24
Aug
10

mis primeros tamales de elote: a Tex-Mex/Sonoran/Guatemalan fusion

Today’s lunch is tamales de elote (sweet corn tamales), mostly following Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison’s recipe in The Border Cookbook. They label the recipe Sonoran; I first had these in Guatemala, so they can’t be limited to Sonora, at least.

I followed the Jamisons’ recipe for the masa almost exactly, but I left out their filling of mild cheddar and strips of peppers. I had the idea of filling the tamales with a sauce made of our household’s favorite (and Guatemala-inspired) corn-on-the-cob fixins: mayonnaise, lime juice, and Texas-style chili powder. When Glenn was over last week for BLTs and corn on the cob, we set these things out on the table. He looked bemused and asked, “Where’s the butter?”

sauce ingredients

As I started to prepare things, I had second thoughts about the filling. Steamed mayonnaise… It could: A. Run; B. Curdle; C. Kill us. None of these possibilities were appealing, so I saved the sauce for a topping.

I also deviated from the Jamisons’ recipe in how big I made my tamales. They claim that their masa recipe yields enough for 10-12 large tamales. I don’t know where they’re getting their corn husks, or worse, how much masa they’re cramming into each one, but I opted for a couple dozen wee guys, instead. I’m getting the impression that it’s very Tex-Mex to make small-ish tamales.* Some in Guatemala were small, too, but many were overstuffed by my standards. I’ve had a few in California, and they’ve all been overstuffed. It makes the masa gummy and the whole package just kind of gross. So small it is in my kitchen.

ready to steam

Also, I don’t know who the Jamisons’ hypothetical eaters are, but neither J-P nor I could get through more than three little guys in one sitting. With those size and serving caveats in mind, here’s the Jamisons’ masa recipe and my sauce recipe.

Masa for tamales de elote

  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4-5 ears; reserve the husks by cutting off the stem and peeling carefully, then keeping moist in a damp kitchen towel)
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp sugar, if the corn isn’t very sweet (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1-3 Tbsp milk, if needed

Puree two cups of corn kernels with the butter. (I added the cream, which I used instead of milk, at this point, because our tiny food processor couldn’t handle the corn and butter alone.) You might be tempted to stop here (this stuff is good).

manna

Add the other ingredients and mix well. Then smear the masa into your reserved corn husks, wrap up the husks, and steam the tamales for 40-50 minutes. They’re done when they don’t stick to the husk anymore.

sauced

Next time, I would leave out the cornmeal (it gave too much of an uncooked taste and crumbly texture) and up the overall proportion of fresh corn, trying to approach the soft, sweet ideal I have from Guatemala. The sauce stays, though.

Sauce for tamales de elote

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp Texas red chili powder

Combine and mix well.

sauce
Even the bowl it’s in is part of a Guatemalan-made set. More pics of the process here.


* My mother remembers my great aunt Antonia chiding my great-grandmother for putting so much meat in the tamales they were going to sell to gringos. As soon as Antonia looked away, my great-grandmother was back at it–she just couldn’t give up the norm that plenty = quality for the norm that stinginess = profit. Even so, these weren’t as big as the huge California-style tamales that turn me off.

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