Indio, CA may be most famous for hosting the Coachella Music and Arts Festival every year, but it is quickly becoming the Tamale capital of the world. Roughly 100,000 people attended this year's Indio Tamale Festival, including Blue Ribbon Hunter's Allison Fishman. The festival was buzzing with Mexican folk dancing, a lively tamale eating competition, and of course an array of eclectic flavored tamales that one could only dream of. Piña Colada tamale anyone?
The real star of the festival was an 80 year-old woman known by everyone in town as "Grandma Lupe". The line of people waiting for Grandma Lupe's tamales seemed to go on for miles and had up to a 3 hour wait! One festivalgoer told us, "You need to taste these tamales to know you will wait two and a half to three hours for these tamales." Grandma Lupe only sells her tamales 2 days a year, and both days are at the Indio Tamale Festival.
Twenty tamale cooks went head-to-head competing for the top tamale. The winner was Jackalope Ranch restaurant with tamale mastermind Chef Maria behind the award-winning recipe. They won the competition with their delicious pork tamale with homemade masa! Maria learned this recipe from her mother in Jalisco, Mexico, and because this is a family recipe that has been passed down for generations, Maria makes the tamales from memory. So to make sure we got it right, we went to Maria's kitchen to learn how to make the tamales ourselves. The below is our best interpretation of Maria's award-winning recipe from what we learned.
Maria's Award Winning Tamale Recipe
* Recipe yields approximately 18-24 tamales
1 ½ pounds maiz (dried white or yellow field corn)
2 tablespoons cal (slaked lime)
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt
2/3 pound lard
24 corn husks
2 ½ pounds pork butt
2 tablespoons salt
1 pound or 5-6 large tomatillos (husked and rinsed)
2 ½ cups water
1 dried puya chili pepper (seeded)
3 dried guajillo chili pepper (seeded)
2 tablespoons cumin
½ tablespoon salt
1) Start by placing the maiz in a colander and rinsing under cold water to clean. Add 2 quarts of water to a large noncorrosive pan. Place the pan over high heat and add the cal. Stir until dissolved. Add the maiz into the water/cal mixture, stirring gently. Allow the water to boil for 2 minutes, and then bring to a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow maiz to soak for one hour. Return the maiz to the colander and place it under cold running water. Use both hands to rub the maiz to remove the cáscara (hull/hard shell of maiz). This clean, cooked maiz is called nixtamal. Transfer into a corn-grinder and grind until maiz is medium-fine, adding water to get your desired consistency (normally about a cup). Combine mixture into lard. Set aside.
*Note: Maria makes her masa from scratch, but you can find fresh ground nixtamal in many Mexican specialty food stores, as well as masa flour (masa harina).
2) Roast the pork for about 2 hours. Sprinkle with salt and pull meat apart. Set to the side. (Maria roasts her pork butt, but a slow cooker is another alternative.)
3) Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the whole tomatillos. Boil for approximately 10 minutes or until soft. Drain the water.
4) In 2 ½ cups of water, add all chili peppers and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat to cool. Transfer the chilis and remaining water to a blender. Add tomatillos, and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture and stir in cumin and salt to taste. Add mixture to shredded meat to complete tamale filling.
5) Spread the masa out over the corn husks* to ¼ to ½ inch thickness. Place approximately 1 tablespoon of meat filling into the center. Fold the sides of the husks in toward the center and place in a steamer. Steam for one hour.
*If corn husks are dry and brittle, soak in warm water prior to using.
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