The Art of the Tamal

Yesterday I spent four hours with 13 other strangers and Monica’s mom in a tamale making class. Having experience the joy of tamale making with Monica’s family last year, we thought we could learn some pointers about making masa, at least. The class was fun, but the idea of 13 strange hands, literally, mixing up masa and handling all the ingredients kind of grossed me out. It’s bad enough when you have your families’ hands in your food. I looked over at one point to find four people with their hands mixing the masa at one time while others would walk by, pinch a piece of raw masa off and eat it.  I tried to be open minded and assured myself that any Hep C or MRSA that might be lingering would be burned away in the cooking process.

Monica assured me that since the class was put on by the Co-op that all the ingredients would be healthy and organic. Riiight. “They teach the classes to promote the products,” she said, in so many words.  “I’m sure they’ll use corn oil.”

Guess which healthy ingredient is NOT available at the Co-op, besides the dry masa?

Yes, you got it. The lard from a pig, affectionately called manteca, that comes in a plastic tub,  When stirred, it looks like caramel, but it’s basically melted pig’s ass.

The instuctor dumped this stuff in EVERYTHING: the masa, the pork, the beans, the cooked salsa.

So much for ‘healthy.”

She then tried to give us a song and dance about how “manteca has a bad rap” and it’s really not bad for you. “The use of limes and vinegar in Mexican dishes helps.” Uh, ok. Any moron would know that four quarts of pig fat cannot be good for you, no matter how many limes you eat. I grew up with a grandmother that cooked everything in bacon fat, but even she would balk at this.

Random man demonstrating masa mixing

One of the key points in tamale making, I’ve learned, is getting the masa the right consistency so you can spread it nicely on the corn husks or hojas. You start with a bag of dry masa that looks like a cross between flour and corn meal. Then you place it into a large bowl or baptismal font, whichever you have handy.  Then you add the manteca.  A Lot of It. Then you add moisture with broth or water if you have no broth. You then plunge your hands into it and knead and mix it until you get the desired consistency. Some insist that the way to test the masa’s doneness is to drop a ball into water and see if it floats. The teacher thought this was ridiculous and had never heard of that.  Pretty much anything with that much fat is going to float at any stage.  

Of course, I like tamales and since my labor went into making this batch, I thought I’d take a free day and eat them.

Wrong. Thing. To. Do.

After four weeks of “clean” eating and working out, I now feel like my guts have been stripped with furniture polish and I have a horrible lingering taste in my mouth nearly 24 hours later. I need to purge my system with salad.

One comment

  1. Ta–As bad as you feel, I have to say I was just doubled over laughing so hard reading this post. Now MY guts hurt! By the way thanks for letting me eat the rest of the tamales 🙂 BONUS!

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