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Tex-Mex Cooking with Robb Walsh


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Photographic evidence tomorrow, but damn. Tamales are hard. Marissa is the Tamale Goddess; however, neither one of us really rolled what I would consider a perfect tamale. We did a single batch tonight -- the pork tamales. Tomorrow I intend to do the chicken tamales, but I think I'm going to ask my local Mexican restaurant if there's anybody there that would be willing to teach me to roll/fill the tamales properly in exchange for booty (i.e. tamales). They're still steaming, so the verdict is not yet in. However, they smell REALLY good. I just don't think they're going to be anywhere near picture-perfect.

Tamales scare me -- they're like making biscuits or gravy or something, I think. Easy once you "get" it, seemingly impossible otherwise.

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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Okay, so last night I was worried that my tamales were not going to be what they should be. The uncooked tamales just didn't look the way I felt like they ought to look. I was wrong! After steaming, they turned out to be utterly scrumptious and really pretty attractive, to boot.

The tamales we made last night were pork tamales. Today I'm going to do another batch, this time with chicken. If freezer space looks good, I may make another few batches on top of that -- maybe to give to friends and family. I predict I'll have lots of fillings left over.

The recipe I followed, by the way, is the one for Mexican-style Tamales on page 91.

The "dough":

tamal-011.jpg

Filling the tamal:

tamal-028.jpg

We were not putting much filling into the tamales, as it seemed to be squishing out the top and bottom, which didn't seem right. As it turns out, the squishing is just fine -- at some point during steaming it just becomes part of the tamale. Next time, I'll be a little more aggressive with the filling.

tamal-029.jpg

(These are my wife's hands, by the way, not mine)

tamal-032.jpg

In the pot for steaming:

tamal-026.jpg

Tamale heaven!

tamal-039.jpg

I will admit that I was truly shocked at how good these turned out. I've eaten a lot of tamales in my day, and these are tied for first place (with those fancy-schmancy ones Neiman-Marcus sells).

The texture was perfectly light and fluffy, and the seasoning was right on. I would make the filling more spicy next time, probably just by adding some hot sauce or something.

Also, the color of the finished product seemed a little pale to me. Would it be heresy to add a spoonful or two of the red chile sauce to the masa while it was in the mixer, just to give it a little extra color?

Libations? Of course! Marissa made Kentucky Club's "Mexican Margarita", from page 236.

tamal-006.jpg

That's a bowl of shrimp in the background, which is what we ate (with mango/orange/pineapple salsa) just prior to filling the tamales.

Be careful with these "Margaritas" -- they are almost nothing but pure liquor. We each had two, and I was pretty tipsy. The flavor was very good, though, for something with so much alcohol.

When I make the chicken tamales this afternoon, I'll post more pictures, just for comparison.

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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bleachboy . . . That is one heck of a report. I made tamales, once. I was amazed at how much work it was and I was doing it on my own. But I might do it again as a group effort. I have to admit that the tamales I made were pretty darn good. Maybe I should try this again. I know this isn't in Robb's book but I made some that were wrapped in banana leaves.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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...

Libations?  Of course!  Marissa made Kentucky Club's "Mexican Margarita", from page 236.

tamal-006.jpg

That's a bowl of shrimp in the background, which is what we ate (with mango/orange/pineapple salsa) just prior to filling the tamales.

Be careful with these "Margaritas" -- they are almost nothing but pure liquor.  We each had two, and I was pretty tipsy.  The flavor was very good, though, for something with so much alcohol.

...

Mmm.. the tamales look great, good idea to try another batch tonight to *imprint* and improve the technique.

Silver tequila (I ususally use Herradura) and Cointreau Margaritas are my favorite.

They are certainly adult cocktails that go down very easily. I make mine a little less sweet: 2 oz silver tequila, 1 oz Cointreau, 2 Tbs lime juice.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Lot's of questions are coming up about the 'red chiles". Guajillo is the way to go. Here in Texas, you may see these misnamed 'cascabel'. For some reason, in some of the Fiesta and other stores they don't call them Guajillo. Cascabel is actually a small roundish dried chile.

New Mexico dried red chiles substitute perfectly.

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Thank you so much for the kind words on the tamal recipe. Robb and I wanted to be sure that the tamal recipes in the book were good. Also, I wanted to have a recipe that would result in a small portion, 2 dozen or so, and that could use masa harina, that I hoped would be readily available everywhere.

For a low fat tamal, don't hesitate to try baking some cornbread, breaking it up and making a mush with a little bit of water. Then use the same filling, husks (or wax paper or aluminum foil wrappings) and steaming method. The flavor is very good.

One of the best ways to spread masa is with a plastic scraper, like you use for bread making. You have your mass of masa and you cut off a bit and spread it, just like you were tiling plaster on sheetrock.

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Some additional tips. Adding either the chile puree or paprika to the masa will help add color.

You can add heat by adding black or white pepper to the filling. Seems like when I was growing up, most tamales got their heat from black pepper.

Additionally you can take a little bit of the broth that you will mix the masa in, a simmer it with a bunch of dried hot chili's like the ones you see in Chinese food, Indian food, or Tabasco, or, fresh sliced Serranos. The trick is to add heat to the broth before you blend it with the masa, so that the cooked masa has the chile fire in it.

When I make the cornbread tamales, I always put a lot of black pepper into the cornbread mush to add heat to the tamales.

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I noticed that you used a food processor for the masa. If you have access to a Kitchen Aid mixer with a whisk attachment, you can whip more air into the masa. Be careful to run the mixer on your slower speeds. I actually burned up the bearings on my Kitchen Aid making tamales and using high speed. The new Kitchen Aids come with instructions that you should use low speeds for doughs, etc.

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Thank you so much for the kind words on the tamal recipe.  Robb and I wanted to be sure that the tamal recipes in the book were good. Also, I wanted to have a recipe that would result in a small portion, 2 dozen or so, and that could use masa harina, that I hoped would be readily available everywhere.

For a low fat tamal, don't hesitate to try baking some cornbread, breaking it up and making a mush with a little bit of water.  Then use the same filling, husks (or wax paper or aluminum foil wrappings) and steaming method. The flavor is very good.

One of the best ways to spread masa is with a plastic scraper, like you use for bread making.  You have your mass of masa and you cut off a bit and spread it, just like you were tiling plaster on sheetrock.

Now I know what to do with the leftover corn bread other than stuffing! This really is a very cool idea.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I think one of the keys to good tamales is whipping the masa. The more you whip, the lighter they'll be. Nothing worse that tamales with masa like lead. My friend Maria's mom says that you can't overbeat it. I usually let mine go for at least 10 minutes. Never thought of using the whip attachment. I just use the regular beater. There's always something to learn. I don't tie mine, either, just fold the lower end up and stack. I've never had one unroll (I think a little of the masa squeezes out and glues it together.) I package them in one dozen bundles and seal them in my food saver and plop them in the freezer. They do make a great little gift.

Stop Family Violence

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Lot's of questions are coming up about the 'red chiles".  Guajillo is the way to go.  Here in Texas, you may see these misnamed 'cascabel'.  For some reason, in some of the Fiesta and other stores they don't call them Guajillo.  Cascabel is actually a small roundish dried chile.

New Mexico dried red chiles substitute perfectly.

Also, depending on where you live, you may see New Mexicos also labeled as California, Anahiem or Colorado chiles.

Some of the pics on this page can help you identify them by sight:

click here for fresh and dried chile info.

...I thought I had an appetite for destruction but all I wanted was a club sandwich.

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Some additional tips.  Adding either the chile puree or paprika to the masa will help add color.

Thanks for that tip! I just now got done with my second batch of tamales, the chicken and salsa verde, and I definitely feel confident in tamale manufacture. It goes considerably slower with just one person working, though. Tomorrow I'm going to make a third batch to use up the pork filling I made. I FoodSaver'ed the first batch today, and will probably give a lot of these to my mom for Mother's Day (both my parents are tamale fiends -- like father/mother, like son). I will definitely try adding a few spoonfuls of the chile puree to the masa to add some color.

Also, I do appreciate the fact that your recipe can use just plain "Maseca" -- the Rick Bayless recipes I investigated during this process all specified sourcing out fresh masa or using grits (?!) instead. I know for a fact that most Mexican-Americans use Maseca for just about everything. I could probably get fresh masa at my local tortilleria, but being able to use the bag of Maseca that's already in my pantry is a big plus.

They're not done steaming yet, but here's some photos of the chicken tamale process...

