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Cilantro Pork Tamales

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Why I Love This Recipe

I have found a new favorite ingredient - masa harina! Masa harina is a common flour made out of corn and is used to make quite a few Mexican specialities such as tortillas, tamales, arepas, etc. I've been playing around in the kitchen with masa harina for more gluten free dishes and it's been such a delicious adventure. Stay tuned for more recipes calling for masa harina in the near future! The most recent dish I made using masa harina includes these Cilantro Pork Tamales. Slow braised pork is cooked with a cilantro and tomato salsa before using as a flavorful tamale filling...

I've made tamales a number of times and it never fails. Each time I make them, I fall in love with tamales all over again - even moreso now being gluten free. For these tamales, be prepared to give it some time. For one, I slow braised the pork shoulder in a crockpot for 4-6 hours. The cilantro flavor is slowly absorbed as the pork cooks in a puree of cilantro, tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, onion, lime juice and seasonings. While the pork cooks, you can prepare the masa dough. The dough itself requires some patience to get the right consistency. If you want that fluffy masa, plan to chill the dough for an hour before assembling. The dried corn husks in which the tamales are wrapped will also need to be soaked in warm water so they become pliable and easy to fill. Lastly, the most fun part of making tamales is assembling them. If you have some extra friends that want to help assembling, use them! A lot of great conversations can be had while assembling tamales.

As you assemble them, have the pot of water boiling and then steam the tamales all at once. After they're done, cool them slightly before enjoying or cool them completely before packing them for the freezer.

To serve, garnish them with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of cheese and a little touch of chopped fresh cilantro and tomatoes.

Ingredients You'll Need

For the filling:
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4-6 small to medium sized Roma tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For the batter:
3/4 cups vegetable shortening, slightly softened but not melted
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
3/4 cup chicken broth
1-pound package dried corn husks, soaked in warm water to soften


1. Preparing the filling. In a large blender or food processor (or working in batches), combine the filling ingredients except the pork. Cover and blend to a smooth puree. Transfer mixture to a crockpot and add pork. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours. Once done, remove from crockpot and allow to cool enough to handle with your hands or forks. Shred pork and place in a large bowl.

2. Preparing the masa dough. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed the shortening with 1 teaspoon salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1/2 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think necessary.

* For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding enough additional broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

3. Preparing the corn husks. Soak the dried corn husks in warm water to soften and make pliable for filling.

4. Setting up the steamer. Steaming tamales can be done in batches in a collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan. It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover scraps of softened corn husks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between leaves so condensing steam can drain off.

5. Forming the tamales. Cut twenty thin strips of soften corn husks. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out a husk, smooth-side up, and spread 1/3 cup of the batter into an 8x4-inch rectangle over the middle section. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling over the left side of the rectangle of batter, then fold in the right third of the leaf so that the batter encloses the filling. Fold in the uncovered third of the leaf, then fold in the top and bottom. Loosely tie the tamales with husk strips and set them in the steamer.

6. Steaming and serving the tamales. When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of corn husk scraps or leftovers. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 hour. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.

Tamales are done when the leaf peels away from the masa easily... about 45 minutes to an hour Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.

Working Ahead: Both filling and batter can be made several days ahead, as can the finished tamales; refrigerate, well covered. Re-steam (or even microwave) tamales before serving. For even more flexibility, batter, filling or finished tamales can be frozen. Defrost finished tamales in the refrigerator overnight before re-steaming.

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