I must have been around 6 years old, and my mom's sisters, my tias, were in town to visit us. When those women get together, there's lots of cooking going on. Tamales, enchiladas, burritos, menudo, mole, posole...you name it. But the staples were always tamales and enchiladas. I thought that I may not like the tamale, and my mom told me to try a sweet one instead of the chili one. It had cinnamon, raisins, dates and brown sugar. I was swept off my feet.
So I ventured to take a nibble off of the "chili" one.
It melted in my mouth like butter.
Like butter, I say!
I knew then and there that the tamale was a very special food item, to be cherished and respected at all times.
I try tamales in restaurants, only to be mostly disappointed virtually every time. I hate to encounter those awful, pre-fab., frozen things that they try to pass off as tamales. And forget about those canned kind.
That is NOT a tamale!
Much like mushrooms, tamales should never come from a can. Do we have that straight? Good.
Well, if you know one thing about tamales, it's that they are extremely labor intensive and time consuming to make. If you didn't know that about tamales, you do now.
Though they are well worth the effort, one doesn't always have that kind of time on their hands to dedicate to the preparation of a meal.
I have enjoyed those tamale pie recipes, you know, the ones using Jiffy cornbread...but they lack that authenticity of true, homemade tamales like my tias, my mom, and my grandmother used to make.
I decided it would probably work to use traditional Masa Harina instead of the cornbread, and decided to give it a go, after googling "how to make tamale pie with masa harina". I love how you can find answers to anything on google. It is the most under recognize and unappreciated tools of modern time. But that's for another post.
I found a blogger talking about pretty much precisely my predicament at Please, Don't Pass the Salt. Though she was discussing doing this the low-sodium way, it didn't matter. I just needed confirmation that I could steam the masa in a casserole dish and achieve what I was looking for. And confirmation is exactly what I found. So onward I pressed with my experiment.
I did all the prep as I usually would. Braise the meat with all those yummy chilis and onion and garlic, slowly cooking it to that falling apart stage, about 2 hours.
I prepared my Masa Harina, adding a dash or three of chili powder, some cumin, and chicken broth, for added flavor. Instead of making it exactly as needed for true tamales, I added a bit more broth to make it just a little bit looser, and easier to spread over a casserole dish. I found a casserole dish that fits perfectly inside of my new electric roaster/slow cooker/steamer (Thank YOU Grandma Laverne! *that's The Wifester's grandma), and I spread a thin coat of EVOO over the bottom of the casserole dish. Spread a layer of prepared Masa, then a layer of the braised meat, along with a good helping of chili sauce and a sprinkle of cheese. Then another layer of Masa. I added water to the roaster/slow cooker/steamer, and set the roasting rack inside it, placed my casserole dish on top of that rack, covered my casserole dish tightly with aluminum foil and then the lid for the roaster/slow cooker/steamer, and set it to steam. After about 45-50 minutes, the masa had indeed steamed and was nice and firm. I topped with a drizzle of chili sauce, ok, more than a drizzle, a light slather is more like it, and topped it with some more shredded cheese. Covered that baby back up, and VIOLA! 15 minutes later, I had this: