutely necessary.
When you are finished put the meat aside and dice up your onions, I used two, and add them to the pan scraping off all the browned bits. Chop up some garlic and add it to the onions with the cumin, corriander, paprika and hot chili flakes. At this point I usually caramelize the onions which is about a 45 minute process as you will see demonstrated in my Boeuf Carbonnade a la Flamande (Flemish Stew) dish . I do not feel like that is necessary for this dish as there are so many other powerful flavors. Just saute for about ten minutes.
Place the meat and onions in a casserole dish or dutch oven (which you may have used for the browning) and pour in your chili sauce from the blender and gently mix well. Cover and place in the oven at 175 Celsius and cook for about 2 hours or until the meat is fall apart tender.
And that is it. You could stop here if you like and just enjoy a delicious pork dish with some black beans and Mexican rice. But we are moving onto the best tamales you will ever taste.
Masa does not have to be boring. It’s not just a filler. Of course I often make my own stock and will usually have some in the freezer but not today. I always have a few bouillon cubes in the pantry for emergencies, or if I am feeling lazy. Also, I was lucky to find this Iberico lard. OMG!!!! I tasted it right out of the package and it was delicious, this is not crisco! But just use what you can find.
What is an Iberico Pig and what makes it so different? –
Iberico Pork comes from the distinctive Black Iberian Pig. Native to areas of Portugal and central and southern Spain, the pigs’ diet of acorns and elements of the natural forests in these areas impacts the meat directly, giving it a nutty, evocative flavor. Black Iberian Pigs – also known as ‘Pata Negra’ – are bred to contain a higher fat content than many other pigs.
That means that the pork they produce has a delightful tenderness. The perfect Iberico pork has to be created in the right environment. The pigs should be allowed to roam and eat the local natural cuisine, and should also feed for at least two seasons to help garner that truly distinct flavor.
OK, back to the masa! By the way we are making roughly 12 tamales. The meat dish you made above is way too much so you will have plenty of meat left over for other meals. Place about 2/3 of a cup in a bowl and with an electric beater or mortar and pestle whip the lard and baking powder with the hot chili powder, cumin and coriander.
Next add the masa harina and combine well
I made roughly 2 cups of chicken stock. Incorporate about 1 ladle at a time until you achieve your desired consistency. It should be smooth and spreadable.
It is time to make our tamales! I went on a quest for corn husks here and found nothing. Luckily our local Asian market has frozen Banana leaves so these will look more like Guatemalan tamales. Banana leaves also impart a sort of floral herbaceous flavor and I found them to work very well. Finding the frozen variety is also nice as you can skip the step of blanching fresh banana leaves as the frozen ones are usually pre-blanched.
I cut them into squares about 12 inches on each side. Well, that would be a square. We are now ready to assemble.
Place some masa in the center of the leaf. Make it somewhat rectangular as we will be “folding over” the masa to encase the meat filling. Place some meat filling in the middle. I use a generous amount because I like a good balance of meat and masa.
Tie the tamale with kitchen twine and repeat with the remaining tamales.
Now we use our left over banana leaves. Place a small amount of water in a large pot and use a wire rack or steamer to elevate and line the rack or steamer with the leaves.
Cover and allow to steam for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. And that is it. Tamales!
I garnished this with Pico de gallo, avocado, habanero cream and roasted padrons.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. If you make it please leave a comment below and tell me how it turned out. Just have fun and Bon Appetite!