Adapted Rick Bayless Tamales

I love watching and reading Rick Bayless, but I haven’t cooked many of his recipes. They always sound delicious, but they’re almost always not recipes for a weeknight. There are usually 12 things that need to be prepared – not just chopped – *prepared* – before the dish can even go together. This even tries my patience, and as a frequent preparer of Indian food, I have a pretty high tolerance to bajillion-ingredient recipes.

But I wanted to try a new tamale dough recipe, so I thought I’d give Mr. Bayless a chance. He might not even recognize this recipe, I’ve stripped it down so much – I just wanted a basic tamale dough, and this started out as Juchitan-Style Black Bean Tamales, and was meant to be steamed in banana leaves. I was not going to go that far on this occasion. I have abridged the ingredients and simplified the preparation. Also, I’ve used veggie broth instead of chicken broth and butter as the fat instead of lard or vegetable shortening. I should probably find a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening to use in tamales, but they’re so much effort, I’d hate to make a batch that didn’t work out because of the fat.

Why did I use a recipe at all if I’m going to decimate it, then? I stripped this down to make sure it was a good basic recipe – I usually load my tamales up with a variety of things, including spinach, cheese, beans, onions, and tomatoes. This makes them inauthentic but good, and a solid basic recipe helps that a lot. They were good to begin with, though next time I’ll probably add a little bit of sugar. So here’s my very adapted, totally bare-bones tamale dough. I promise a more tasty and elaborate version next time.

1 package dried cornhusks, soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes
5 ½ oz. butter (room temperature)
1 ¾ c. masa harina mixed with 1 c. plus 2 T. hot water, then allowed to cool (I popped it in the freezer and stirred it a few times)
2/3 c. cool vegetable broth
½ c. chopped cilantro
1 t. salt

Place a steamer rack in a large pot and fill with water to almost touch the steamer. Set it on a burner turned to medium heat. If it comes to a boil before you’re ready to put the tamales in, just turn it down slightly.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter for a few seconds until smooth. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Add the cilantro. Beat in enough broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should softly hold its shape in a spoon. Season with salt, about 1 t., depending on the saltiness of the broth.

To form the tamales, shake a cornhusk dry and place it in your dominant hand with the narrow end facing toward your body. Using a spoon or measuring cup, place about 1/3 c. filling on the corn husk, near the right-hand edge and about halfway down. Slightly shape it into a log shape. Roll the husk shut from right to left and set it down. Tear a thin strip from another husk, fold the narrow bottom of the husk containing the tamale over and tie it with the thin strip. Set the finished tamale aside and repeat with the remaining dough.

Place all the tamales, open ends up, on the steamer rack, and steam for 1 hour. Remove the husks before eating. (You laugh, but it happens.) Serve hot with salsa on top.

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