Photo taken by Sonia onÂ Saturday, April 21 at the home of Raul & Esther Musibay in Miami, FL
Cuban tamales differ from the tamales recipes of other Latin American countries and also in the way they are served and when. To begin with the Cuban word for them is actually "TAMAL" and tamales is the plural.
In most Latin American countries, tamales are made mostly during the
Christmas holidays, when whole families gather together to make them assembly style. It is a time to visit, catch up on family news and gossip and laugh. Mexicans also make "tamales dulce" (sweet tamales with raisins, etc) for the holidays.
Puerto Rican tamales are made from making a masa (dough) with mashed green or semi-ripe plantains and are called pasteles instead of tamales, and wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks - in Hawaii the word has gotten even shorter and it is called pateles (we have a large Puerto Rican population here in Hawaii)
Cuban tamales can be made and eaten at any time of the year and usually have more meat inside than the tamales from other countries. Some Cubans also like to serve their tamales with catsup on the side.
During my recent trip to the mainland, one of the highlights was a Cuban Style Pig Roast held in my honor at the home of Raul & Esther Musibay. Raul is one of the 3 Guys from Miami, who have written several cookbooks on Cuban food.
Raul and Esther served Cuban Style Tamales during that fun afternoon and evening. I will be writing a bit more about that event soon.
Cuban Style Tamales -
Tamales de Carne de Cerdo - Pork Tamales
1-1/2 pounds pork in chunks
2 whole peeled garlic cloves
1 Tablespoon vinegar
Water to cover meat
3 cups ground fresh corn (may substitute frozen)
2-1/2 cups masa harina
3/4 cups lard, butter or shortening
2-1/2 cups chicken broth
Dash or two Bijol powder for color
5 cloves garlic. minced
Olive oil for frying
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 green pepper, chopped fine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces tomato paste (1/2 can)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup red or white wine
Juice of 1 large lemon
Corn husks (soak the dried husks in water before using)
For meat you need pork with plenty of fat - either well marbled or with a fat layer or both. We had luck with de-boned country style pork ribs. Or have the butcher something to order.
Whichever meat you use, cut it into smaller pieces - no more than two inches thick or three inches long. Add a little salt with a shaker and place in a large sauce pan. Add water to just barely cover the meat.
Add two peeled garlic cloves and one tablespoon vinegar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered until all of the water has boiled away. Fry the pork pieces in rendered fat just until brown, but NOT crispy! The meat should be tender and stringy. Remove the meat. Trim off any excess fat (there shouldn't be any) and with a knife or meat hammer, break up the meat in smaller pieces.
Slice the corn kernels off the cob (or use frozen corn). Quickly grind the corn in food processor with your choice of fat (lard, butter or shortening) until you get a very coarse mixture with visible corn
kernels. Don't over process! Remove from the processor and blend in 2-1/2 cups warm chicken broth and two cups masa harina to the ground corn. Add a dash of Bijol powder (*) to give it a nice yellow color.
Fry the onion and green pepper in olive oil at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft. Add garlic and continue to fry for two to three minutes. Do not drain off excess oil! Mix tomato paste in 1/2 cup warm water and add it and the wine to the vegetables. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
Place the pork, vegetables and the ground corn/masa harina mizture in a large cooking pot. Add lemon juice to the mixture and blend. Add salt and pepper and stir. Cook the mixture on low heat, stirring frequently (don't let it burn!) until it thickens - about 20 minutes. Add more masa or more broth as necessary to make a stiff paste. Taste and add salt if needed. Remove from heat and let cool.
To make the tamales:
Take two husks and overlap them (**) flat on the table. Put some of the corn mixture in the center of the cornhusks. Fold the cornhosks, first over the filling the short way, and then folding up the long way from the ends. Tie with a string.
Tamales are best cooked in a large pot with about two inches of water in the bottom. (If you have the little insert that keeps the food off the bottom, great!). Add the tamales, standing them on end and cover the pot. Bring water to boil. Reduce heat and simmer/steam about 90 minutes to two hours.
(*)Bijol is a condiment that is found in most Hispanic or Latino markets. Comes in small cans with a bright yellow-orange label and red lettering. Bijol is made from annatto seeds, corn flour, cumin and
(**)To overlap the corn husks, place the two tapered ends flat, opposite each other with the wider end of the husks overlapping to form a double 'sheet' just in the center - fold the sides in over the
filling first and then bring the ends down to make your little packages. Use cotton string intended for kitchen use.
RECIPE SOURCE: The Three Guys from Miami 'Cuban Food with Attitude' a PDF cookbook - by RaÃºl Musibay, Glenn Lindgren and Jorge Castillo - Seventh Edition - May 2003 - for more information on The Three Guys from Miami please check out their website www.icuban.com
Sonia R. Martinez is a Gather Food Correspondent. You can keep up with her column Tropical Taste a regular twice-monthly feature of Gather Essentials: Food.
Sonia is a cookbook author and freelance food writer for several publications in Hawaii and is also a Hawaii Island Journal restaurant reviewer in partnership with her son Anthony Mathis. She lives in a beautiful rural rainforest area on the Big Island of Hawaii.