Monday, April 24, 2017

The Fifth Season - The Easiest Chicken and Chorizo Tamales

Like the late John Hurt's numberless War Doctor, Tax Season is not included on the cardinal list which governs the ebb and flow of human activity.  You've got your winter, spring, summer and fall.  Even in a seasonless place like Florida, our schools start shortly before the leaves start turning brown in upstate New York, and end just before spring turns into summer in the Garden State.  Never mind that all we Florida-dwellers really have is the summer season.  Okay, we have winter; it lasts for about 2 weeks at the end of January. Don't hate me because I haven't had to worry about snow since 1991.

But if you happen to be a spouse or spawn of a Public Accountant, you know good and well that Tax is The Fifth Season, and the normal regimen and routine of family life is thrown completely out of whack. I suppose I should be used to it after 30 something years, but I'm not. Too many strangers traipsing through the front door, too many reasons for the dogs to bark their furry little heads off, too much stress sneaking from the office into the living quarters.  Too many notes.

The Fifth Season totally controls our cruising schedule, which maybe isn't such a bad idea.  We recognize how important those cruises are to our well being, which is why we like to sail just before Tax Season starts, and then shortly after it ends.  Having survived yet another Fifth Season, we are set to sail on our current favorite, the Carnival Sunshine, early May. Stay tuned.    

Speaking of The Doctor, I've now watched the first 2 episodes of the new series (BBC-speak for season) and I am reasonably assured that my favorite, the Twelfth (not Thirteenth) Doctor is going finish up his term amidst much better storylines and much-improved writing.    

Saturday night we got to see Alton Brown and his new show "Eat Your Science" at the Dr. Phillips Center in downtown Orlando. Wonderful! And in addition to the food science, the jokes, and the music, he turns out to be a dyed-in-the-wool geek. Quite the multi-tasking genius. In fact, he was quite excited that his show was trending first on Twitter, despite there being a new episode of Doctor Who on at the same time.

It is Alton I am thinking about during these very moments as I begin to construct the tamales. Having previously prepared the various elements, this morning I set up my mise en place, organizing everything I needed to stuff, wrap, and tie up the bundles without having to run across the kitchen each time I needed something. Thanks to Alton though, I now have an ear worm, composed of him singing a rather uncomplimentary song he calls "Mise En Place", sung to the tune of "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music. Thanks, Alton.

And now today's recipe!
Easiest Tamales Ever: Chicken and Chorizo Tamales

The inspiration for this version came from Alice Guadalupe Tapp's second tamale book, to which I applied my technique for short cutting from my Midnight Tamales recipe.  It is really important that you read through the entire recipe before starting!  I also highly recommend starting this at least one day before you plan to serve them.  I found some reheating directions on the net, and added them below.

I want to be real honest about the authenticity of these tamales - there isn't any, or not much at all. But they are so very tasty, and I saved myself so much time during which I would have had to stand on my feet.  I've tasted real tamales at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, and I've even made real tamales from scratch, so I know the difference, but nevertheless I am quite happy with these.

oil for cooking
1 white onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 links Ole' Mexican brand chorizo sausage (100% pork)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-8 oz. bag Tyson Grilled & Ready Fajita Chicken Breast Strips, larger pieces cut into cubes
1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1 - 15 oz. can Old El Paso mild red enchilada sauce
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Fresh mozzarella slices, Galbani brand, cut in half
Grated cotija cheese, to taste (optional)

1-18 oz. tube San Gennaro brand precooked basil and garlic polenta

24 dried corn husks (you probably won't use all of them, but just in case any rip during soaking)
24 pieces kitchen twine, 12 inches each (you may need to cut more)
No-stick spray

You need to soak the dried corn husks for a couple of hours at least.  Place them in your largest pot and fill the pot 3/4 full of water.  Weight down the husks with a heat-proof plate, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Immediately shut off the heat, leave the pot covered and the husks to soften, preferably overnight.

Prepare the filling - over medium heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the chopped onion and garlic, season with kosher salt, a pinch of sugar, and Emeril's Essence, and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the chorizo and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Add the chicken, tomatoes, cumin, oregano, thyme and black pepper, and stir.  Add about half a can of the enchilada sauce and half of the chopped cilantro. Simmer for not more than 5 minutes, and remove from the heat.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add as much more of the cilantro as you like.

