Tamales are not just masa and meats wrapped in corn husks, a whole experience is wrapped into tamales, they are full of flavor, family, friends, memories, traditions, and history!
The tamale is recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. The women would make tamales for the hunters or when in battle would travel with them, the tamal is a filling meal and holds well for traveling.
Over the centuries tamales remain as one of the most traditional foods in Mexico, and also in Central & Southern America. There are so many variety that are often distinguished by the region of Mexico, the technique for the masa (corn dough) making is fairly consistent, however the fillings have a huge variety. One thing for sure, they are labor intense and time consuming to make, thus now they are so often only made during the holidays or special celebrations.
What I enjoy most of tamales, besides eating them, is the event itself of making the tamales, the tamalada, which is the assemblying of the tamales (soaking the corn husks, spreading the masa, filling them, wrapping them, and cooking). I guess it’s similar to getting together and making Christmas cookies. It’s really quite an event to make the tamales, most often entailing 2-3days of preparation for the shopping of ingredients, preparation of the mole, preparation of the masa, then the assembling, and finally the cooking. If you are making tamales from scratch, and most likely making several dozens, it requires, and is much more fun when family and/or friends participate! The holidays are a great time for a tamalada, growing up my mom and the tias (aunties) and cousins made everything from scratch. And if you are planning on making tamales from scratch and it’s your first time, I highly recommend to have at least one experienced person assisting you so you to get perfect tamales, everything from the masa to the sauce to the cooking process has it’s tricks- trust me! I’m lucky I have El Burrito Mercado to get the prepared masa and tamales fillings so all I have to do is assemble the tamales and cook em up!
Four years ago we held our first tamalada class and people look forward to it now, this weekend we had our 2016 tamalada in our newly expanded La Placita Room and it was a success! Everyone had a great time, my mother, our matriarch, shares some really fun stories and a plethora of information all about tamales while the class sipped on cocktails and ate dinner. Then, the last half of class everyone assembles their tamales, learns about tamales cooking techniques and then enjoy dessert & ponche navideno, each person walks away with a swag bag full of goodies.
Here are some pictures from our 2016 tamalada:
We are offering another tamalada in January, this event is open for kids too, 12yr and older, it’s a wonderful cultural experience, eat delicious authentic dinner, learn the basics about tamale making and then assemble your own to take home and freeze to later cook for your Superbowl party or for any event! Registration is now open and limited capacity, register soon, makes a great holiday gift!
So you see, tamales are not only masa and meats wrapped in the corn husk, also wrapped into each tamal is history, tradition, flavor, memories, and experiences.
Cheers, to your Tamalada!
I recently overheard an elderly couple in El Burrito Mercado standing in front of the counter in the carniceria (meat shop), both very entertained and with big smiles as they observed the fast, skilled carnicero (butcher) slicing cecina. They were curious what it was, so I approached them and gave them a brief explanation, they excitedly bought some. This is not an unusual scenario at our place, and I embrace each of those opportunities to share about our foods with adventurous people like this. Maybe you too are curious to try something new, not to ‘out there’, and easy, so I’ll elaborate a bit with you on what I shared with them regarding cecina.
Cecina is thinly sliced, salted and partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork. The technique of making it requires an extremely sharp knife, considerable skill, and patience. A large piece of boneless beef is lightly folded into a continuous roll of thin slices by deft cutting, back and forth, within the mass of muscle. Not every carniceria has cecina, especially this far north it’s quite challenging for Mexican meat shops to have experienced carniceros, so we feel pretty lucky that we have a couple of the best carniceros (specialty butchers)and are always stocked!
In Mexico, Spain, and Latin America, after cecina is sliced, it is salted and dried by means of air, sun or smoke, or stored, depending on the region. And here in the USA, due to health regulations, the beef is stored in controlled refrigerated temperatures.
Many of our customers are unfamilar with a lot of the specialties we offer in our carniceria. And because cecina requires special skills, it’s probably one the most unique meats a-typical to American butcher shops. In Mexico, it’s the meat you’ll sometimes see in the carnicerias hanging to dry or laying out to dry in the sun, and it’s eaten like beef jerky, or used in cooking. When it’s cooked, like when purchased from our carniceria, it’s most typically either grilled or pan cooked.
I personally love that it cooks quickly, no seasoning needed, and it can be enjoyed in a variety of Mexican favorites such as tacos, tortas, and commonly served with chilaquiles for breakfast. In Mexico there is a breakfast dish known as Aporreadillo (aka machaca in most areas), it’s the shredded cooked cecina scrambled with eggs, onion, and peppers. These options are served for breakfast at El Burrito Mercado’s El Cafe Restaurant!
(Note: Carne asada is a general term used for ‘grilled meats’, however most commonly people inadvertently reference only beef (like ribeye) as carne asada. However, cecina, pork, or even chicken can all be lumped into the general term ‘carne asada’, the most accurate way is to reference a meat as “carne para asar”, so for example, cecina is a carne para asar, “a meat to be grilled”. Cecina is very commonly used for carne asadas, however to eat it in a taco it needs to be chopped after cooking, it’s texture makes it tough to bite from a taco in a whole piece.)
