Thanks for your input everyone, I have been very busy lately and haven't had as much time for cooking as I might like. However, I am no relatively caught and have turned my attention back to tamales.
I've decided to take Rancho Gordo's excellent advice and take a bottom-up approach rather than a top down. In my zeal sometimes I get obsessed with perfecting every aspect of a process and lose sight of important details like learning the specifics of the technique first.
Unfortunately, maseca para tamales doesn't seem to be available in my area. The white bags are plentiful, but the pink bags seem nowhere to be found. I will check agian at my local tortilla factory to see if they have any masa para tamales, but I don't really want to go the pre-prepared route.
andies: Thanks so much for writing about your neighbours procedure. As I said I will make them with maseca just to get it done once, but once I have attained basic mastery I think I will turn my attention to the masa, and I always welcome any information I can get! Luckily for me, someone was kind enough to bring this thread to rancho's attention (somehow your earlier suggestion slipped by me or was forgotten). I might add I have nothing but great admiration and respect for all the things I've seen you do or talk about through reading old e-gullet threads.
If you insist on making your own masa, you need to find large field corn that is dried, soak it in water and Cal and then rub the skins off and then grind it (while moist). This is great but it's also for channel swimmers, if you know what I mean.
Maybe it is because I have never acutally done this, or maybe I'm just crazy, but strangely enough this doesn't sound that difficult to me. What exactly is so difficult about this? It took me a long time to figure out exactly what happens in the process of making fresh masa from reading different bits and pieces, but now that I do understand it seems relatively simple. I know that if I knew somewhere I could get ready access to the right corn here in montreal I would jump on it.
You have plenty of other things to worry about making tamales, like sourcing good manteca and folding techniques.
My manteca is fairly good I think; I get fat from a local pig farmer who raises excellent pigs, and then render it myself at home. Is the savory lard (amber-coloured when rendered and still liquid) the most appropriate kind for tamales?
You mention folding techniques. I recall reading that one person whips their masa in a mixer first to make it light in fluffy, and another recipe specifies kneading until a chunk of masa "floats in cold water". Would you be willing to talk a little bit more about the different techniques or perhaps provide a description of one of the most basic ones?
I hope I'm not coming off as obnoxious, I like to really go into the details, and I know some people don't feel the same way. Obviously, I am a tamal-making virgin but I'd like to gather as much information as I can before I embark. I want to start with the most basic, open ended version of tamales with each element executed to the best of my ability.
I really appreciate any and all help your willing to give, but as you may have guessed, I feed on details.
Edited by Gabriel Lewis, 06 November 2006 - 07:17 AM.