There are few things more satisfying than eating a fine meal made from scratch in your home. For me it is even more savory when I include the tasty meats butchered from the animals we take from the nearby Rocky Mountains every fall. Today I wanted to share with you one of those dishes that is frequently enjoyed at my house, Tamales made from fresh venison. If you’re not familiar, the tamale is a Mexican classic meal that is made from a corn meal dough, and filled with various things but they should almost always they carry a spicy kick. This is my wife’s recipe, you can obviously alter it how you see fit, but this is how we do it at my house. This isn’t chump portions either, if your gonna go to all this work, you’ll want leftover tamales for days.
We start out with a good portion of venison, usually two to four pounds. This is a great recipe to use those less desirable cuts that are often get left in the back of the freezer. You’ll need a crock pot (or equivalent slow cooking apparatus), place your venison in the pot, and add half of an onion, half of a bell pepper, and five garlic cloves. To that add a few bay leaves, oregano flakes, and a good touch of salt. Cover the meat with water or broth and let it cook for several hours until you can easily pull apart all the meat into a shredded tasty pile.
In a hot frying pan large enough to hold all the meat and then some, add some oil, the other half of an onion minced, a minced bell pepper, three minced garlic cloves, and one chopped tomato in that order. After about three minutes of these veggies frying in the oil you can add your drained meat from the crock pot, don’t worry too much about the liquid, it will cook off. Just don’t add so much that it is soupy. Season your meat with salt, pepper, cumin and a couple teaspoons of chicken or beef bouillon to taste.
Hopefully you’ve found the Hispanic isle in your local grocer, or a local Mexican market. You will need to have some New Mexico dried chilis (or equivalent), this is the kind we use :
Place the chilis in a bowl of water for them to soften up, and once they do you can put them in a blender together with two garlic cloves, a quarter onion and a pinch of salt. Add just enough water from the soaking bowl to properly blend the mixture into a sauce. You can strain the mixture into another container, or you can leave all those tasty bits in it. 1/3 of the mixture will be added to the frying pan to mix in with your venison, and the rest will be used in the masa (dough).
Using a four pound bag of Maseca corn flour, mix together the flour and 1.5 cups of vegetable shortening or even better pork lard. Add a touch of salt and two teaspoons of baking powder. You can then in a large bowl mix in the leftover chili mixture from the blender, it’s often easiest to mix with your hands instead of a power mixer. You can add warm water to the mixture as needed to help soften the lard and aid in the mixing process, mix it thoroughly until you have a creamy consistency that is soft enough to spread, but firm enough to stand in stiff points.
The corn husks can also be found at the Hispanic market or isle, and they should be soaked in warm water until they are pliable and easily folded. Once they are ready, using a spoon or spatula you will want to spread the masa evenly in a basic rectangular shape onto the husks. This is where the artist in you will need to come out, there is a bit of a trick to getting the masa evenly spread and shaped on each individual cork husk. Avoid using husks that are too small, ripped or would otherwise allow your masa to seep out.
Realistically this is minimum two person operation, you can do it alone, but the work is better done in steps, one person spreading masa, and the other one filling and folding them. Using a spoon or fork you can add some of your meat mixture to the center of the masa, at our house we add some other goodies as well. Usually some potato strips (imagine basically a couple french-fries laying lengthwise in there) and a strip of pickled jalapeño, as well as a green olive or two.
Then its time to carefully fold the husks, closing the masa together very carefully. You essentially roll the husk, joining the two edges of the masa together. The husk should be in a very slightly tapered tube shape, and then you fold over the narrow end to keep the whole assembly from coming undone. You can stack them out as they are folded until you are done with them all, and it’s time to go into the pot.
Tamales are steamed to cook the masa. You ideally want a tamale pot, but not everybody is that dedicated so you may just have to steam them in a large pot with a double bottom. Ensure you have enough water in the bottom to steam the tamales for one to two hours until the masa is firm. Make sure the water does not reach the tamales, it will cause them to deteriorate, only the steam should reach them. Stack the tamales neatly in the steam-pot in such a way as to avoid the soft masa from spilling out.
The masa will become slightly more fluid as it is heated, but once cooked it will no longer flow. After an hour or so on the steam, you can pull one out to see if they are ready. Let it cool a bit, and see how firm they are. The masa should easily pull away from the husk, and keep its shape and contents intact. If everything looks good, you can pull the tamales from the steamer, and set them out to cool. They are excellent eaten fresh from the pot, or they are easily stored in bags in the freezer for eventual microwaving. This recipe renders us around 70 tamales.
Hopefully you are successful in your tamale making. Use great caution not to alter the recipe too much, I would hate for my wife’s dear departed Grandmother to look down upon your kitchen in horror as you mess up her recipe. And don’t let me catch you selling them in the Walmart parking lot either.