PBS is celebrating the holidays by sharing some of the favorite traditions, memories and recipes that make all of our holidays so very important and special. Each day we will highlight a new story from some of your favorite personalities.
Eduardo Pagán is one of the History Detectives, specializing in the American Southwest. Eduardo also serves as the Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History at Arizona State University.
My absolute favorite holiday memory, and food, is the traditional tamale meal on Christmas Eve. Tamales are a dish that has been prepared in the Americas long before the coming of Columbus, and it is a common modern practice within Mexican American communities for women of the neighborhood to sell tamales by the dozen during the holiday season to earn some extra spending money. And we had our favorite cooks who we would buy from every year. I well remember sitting at the dinner table, surrounded by my brothers and sister, eagerly waiting for my mother to bring a steaming plate of freshly steamed tamales which we would promptly devour after prayers—my favorites were red salsa tamales with pulled pork, and tamal de dulce—sweet tamales—with raisins and nuts for desert.
For an example of a traditional tamale dish, see the recipe below from the upcoming Lidia Celebrates America special, which premieres December 20 on many PBS stations.
This recipe for pork tamales comes from San Antonio's landmark Mi Tierra restaurant, now run by the third generation of the Cortez family. Watch Lidia Bastianich make tamales and celebrate a San Antonio Christmas, in Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions.
- PORK BUTT
- 2 ½ lbs. Boneless pork butt
- 1 Tbsp. Garlic powder
- 1 Tsp. Salt
- 1 Tsp. Black pepper
- 10 lbs. Masa (cornmeal flour)
- 4 cups Pork lard
- ¼ cup Water
- 3 Tbsp. Baking powder
- 2 oz. Chile Ancho to color masa
- TAMALE ASSEMBLY
- 6 dozen dried corn husks
- CHILE SAUCE
- ½ lb. Chile Ancho
- 1 Tsp. Garlic powder
- ½ Tsp. Ground cumin
- 2 cups Water (stock saved from boiling the Chile Ancho)
- 2 Tbsp. Pork lard
- 2 Tbsp. Salt
- PORK: Place pork butt in medium-size stock pot. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Add cold water to cover the pork. On high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and let it simmer partly covered for about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Remove pork from the stock and let it cool at room temperature. When cook, begin shredding the meat into fine threads.
- CHILE SAUCE: In a large saucepan, boil the chile ancho for about 10 – 12 minutes or until softened. Drain the chiles and reserve the water. Rinse the seeds out of the boiled chiles. Put the chiles, garlic and cumin in a blender and blend well. Add the 2 cups of reserved water. In a heavy, large-size saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons pork lard over medium high heat. Add the drained chile puree very carefully because it will splatter. Reduce the heat to low. Cook over low heat for about 10-15 minutes. Take sauce off the heat. (Reserve about 2 ounces of this sauce to color the masa). Combine the pork with the chile sauce.
- MASA: Place 10 pounds of masa in a large mixing bowl. Pour water and add the baking powder over the masa evenly. Add salt and begin mixing the masa with your hands. Add the pork lard and two ounces of chile ancho sauce (this adds color to the masa) and knead the masa once more. Masa is ready when it starts to feel thick and compact. Pad it down in bowl and set it aside.
- TAMALE ASSEMBLY: Soak the dried husks in warm water for about an hour and a half or until soft. Drain the husks well; pat dry with paper towels. For each tamale spread about 2 tablespoons of the masa mixture on each cornhusk. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling lengthwise down the center. Fold husk and secure with strips of cornhusk. Steam for about 1 hour.
- STEAM TAMALES: At this point, the tamales are ready to be steamed. Use a stock pot with wire lining or steamer insert. Add enough water as to keep it below the steamer. Add a few husks to prevent the tamales from getting wet. Tamales must be placed open side up along the inside perimeter of the stock pot. Place extra husks on top the tamales and cover the pot. Steam for about an hour or until the husk peels away from the masa easily.
- Serve warm or freeze after cooling.
Yield: Makes 4-6 dozen tamales