Next time you are in our mercado and if you are unfamiliar with cecina definitely give it a try, it’s the #1 thing I recommend to anyone that is unfamiliar with our meats and want to try something different but easy to cook. It’s simple, basic, and so enjoyable! If you’re lucky, like the elderly couple I met, you’ll catch a carnicero at work slicing cecina.
Tamalada is a great holiday event that brings together family and friends, I’ve even had work teams want to do this as a team building activity and then they proudly enjoy their tamales at their holiday party!
Gingerbread and sugar cookies are seasonal musts for many, but tamales are a holiday staple for Mexican and Latino families like mine. For centuries, tamales were the ideal travel food for Aztec, Mayan and Incan soldiers, farmers or anyone who might be away from home at mealtime because the stuffed delicacies travel so well in their own little ‘packaging’, aka the corn husks. Countless variations have been passed down from generation to generation.
As for making the tamales, it can be a bit timely and labor intense process, so for those that host a tamalada, typically they either make the filling options and masa in advance, or purchase it ready to use from a restaurant or deli like ours El Burrito Mercado. Masa is the corn dough that spreads onto the corn husk, it’s important to have a good masa, meaning it is prepared with the right balance of ingredients, this is a key determinator for whether your tamales will make it or not! I highly recommend buying or masa preparada (ready to spread corn dough), and we do also sell masa regular, some people like to mix their own ingredients into the masa.
For the fillings, the most traditional of tamales fillings is shredded pork in a red chile sauce or shredded chicken in a green sauce, there is an extensive variety of tamales filling options, and so it’s really up to the hostess to decide and have it ready in advance. Some other variations: roasted poblano with cheese, vegetables, beef, beans, and peppers. The other step that a hostess might want to have ready in advance is the preparation of the hojas by soaking them in hot water, this makes the tamales pliable and easier to for spreading the masa onto. I remember when we had tamaladas with our cousins, there were so many we’d soak the hojas in a bathtub!
When it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving, we all have our own ideas of a traditional meal. Most non-Latino families will be celebrating the holiday with a buttered turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and a classic stuffing, but let’s make your table come alive with color, ambiance, energy, and sazon!
For Latinos, there are a few not-so-typical dishes. I feel lucky because I get the best of my favorites, comforting good ‘ol American Thanksgiving meal and a feast of Mexican delights! You’ll still celebrate with the spirit of family, friends, and gratitude, but for Latinos, it’s more than just a meal, it’s more like a Thanksgiving Fiesta.
Let’s start planning! For starters, dress up, this is not just a casual get together, this a Latino party, so ladies, get out the heels and lipstick, and fellas, cologne and a dress shirt please! And, don’t plan to eat at 2pm, our parties start late, and run into the night.
DECOR I love the the orange, yellow, and brown color theme! And the decor is fine, but how about adding some platters, plates, or serving bowls that fits right in with the color scheme. Clay dishes (barro) would add a touch of Mexico to your table decor- I would use bright colored cloth napkins too like yellow, orange and red!
ENTERTAINMENT Yep, we love to party! So Thanksgiving for many Latino families rarely is it just ‘gather around the table’ kind of get together. For many families it varies, music is playing in the background, tios (uncles) may be playing instruments (guitar, congas, maracas), or perhaps playing a game of domino (especially common in the Puerto Rican familias). For you amigos, I recommend some nice bachata or balada music in the background for as guests arrive, (on Pandora try Prince Royce) then later, after dinner, put on some salsa or cumbia music (Marc Anthony is my favorite), clear the tables and get to dancing! For family fun, get a game of Loteria going, Mexican bingo, plan ahead with funny and simple prizes- use dry pinto beans or black beans as your card markers. Oh, and of course, leave the TV on the football channel, muted so as not to kill the fiesta!
BEVERAGES & COCKTAILS For the kiddos, get a variety of Jarritos soda flavors or Goya fruit juices. Wine is fine, and cerveza too, though sipping on tequila as guests arrive is known to open an appetite (and help with digestion after a meal). For Mexicanos, Ponche Navideno is a must and for our carribean amigos, it’s Coquito. Below is a recipe for Ponche Navideno, give it a kick with a bit of tequila or brandy. Coquito, well, that may take a few tries to master its recipe, it’s an egg nog like consistency and it’s a tasty blend of cinnamon, coconut, and rum ingredients! (if you are as lucky as I am, you’ll have friends that will make you a bottle or bring one to share!).
THE MENU There are so many different ways you can change up your menu, here are my favorites:
Roasted Jalapeno Salsa
Frijoles Rancheros (ranch style pinto beans)
Ham or Seasoned Pork Leg (Jamon o Pierna de Pernil)
Other common Mexican foods for special celebrations is pozole and enchiladas, and of course, traditional mole sauce on turkey and make turkey mole enchiladas for next day.
And for dessert, traditional or pumpkin flavored flan, tres leches cake, and my favorite sweet potato with a sweet marshmallow & piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) topping.
And of course, the absolute most important thing about Thanksgiving, be grateful for the company present, and the many blessings from above! And for many ways to make your Thanksgiving special, visit our specialty Mexican deli at El Burrito Mercado!
Happy Thanksgiving amigos, eat, dance, drink and be happy!
Con Amor, Milissa
Here are a few promo spots for our tamalada! Watch for my “Tis Tamales Season” blog!
Here is Em’s Adventures from TC Live:
Tamalada Registration link: