Tamales de Cambray

Tamales de Cambray

These delicate tamales come from chef Laurie Mackenzie, who based
them on a recipe from the region of Juchit?n, in the southern part of
the state of Oaxaca. .

One 8-ounce package corn husks
The chile puree
12 guajillo chiles, wiped clean, slit open, stems and seeds removed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

The filling
8 ounces ripe plum tomatoes or half of a 15-ounce can
fire-roasted tomatoes
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Pinch ground cloves
3 sprigs thyme, leaves finely chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
3 sprigs marjoram, leaves finely chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1 small bay leaf
1/4 cup raisins or currants
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1/4 cup coarsely chopped manzanilla olives
1 ripe plantain, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 cups cooked and shredded or chopped pork, beef or chicken, or a combination
1/2 to 1 cup chicken or beef broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in wedges (optional)
The masa
10 ounces fresh lard (1 3/4 cups), chilled, vegetable
shortening, or a combination (see Note)
2 pounds fresh masa for tamales (see Note) or 3 1/2 cups masaharina mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water, then allowed to cool
2/3 to 1 cup chicken or beef broth, cooled
2 teaspoons kosher salt + more to taste

On the day you will assemble the tamales, gently open the corn husks and
clean out any silks. Put the husks in a bowl and cover with very hot tap
water. Let stand at least 1 hour.

For the chile puree: Heat a griddle to medium-hot. Toast the chiles briefly,
pressing them flat with a spatula, until they crackle and send up a wisp of
smoke; turn and toast the other side. Put them in a bowl, cover with hot
water and rehydrate for 20-30 minutes.

Drain the chiles, reserving the liquid, and put in a blender with the
garlic. Blend to a smooth puree, adding enough of the soaking water to keep
the blades moving; the final result should have the consistency of a thick
cream. Push the puree through a medium mesh sieve to remove the bits of skin and seeds.

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat lard until rippling. Add the puree
all at once - it should sizzle and jump - and stir constantly until
thickened and noticeably darker, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For the filling: If using fresh tomatoes, roast them on a sheet pan under a
hot broiler until blackened in spots and soft, about 4 minutes per side.
Cool, peel off skin and chop, saving all the juices. (If using fire-roasted
canned tomatoes, skip this step.)

Heat the fat in a large skillet and add the onions, then saute until
translucent without browning. Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add
the tomatoes, cook over medium heat until the juices are reduced. Stir in
the rest of the ingredients, except the hard-boiled eggs, starting with 1/2
cup broth. If the meat looks dry, add more broth to moisten. Cook, stirring
occasionally, until almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Taste and season with salt and pepper. Let cool and remove the bay leaves.

For the masa: Beat the lard and/or shortening in a mixer at medium speed for
1 minute, until light and fluffy. Continue beating while you add the masa,
in small handfuls. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the broth while beating. Continue
adding broth until the mixture is the consistency of a soft but not runny
cake batter. Stir in the salt.

Forming and steaming the tamales: Fill a large pot or tamale steamer with 2
inches of water. Place the steamer in the pot and lay a few corn husks on
it. Cover and bring to a boil while you fill the tamales.

Remove the husks from the soaking water. Wipe dry. Put 2 husks down on your work surface and overlap the wide ends by about 1 inch, with the points
facing in opposite directions. Spread 1/3- 1/2 cup of masa on the center,
leaving a 1/2-inch border on the long edges. Spread 3-4 tablespoons filling
and 2 teaspoons guajillo puree down the middle of the masa. Place an egg
wedge on the filling, if desired.

Fold one side of the tamale completely over the filling. Gently roll up and
fold the pointed ends in over the seam.

Lay the tamales, folded side down, in the steamer. Cover with more husks and tightly cover the pot. Steam for 1-1 1/4 hours. Remove a tamal and let sit for a few minutes to check if done. Tamales are done when the husk peels off easily.

Let sit 10 minutes before serving, or serve within 1-2 days.

Note: Fresh lard is available at La Palma Mexicatessen, La Gallinita and El
Chico Produce (with four locations) in San Francisco; La Finca Tortilleria
in Oakland; and Marina Market in San Mateo. La Palma, La Gallinita and La
Finca, as well as the Primavera food stand at the Saturday Ferry Plaza
Farmers Market in San Francisco, sell freshly ground masa for tamales. Ask
for “unprepared” or simple masa quebrada, which hasn’t been mixed with lard
and is ground specifically for tamales.