Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love most things about the holidays – the fresh cut Christmas tree we bought from Little Hills in Petaluma, the mulled wine our neighbors made for after dinner drinks this weekend, the stash of European treats I squirreled away (Christmas pudding, dark chocolate Digestives, and marzipan), and the lights my darling husband put up that add that little sparkle to our outdoor area. Since we’ve both lived away from our families for years, neither Jules and I have had much of a Christmas tradition, aside from attending Christmas eve church services. Traveling to see family for the holidays is nearly impossible for us (and flights to France and Honolulu are exorbitantly expensive), so we’ve generally opted for a low-key celebration that involves hanging out with friends or just doing a simple dinner. This year, I enlisted one of my dear friends, Jay, to share with me one of her holiday traditions – making tamales. They are labor intensive, but not difficult to make.
The ingredients shown above are to make two types of fillings: chile colorado, a pork stewed in red sauce made from chiles, tomato, garlic, and onions, and pollo verde, chicken in a green tomatillo sauce. In true family tradition style, the recipes for these chiles aren’t exact, so Jay gave me a good reference for recipe here, and we tweaked the seasonings to taste.
Not going to lie – this was a lengthy process from start to finish. This is a tradition best done with a group of people so you can do it in an assembly line. The fillings can be prepared ahead of time, and the corn husks should be given ample time to soak. Be sure you have lots of space to work and a giant bot to steam the tamales when they are all assembled.
Some tips for tamale-making:
- Plan ahead. Make fillings ahead of time if you can. The longer the meat stews, the more tender it will be!
- Test the masa by making one test tamal. You are testing for consistency and flavor; if you’re a notorious under-salter like I am, get someone else for a second opinion.
- Get more corn husks than you think you need. You will need almost all of them.
- Enlist the help of friends and family. The more hands, the quicker the assembly time.
- Once you’ve steamed them, you can refrigerate or freeze them for later. You can freeze the uncooked tamales, but add an additional hour of steaming time once you decide to cook them.
Got any favorite holiday foods and traditions? Leave them in the comments below!