The filling:

tamal2-003.jpg

Spreading the masa (p.s. I just used a tablespoon) - G&T in background :biggrin: :

tamal2-005.jpg

Adding the filling - a healthy pinch of chicken bits plus a big spoonful of salsa verde:

tamal2-008.jpg

Tamales in the pot:

tamal2-010.jpg

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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p.s. tomorrow - puffy tacos and deep-fried tacos (the ones with potato in the filling, I forget what the recipe was called)... Marissa is going to be doing some non-beverage chipping in with the puffy tacos! :biggrin:

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

Peace on Earth

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A big bag-o-tamales for Mother's Day. What an inspired idea! You are a good son, bleachboy. :biggrin:

Thanks for the tip on using the whisk, Jay. I didn't think of it the time I did it and when I have helped friends with the process we didn't think of it then, either. I do hope some of you try tamales with the home rendered lard. Robb's method is pretty much the same as the second method that I put in RecipeGullet here. Other than finding good firm pork fat and cutting it up, :raz: it is really no trouble and the result is sooooo good. Plus, you get all of those lovely cracklin's. Then you have some lard for frying the chile sauces. It keeps a long time in a glass jar in the fridge or freezer.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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For those living in Houston, the Fiesta on I-10 at Blalock and quite a few others sell the pork fat in the meat section and it is labelled 'for manteca' . Easiest way to render your own lard is to buy one of these and slow melt it in the oven.

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the InterLibrary Loan fairy brought me this book so..... what to make?

the Montparnasse Gruyere Enchiladas looked really good so, since i'm alone for dinner...

made the red chile sauce and (hopefully) haven't ruined the two sets of clothes the pepper mix splashed on while straining it. quickly rinsed in cold water and sprayed. used up some green tomato wraps that had gotten hard in the fridge so warmed in the micro and rolled with the ancho and cheese.

drank an ipa while working then made a mango margarita while waiting for the enchiladas to cook. it was a bit too strong for me so i cut it by half with orange seltzer.

i really like the smoothness and heat of the dish. am having it with some black beans and rice and a cold negro modela. :biggrin:

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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  • 2 weeks later...

I made the McAllen fajitas for mother's day. They were pretty good but very much on the sour side, too much lime juice. Next time I will cut the lime juice significantly.

I was planning on making the Ninfas red salsa but it says to put the tomatoes in boiling water and does not give a quantity for the water. So I opted for the smoked tomato salsa instead. Very good choice, it was awsome.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I recently bought this book to join in on this thread. I look forward to making recipes you all have outlined here, but I have had little time lately.

However, I did make Migas for the first time this past weekend. It was the first time I had eaten them too. My wife and I really enjoyed them, and its a great base recipe. I didn't take any pictures because, well, it looked pretty gross.

I hope to report back on new recipes soon.

Mike

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I made the McAllen fajitas for mother's day. They were pretty good but very much on the sour side, too much lime juice. Next time I will cut the lime juice significantly.

I was planning on making the Ninfas red salsa but it says to put the tomatoes in boiling water and does not give a quantity for the water. So I opted for the smoked tomato salsa instead. Very good choice, it was awsome.

Elie

Elie, the way i do this... you just need enough water to halfway cover the tomatoes and garlic. it is only for softening and the water will not be used... it doesn't mention this but you can gently turn the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and only need to boil them a few minutes.

aside from that i really like the smoked salsa also. lucky mom, sounds good!

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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well, i just had to do it... i had to delve into the older original recipes Robb has given us. and i'm so glad i did. :biggrin:

i did make some minor adjustments to accommodate what i had in my pantry... but i really don't think it made that much difference.

the chili puree base (p. 50) for the sauce of the chili queen enchiladas (p. 58) gives them a rich and complex flavor i remember from eating enchiladas at my friend's house when i was a child in the early 60s. with the sharp and creamy queso fresco, these are going to be eaten often around here... :wub: another great opportunity to use the MX oregano from the garden.

i used half weight of the dried anchos, as that was what i had on hand, but supplemented that, as Robb suggested, with other dried chiles from my own garden stash. i added several dried dark red anaheims (or NM red chiles according to some), and several dried small red chiles that my neighbor who gave me the first seeds just calls MX red chiles. they are about the size/shape of a medium jalapeno, but with a pointed end and mature to a red-orange color, thin fleshed and medium heat. i use them quite often for MX/TX MX sauces, but i'm not sure what they are. i do like their flavor.

the chili queen enchiladas

gallery_12550_103_29787.jpg

the casa rio chili con carne (p. 51) is simple, rich and delicious, a pork and beef stew really. it was truly created to be done in a stoneware olla and i made mine in my la chamba pot, stovetop over a med low gas flame. so mine took longer than the suggested 60+ minutes over a higher flame, about 3 hours altogether.

another adjustment i made was since i had just made chili puree for the chili queen enchiladas sauce (and the proportion worked out just about right) i used a cup of that to replace some of the dried chiles and one cup of the liquid. i also only used 1/2 cup of fat with the 1/4 cup of flour to thicken the chili stew instead of 3/4 cup fat as suggested. that just seemed way over the top for me personally. oh, spank me now! :raz: i had no lard so i used half rendered chicken fat/half veg oil for all the fat in both recipes. and i garnished the chili with fresh chopped onions.

chili doesn't look like much but this was exceptionally good Friday night and even better last night.

gallery_12550_103_32853.jpg

i would recommend both of these recipes. :wub:

edited for typo.

