There truly are hundreds of recipes and variations of this wonderful dish, some handed down from generation to generation, some are closely guarded secrets, that are tragically, too well guarded and might go to the grave with the cook. I took my Tio Daniel's advice during his quick over the phone tutorial and made my own recipe. But this recipe was also made possible by a little investigating and researching other recipes on Google. The internet can be a wonderful resource for information! So here is my recipe for tamales, and my [Notes] regarding my first attempt at making them on my own. I learned a lot, and I hope that you will glean from my experience. If you try my recipes for the pork and chili sauce, please let me know how you like them - remember, be constructive not destructive in your criticism.
9lb. pork shoulder or butt, bone-in
2 c. water
5 to 6 large garlic cloves or 1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
2 Tbsp. salt
3 to 4 sprigs of fresh oregano or 1 Tbsp. dry oregano
3 to 4 lrg. bay leaves
1 large onion diced
Remove any skin and trim excess fat off pork shoulder or butt. Brown the meat in a large heavy bottom pot, pour in water to de-glaze the pan. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil, lower heat, cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer on low heat for 3 to 4 hours or until meat is very tender, and falling off the bone. I tuck some parchment paper over the meat and then seal it with some tin foil before putting the lid on. Remove meat from the pan and shred it with two forks and discard bones. Reserve the cooking liquid after straining through a sieve, there should be about 4 cups. Let cool until just warm and chill in the fridge. This process makes it easier to skim off most of the remaining fat, but leave some behind for flavor! The reserved and chilled broth should be congealed like jello. [Notes: If you are fortunate enough to have a pressure cooker, then you can cut the cooking time considerably! Oh and make sure you fish out the bay leaves! ]
8 dried California chilies [mild]
8 dried Ancho chilies [mild]
4 dried New Mexico chilies [hot]
2 c. pork broth
2 c. reserved chili water
1 cup cooked tomatillo puree
salt to taste
Remove the chilies stems, seeds and veins. To remove the seeds just slit the side of the chilies with a sharp knife, starting at the top where the stem was and work down to the tip of the chili. Then dump the seeds out into a garbage bowl or into the trash. Don't let your pets or small children get a seed into their little mouths or they will be on fire! This happened to Kyle when he was very small, we were at great grandpa's house, he made a wicked hot chili sauce. The next thing I knew, Kyle was turning three shades of red and screaming, I just caught sight of the seed on his little tongue that he must have plopped into his mouth while scouring the floor for something to nibble on. Some milk and sweet bread did the trick to tame the heat - poor little guy.
[ Notes: For the first batch (I stared with half the recipe above) I kept the mild chilies separate from the hot chilies because I wanted a mild chili sauce - too much heat is no bueno for me. On the second batch I though it would be fine to mix all the chilies into one bowl. For some reason, the second batch was MUCH hotter than the first! I must not have gotten all the veins off the New Mexico chilies the second time around. The 'veins' of the chili and its seeds are where high concentrations of capsaisin are found, which is a fat soluble compound that is responsible for providing chilies with their Scoville units of heat. The veins in a fresh chili are easy to spot, as they are white. In a dried chili they are nearly invisible, they are thread like. I observed that near the top there was a thicker tan thread with a bunch of seeds around it, so I grabbed it and pulled - to my delighted surprise, a long dark thread was pulled off. If you like heat, then you don't need to do this step. Oh and don't forget to wear some sort of gloves before you accidentally "pepper spray" yourself in the eyes by rubbing your fingers near them or experience a burning sensation in your fingers.]
[Notes: Test for bitterness by sampling the chili water. If the water is bitter, use more broth instead of the chili water, or you can use water. I read that boiling the chilies in water as opposed to the steeping method is what produces the bitterness - I'm very sensitive to bitterness so I chose to steep the chilies, it seemed to work fine, a very slight bitterness was detected by my taste buds, but it was not unpleasant.]
While chilies are steeping, peel the husks off about 8 med. sized tomatillos and wash them, they have a sticky feel to them after getting the husk off. Cut them in half and puree the tomatillos in the blender, then measure out about 1 1/4 c. into a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil for about 3 min. Pour into 8 cup measuring cup or large bowl you will be putting the finished chili sauce into.
[Notes: My blender has a 5 cup capacity, so that is why I had to blend in two batches. You should have a nice velvety and thick chili sauce ready to pour over the tender cooked pork. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning to taste. The pork should be well seasoned so take care in the amount of salt you add to the sauce, its easy to add salt, its impossible to remove it. Some recipes call for more seasonings like cumin, turmeric cloves or even tomato sauce, I don't care to add these things, it seemed to that they would get in the way of the chili flavor. I like keeping things simple. ]
Combine the chili sauce with the cooked tomatillo puree and mix. You should have about 7 cups of sauce in your 8 cup measuring cup or large bowl. Then combine 5 cups of the chili sauce and all meat in a large mixing bowl and set aside in the fridge. Reserve the extra 2 cups of sauce for serving on the side or use it for enchiladas, juevos rancheros, or as a soup base. [Notes: If you like your meat filling to be a little "drier" then hold back more of the sauce. Again, you can always add, but it is hard if not impossible to take some back. ]For the masa, I spead mine as thin as possible, since I like a greater amount of meat to masa. I was able to get 31 tamales with this recipe, because I put 1/2 cup of pork into each tamale -which makes quite a substantial tamale. You don't have to put that much in yours, therefore you will get more tamales out of this recipe.