Do you know what constitutes a good tamale? What are the flavors, texture, color, masa to meat ratio, what are the best chiles to use, and aromas you seek?
As a child, I recall having the misfortune of eating a Van de Camps canned tamale at a neighbor’s home. Although appreciative, it was not what I was accustomed to at home. Yes it’s true! Van de Camps made a canned tamale.
There were perhaps 6 in can, no bigger than a hotdog. They all stood up in can with a thin white paper wrapping separating each one. The outside was a corn mush mixture, similar to polenta. It was filled with dark mystery meat of mush! And some type of red/brown sauce.
I encountered a very similar tamale last year in a restaurant in a state that will remain unnamed, while spending time with Augie. People around me raved about them and were buying them by the dozens!
To be a good tamale, the masa should be light and fluffy, the ratio of meat to masa should be in proportion to size of oja, you must have the correct amount of salt, baking powder, lard and broth, and meat must be flavorful. You may use chilies of your liking, but not the powered or can stuff. Real chile pods, you roast, soften in water then puree. My family likes some heat so we add a few chile de árbol.
Many people shred their meat, we fry our pork. This entails a lot more work; first dicing into cubes and it doesn’t allow for any broth either. But, we would typically boil a few pork butts for the broth. You get shredded pork when you boil your meat! I like mine in small chunks. Many people add red sauce to the masa, but that is merely an esthetic choice. I don’t, I like to see the purity of the natural masa color in contrast to the red meat. A good tamale will slide easily off the oja. That signifies you have the right amount of lard. You want the right amount of rendered lard, but you do not want a greasy tamale. That’s why I say it is truly an art to master making good
tamales. No one makes good tamales the first or second time. It’s an acquired art, IMO. My Mama was an expert tamale maker.
An oja has a right & wrong side, you spread the masa on the smooth side of the oja, not with the ridges. The stacking of your tamales in the pot is very important also. The amount of water you add to pot is important too.
I use to tell my Mama,” heck with all this work, I’ll just go buy some.” She would laugh, and say, “Mija, they won’t taste the same they won’t have my Love.” And she was right.
P.S.You don’t have to use lard, but…..they do not taste the same.