By Victor Corral Martinez
Signal Staff Writer
A staple during the holidays in many Latino households is the iconic tamales at the dinner table, a treat that many families bond together making. A tamal is a corn flour dough surrounding a filling, wrapped in a corn husk and slowly steamed.
The origins of tamales date back to the Olmecs and Toltecs, prehistoric Mesoamerican civilizations that date thousands of years before the Aztecs.
Tamales historically have been stuffed with various items such as turkey, fish, or vegetables. The recipe for tamales has changed a bit in the past 500 years but predominantly remains unchanged.
Today’s tamales traditionally feature chicken, roasted peppers and cheese, or pork, and dessert tamales are commonly made with raisins. The festive food is given to family and friends, starting around Thanksgiving but continuing through Christmas.
Local places to buy tamales:
Located at 24330 Main St. with more than two decades of operation, Jazmin’s offers many seasonal baked goods. The bakery also makes tamales including the more common fillings and traditional Guerrero style. Varieties include jalapeño and cheese, pork in red sauce, chicken in green sauce and a chicken mole in a banana leaf. You can reach them at: instagram.com/jazminsbakery.
California Bakery & Cafe:
Located at 23021 Soledad Canyon Road, the bakery makes many baked and fried goods and also sells tamales. The business is also close to selling out of holiday preorders and advises placing a phone order in advance. You can reach California Bakery & Cafe at 661-255-1254.
Located at 18283 Soledad Canyon Road, Tamales Express offers tamales year-round and has a food truck used for special events and catering in Santa Clarita. For more than two years, the business has been owned and operated by husband and wife Romualdo and Yesenia Barrera.
The business began one holiday season when Romualdo and Yesenia Barrera ate tamales made by Romualdo’s mother. They only ate tamales during Christmas but wanted to enjoy them year-round, according to Romualdo.
“We love tamales, and that was one of the main reasons why we opened the restaurant because It wasn’t fair that you could only have it during the holidays,” Yesenia said.
The Barreras began researching and having their family taste test the items. Eventually, the business opened in 2019 but quickly filled a void for people wanting tamales outside of the holidays.
“Right now we’re making a thousand pounds of masa in two days,” Romualdo said.
Currently, Tamales Express offers beef in red and green sauce, chicken, pork tamales, chicharrón (fried pork belly), jalapeño and cheese tamales.
Romualdo said there are times the business runs out, and it takes about three hours to make a batch of tamales, often selling out before the day is over. Even with increased production, it is still not enough.
“Monday through Thursday we make up to 1,200 tamales a day,” Romualdo said. “Friday, Saturday and Sunday we sell over 2,000.”
On Dec. 23 and 24, Tamales Express expects to sell 12,000 tamales in preorders alone and make an additional thousand for last-minute additions to orders.
Many times the food truck will have more tamales available, in addition to churros and specialty Mexican drinks. The Barreras advise preordering tamales and checking their social media page for more information: instagram.com/tamalesexpress_scv.
If you’re planning to experience making tamales the traditional way with your family, Romualdo says to be in a good mood and have patience with the process.
“I would say don’t get frustrated if you’re new to making tamales,” Romualdo said. “I feel like it’s one of the toughest items to make, honestly.”
Chicken Tamales Recipe: Recipes varies by country, region and grandmother. There is no perfect recipe that will make everyone happy, but this recipe is designed for beginners who want to try one of the most popular varieties of tamales.
For tamal dough:
1 package of corn husks
1 cup vegetable shortening, room temperature
1 cup of broth (Use the water from boiled chicken)
2 cups of corn flour (also called masa harina or maseca)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
For the tamal Filling:
1 chicken breast, boiled and shredded
1 pound tomatillos
2 cups water
1 white onion
1 poblano chili
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
The corn husks must be soaked for 30 minutes and cleaned of any leftover corn hairs. After soaking the husk, you set them aside to dry.
You can choose to boil or pan cook your chicken, but for this recipe, boiling is easiest. First, place chicken breast in boiling water; add salt and onions for taste. After 15 minutes of boiling chicken, set the chicken to cool and shred with a fork.
Combine the maseca masa mix, baking powder and salt. Stir into the vegetable shortening, adding more broth from the boiled chicken as necessary to form a spongy dough. You can add more maseca mix if you add too much broth. A clump should float in a cup of water; if not, keep stirring.
You can boil, pan cook, or grill the peppers, but boiling the ingredients is faster and easier for this purpose.
Cut the tomatillos into quarters and peppers into slices. Dice garlic and onions. Add the ingredients to a boiling pot of water, add a teaspoon of salt and cook for 20 minutes or until peppers are soft. Drain the ingredients and place in a blender until ingredients are well-blended and you have a bright green salsa. Finally, pour the salsa into the shredded chicken, mix and let the chicken marinate.
With a spoon, scoop the tamale dough and spread it on two-thirds of the inner husk; make sure the layer of dough is about a quarter-inch thick. Next, scoop the filling in the center of the dough-covered husk with a spoon.
Fold half of the tamal to cover the filling, then fold the other half; fold the bottom of the corn husk under your tamal. The spreading of dough and folding is the hardest part of making tamales and will require many attempts before mastering the skills of a grandmother with decades of experience making tamales.
Add a few cups of water to a traditional steamer pot and heat until water is hot. An old grandmother’s trick is to add a coin to the water. If you hear the coins rattling, that means there’s enough water. If you can’t hear the coins moving, then you need to add more water to the pot.
Place the rack in the steamer pot, gently placing your tamales into the steamer upright with the open part of the husk at the top.
Once you’ve added all of your tamales to the steamer, cover and steam over medium heat for 45 minutes or until cooked. Let tamales cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Optional: Alternatively, using a slow cooker with a steamer setting can equally work. Apply the recommended amount of water for your multicooker, place the tamales upright and steam for 20 minutes. Check to see the dough is cooked and separating from the husk. You can also change the fillings to incorporate cheese or other favorite ingredients.