Set aside and allow the filling to cool to room temperature, or even better, refrigerate  overnight. Before constructing the tamales, remove some but not all of any excess fat, then stir the filling to incorporate the remaining fat (which is mostly from the chorizo and is full of flavor.)

Remove the polenta from the tube and slice into 1/4 inch slices. An electric knife works really well here.

Create the tamales: I work two at a time, on a cutting pad which I line with some paper towels to absorb excess moisture from the husks. Lay out two of the corn husks, smooth side up.  Hit them with a shot of no-stick spray across the top half of the husk. Place two slices of polenta, shingle fashion, on the husk.

Next, put two small scoops of the filling on the polenta and flatten slightly. Drizzle a small amount of the remaining enchilada sauce down the middle of the filling.  Sprinkle with as much cotija cheese as you like. Place one piece of the mozzarella over the filling pulling apart the cheese with your fingers for more length.

Wrap and tie each tamale using the twine. Sounds easy, but it isn't - you want to bring the sides up and over the filling and then turn up the bottom. Depending on the size of the corn husk, this may end up feeling like you are practicing a juggling act, but do not despair.  Patience and practice succeeds every time. If it turns out the husk isn't wide enough, you can try adding another small husk. One piece of twine may be enough, but feel free to use two pieces to avoid leakage.

I can't tell you exactly how many tamales you will get, but it is somewhere between 12 and 24.  Towards the end, after I had wrapped about 18 tamales, I found myself with 5 more, fairly small husks. For each one I used one slice of polenta, one scoop of filling, and one slice of mozzarella, along with the cotija and enchilada sauce.  When I was all done, I had used up all the ingredients except for a few small pieces of mozzarella (lunch!) and about a quarter cup of the enchilada sauce.

Place the finished tamales, open end up, in a steamer.  I don't own a fancy steamer, so  I placed the tamales in an old fashioned metal colander, tucking the smaller ones in the middle so they wouldn't overcook.  I put on inch or so of water in the bottom of my deepest pot and then placed the filled colander in the pot.  My colander has handles, so it was suspended from the top of the pot, rather than standing on the colander's legs.

Spoon some of the remaining enchilada sauce over the top of each tamale.  Place the pot on the stove, and cover with aluminum foil.  Bring the water to a boil; put the lid on top of the foil, lower the heat to simmer, and steam the tamales for 50 to 55 minutes. The interior temperature should be around 165 degrees.

Serve with my Guacamole-Corn Salsa:

1/2 cup Herdez brand Guacamole Salsa (medium heat)
1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, cut into squares and then scooped from the shell with a spoon
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2-3/4 cup dairy sour cream
cumin, to taste
granulated garlic, to taste
1 cup frozen corn kernels

Combine the guacamole salsa and avocado in a bowl.  Stir to mix well, then with a potato masher, mash the avocado to your preferred texture (or leave it chunky). Stir in the remaining ingredients, excluding the corn.

Put the corn in a rimmed baking dish, and spray with some butter no-stick spray.  Season with freshly ground salt, pepper, and 2 pinches of sugar. Place the pan under the broiler to char the corn.  Watch it carefully, and stir the corn around to promote even charring.  Not all of the kernels will char, so be careful to pull the pan before the corn dries out. Cool completely at room temperature or in the refrigerator, and then add the corn to the avocado mixture.  Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to mellow.

The Herdez salsa is rather spicy, and even with the avocado, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup sour cream added, it was still a bit too spicy for me. I added about 2 more tablespoons of sour cream, which worked rather well.


Fill a pot with a couple inches of water and set the steamer insert in it. Bring the water to a boil.  Stand the tamales in the steamer rack, open end up. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Steam refrigerated tamales for 10 to 15 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Steam frozen tamales 15 to 20 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 F.

You can reheat tamales in your microwave, but it produces a drier texture. Cover the tamale with a damp paper towel and microwave it on high for 15 to 20 seconds. Turn the tamale over, replace the paper towel with a new damp one, and microwave for another 15 to 20 seconds.

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