Edited by lovebenton0 (log)

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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  • 1 month later...

Tex-Mex Chili Gravy

I have been playing with this recipe. As this happened, I started making a few minor adjustments. I now use an All-Clad 2 quart (8 cup) quart stainless steel saucier and a metal whisk. The All-Clad transmits heat more efficiently and I have reduced the cooking temperatures accordingly. Also, I have given in to three personal biases. First, I tend to under salt my dishes, my philosophy being that one can always add salt at the table. And cheese enchiladas, for which this gravy is used, has a lot of salt from the cheese already. So, since Kosher salt carries less saltiness per teaspoon than table salt (larger flakes), by changing the recipe to call for Kosher salt, the over-all saltiness is reduced. Next, the amount of Mexican oregano called for in the original recipe is true to the gravy made by many restaurants. However, I don’t like the Mexican oregano to overpower the dish, so I have reduced the amount to suit my own personal tastes. Last, although the amount of cumin seems like a lot, most cumin sits on the shelf for a while and loses its potency. If, however, you are grinding fresh cumin, or using a top quality brand, go easy on the cumin. You can always add more later.

Cooking times are now based on the All-Clad stainless steel saucier.

Makes 1 quart (4 cups) of chili gravy.

Ingredients:

½ cup vegetable oil (I use extra light tasting olive oil…these are the olive oils you see in the store that are recommended for frying) but to be more authentic, you can use lard. It will taste better with lard.

½ cup all purpose flour

Mix all of the following together and have them ready to toss into the pan.

1 teaspoon ground black pepper (if using freshly ground, you may need to reduce the amount. Start with ½ teaspoon and add more later)

2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt)

1 tablespoon powdered garlic (“Powdered” garlic? This is very common in Tex-Mex cooking and perfectly acceptable)

2 teaspoons ground cumin (Again, if you are grinding your own, be sure to reduce the amount by half to start off with)

½ teaspoon of Mexican oregano (Not Mediterranean oregano. Different plant. Well, in a pinch you can substitute)

2 tablespoons Gebhardt’s chili powder (Or home-made, or in a pinch, paprika. You’ll be surprised how many Tex-Mex restaurants just use paprika)

4 cups of water (Or chicken broth, though I prefer water)

Tex-Mex Chili Gravy Instructions (Updated for 2005):

Heat the oil in the sauce pan or a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a whisk or wooden spoon and continuously stir for about 3 minutes. What you are looking for is a very light brown roux. You don’t bring the roux any darker because as the roux darkens, the flour loses its thickening ability. What you’re doing is just taking the raw edge off the flour.

After 3 minutes or so of stirring (don’t be afraid to go 4 minutes if it doesn’t look right), turn of the heat, continuing to stir. Dump the powdered ingredients into the roux and stir with a whisk for a few seconds to blend. The residual heat from the roux is going to release some flavorful oils in the cumin, Mexican oregano, and chili powder. Stir in the 4 cups of water.

Turn the heat back on, this time to the low setting, and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring with the whisk every so often. The gravy will have thickened, and will continue to thicken after it is baked with the enchiladas, so you don’t need to continue thickening it.

Taste the gravy (don’t burn your tongue!) and adjust seasonings as needed.

Allow to cool and reserve for use in making Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas.

More Comments:

My favorite cookware: I use a large cast iron skillet that has been well seasoned for any high heat applications, such as steaks, fajitas, etc. I use a 2 quart All-Clad stainless steel saucier (comes with a lid) for making gravy, sauces, and candy, mainly because I have one and also because Teflon coated pots can’t handle the higher temperatures needed for most candy-making. I use Teflon coated pots and sauce pans for just about everything else. They are easy to clean, inert to acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, and allow one to use less oil. I’ve had good luck with my Anolon saucier. Additionally, I have a carbon steel wok with a built in handle. My favorite measuring cups are the Oxo brand that have the measurements on the inside. Oxo also makes a terrific garlic press.

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