Looking forward to leftovers
November 24, 2008
I’ve been getting some flack lately for not staying on message, to borrow a phrase from the presidential campaigns. “You’re a southwestern restaurant so write about Mexican food.” “The economy is in the tank so write about economical ways to feed the family.” “It’s Thanksgiving so write about turkey.” OK, I’ll try.
By the time you read this it is likely that your Thanksgiving Day game plan has already been set. Either your menu is written and supplies purchased, you’re celebrating at friends and family, or you’ve ordered the banquet-in-a-bag from your favorite supermarket. But leftovers are just as much a part of the feast as the feast itself, so I thought we might offer an alternative to turkey on white bread.
Thanksgiving as you may well imagine is not a big deal in Mexico. I know this for a fact because when Ardie and I got married we spent our honeymoon in Puerta Vallarta and it happened to be the last week of November. At a restaurant we passed a waiter was attempting with some difficulty to write his version of our typical menu. Somehow he figured out that we were Americans and asked for our help in spelling “turkey.”
Like most cultures, holidays in Mexico are all about food, and tamales seem to show up at most of them. The ladies get together and bring their best game. Stories are told and skills are honed.
But people tend to think that if you weren’t born with a corn husk in your hand that the process of making tamales is daunting. I’ll admit that we make all the stuff for ours then the wife of one of my Mexican friends comes up and rolls them for us.
That’s because we do about 60 every other week and also, if we want to look like we know what we’re doing, they should look perfect. But yours don’t have to. As long as the ingredients taste good the tamales will be good. Besides, there’s always what we call, “cosmetic saucing.”
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You can simplify things without sacrificing quality by purchasing the prepared masa at one of the Latin markets like Mercado San Juan on Clearview or Fortuna Meat Market on Highway 50. You’ll also have an easier time finding the dried chilis needed for the sauce at one of these specialty stores.
The sauce that we are using, Manchamantel, translates to “tablecloth stainer” for a reason. The brilliant red color of the chilis can leave a lasting mark on anything it touches. Popular in central Mexico, the combination of fruit and spice goes well with pork and duck as well as these turkey tamales.
So put your burdens aside for one day and eat lots. As Americans, we still have much to be thankful for.
with Salsa Manchamantel
about 16 tamales
For the Tamales:
about 3 pounds of prepared masa from the market
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups roasted corn kernels (about 3 ears)
6 cups of cooked, chopped or shredded turkey
1 1/2 cups Manchamantel sauce
20 dried corn husks
Soak the corn husks in hot water for about 30 minutes to soften.
Meanwhile, cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife being careful not to cut into the cob. Heat a large, dry skillet to hot. Add the corn kernels in a single layer and toast for 3 or 4 minutes until darkened slightly. Remove from pan and reserve.
Place the turkey in a bowl and moisten with about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce. Cool before rolling. Taste for salt.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the masa with the baking powder for one minute. Add the toasted corn and beat for another minute.
Place a softened corn husk on the work space and dry with a towel. Place about a half cup of the masa on the husk and spread to a 4-inch square making sure that you leave at least a half inch or so of the husk bordering the masa. Place about three big spoonfuls of the turkey in the center of the square. Bring the two long sides of the corn husk together allowing the masa to envelope the turkey. Tuck one side under the other then fold the two ends underneath and set them folded side down. Repeat for remaining tamales.
Fill the bottom of a steamer or a sauce pan fitted with a strainer with 2 or 3 inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer then place the tamales, folded side down in the basket. Depending on the shape of your steamer, you can also stand them up as long as they are packed in tight enough to hold their shape. Cover the steamer tightly with foil and steam for 45 to 60 minutes. They are done when they feel firm but not hard and the masa peels away from the husk when you peek at them. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
about 5 cups
6 dried ancho chilis, seeded
2 dried California chilis, seeded
2 cups hot water
1 large Roma tomato, blackened under the broiler
2 cloves garlic, roasted
1 cup chopped pineapple, fresh or canned in juice
1 overripe banana, peeled
1 small green apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
pinch of ground cloves
2 pinches of ground allspice
1/ 2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
Note: If you can make this sauce a couple of days ahead of time it makes the whole process much easier. It will be cool enough to mix with the turkey, and you can assemble the tamales at your leisure. Just reheat it when you’re ready to serve.
Toast the chilis in a dry pan until fragrant but not browned. Blacken the tomato in a hot dry pan or under your broiler. When it’s almost done add the garlic to the pan and brown it.
Place the chilis, tomato and garlic in a blender or food processor along with the remaining ingredient and blend until smooth. Strain into a bowl forcing the solids with the back of spoon to get all the sauce into the bowl.
Heat a large sauce pan with a little oil. When hot, add the sauce and fry for 3 or 4 minutes stirring constantly. It may spatter at first, so don’t wear your favorite shirt. Taste for salt, adjust consistency with water or stock and serve warm.
– Brian Shaw and his wife Ardie own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.