I used to work with a woman who made the most amazing fresh tamales. Here is a step by step from Carla on making the basic ingredients in tamales, and then gives you the reins to create your own signature tamale recipe. I can't wait to try this out!
A traditional tamale has three layers. Outside is the cornhusk. Just inside that comes an "envelope" of cornmeal. A meat mixture is inside the cornmeal layer-or mixed with the cornmeal. Or you can make veggie tamales.
Cornhusks These hold the tamale together on the outside and are the first layer you put down. The soft inner husks of green corn are best to use, but you can also use tougher husks. Trim away the top and bottom ends of the husk. Leave them about 6 inches long and rinse in boiling water. If you have to use very tough husks, soaking them in cold water for a few hours beforehand will help. Wipe them dry before using.
Meat Filling Boil 1 lb. meat (any kind: chicken, beef, goat) with 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, and a couple bay leaves. When the meat is tender, save the stock to use in making the envelope for cooking it. Dice the meat and sauté the cubes in a bit of oil. (If you are rushed, you can just shred or chop or grind the meat instead of sautéing it.) For "hot" tamales, add chili powder. For regular tamales, add some mashed garlic or just salt and paprika. You could add a few olives or raisins to each portion of meat as you put it into the tamale. Or green pepper, chopped onion and celery, tomatoes, cream-style corn, or whatever else you have . . .
Mix 4 c. yellow cornmeal
1 t. salt
2 1⁄2 c. stock (left over from cooking the meat)
1⁄4 lb. fat (lard works well).
Beat this thoroughly to make it light.
Shaping the Tamales Spread your cornmeal envelope on each layer of husks you want to fill. Using the cornmeal outer envelope put the filling in the middle of your cornmeal layer. It helps to shape the meat into rolls the size of your little finger before you put them on the cornmeal paste. Now roll it up. Fold both ends of the husking down like you would the wrapping paper around a gift. Now tie it closed.
(A) Spread cornmeal mixture on husks
(B) Place small roll of meat mixture at edge of cornmeal
(C) Roll up
(D) Tie with string or husk ties
Tying up Your Tamales Use husk ties or string, or just stack them in your steamer for cooking and hope they stay together. It's safer to tie. To make husk ties, tear some husks into strips and use like string.
Cooking the Tamales You either steam or boil them. To steam them, use a steamer or rig up a makeshift one by making a rack in the top part of your canning kettle. Stack the tamales in it or on it, and cook until well done. To boil tamales, put a kitchen lid in the bottom of a deep kettle. Cover that with extra husks. Stack the tamales on top of that. Add the boiling stock that you cooked the meat in. You may add a few dried red peppers if you want the tamales extra hot. Cover tightly and cook until well done.