If you hit up a Mexican household for Christmas, tamales are the most important, second most important, and third most important thing you'll find at the dinner table. There's something about unwrapping the corn husk that feels like a present in itself.
Chef Ray Garcia knows all too well the importance of making a good tamale. Garcia, the owner of Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria in Los Angeles, and Esquire Magazine's 2015 Chef of The Year, taught us the essence of tamale-making.
"I have a special place in my heart for tamales when it comes to the holidays," Garcia recalls fondly. "I have memories of making them with my mother, my father, my grandfather, and everyone coming together as a family."
What we learned was, aside from a Mexican mother's love, the secret to good tamales is picking up fresh, and quality ingredients.
"With tamales, what's often overlooked, you have to have great ingredients," Garcia said.
While it sounds obvious, Garcia thinks that little things like using non-GMO masa or responsibly raised meats, and ingredients that are in season, make the biggest difference in tamales.
And if you think that sounds like some hipster nonsense, Chef Ray understands the criticism of straying from traditional recipes, but believes it all comes down to supporting creativity.
"I'd rather support and have people support the fact that we're being creative," Garcia said. "We're making the best, with the ingredients that we have. Younger generations welcome that change."
With that said, Garcia came down to the Foodbeast Kitchen and made a kick-ass recipe for Mushroom and Poblano Tamales, which is totally not what you'd expect from a Mexican dish, but again, it's Chef Ray's creativity helming the dish:
30 dried corn husks
For Tamale Filling
5 Poblano peppers
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, sliced ½ inch thick
2 cups white onion, julienned, divided
1/2 cup garlic, sliced thinly, divided
1/4 cup Serrano peppers, sliced
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons Tabasco Green Sauce
1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
3 lbs. ground corn masa
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups canola oil
Put the dried husks in a large bowl or pot, cover with hot water and submerge for one hour.
For tamale filling
Roast the Poblanos over an open burner flame until charred and rotate throughout process so that all sides get charred. Once charred, place the peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam in the bowl for about ten minutes. Remove the peppers from the bowl, peel off the skin, then remove the stems and seeds and cut the peppers into ¼ inch thick strips. Reserve for later.
In a large heavy bottom pan, add enough canola oil to cover the surface with a thin layer. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is shimmering but not yet smoking. Add the shiitake mushrooms to the pan and cook until dark golden brown. Add ¼ of the onion, garlic, and Serrano peppers and sauté for a minute, not letting the onions get too dark. Remove the mixture from the pan, season with salt, and reserve for later use.
Repeat the same process for the cremini mushrooms using ¼ of the onion, garlic, and Serrano peppers.
Place an 8 qt pot on the stove over medium heat and add enough canola oil to cover the surface with a thin layer. Heat the oil to medium heat. Once oil is shimmering, add remaining onions, garlic, and Serrano peppers and cook for 5 minutes or until translucent.
Stir in the Poblano pepper strips and the mushroom mixtures; add heavy cream and reduce heat to low. Let mixture reduce until almost all of the liquid is gone, about ten minutes.
Add Tabasco Green Sauce and season with salt as needed. Allow the mixture to cook for one more minute, then remove from the pot and refrigerate until cold.
In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, add the masa, baking powder and salt; mix on low speed. Slowly add canola oil in intervals. Once oil is well incorporated, increase speed to medium for one minute to mix all ingredients. The masa should be moist, soft, and scoop-able. If needed, a small amount of water can be added.
Remove the rehydrated corn husks from water and rinse them well. Lay the husks out on a table or large work surface that has been lined with plastic wrap. Scoop about a ½ cup worth of masa into each husk and spread smooth, leaving a 1-inch gap between the masa and the end of the husk.
Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of Monterrey Jack cheese over the masa and add 3 tablespoons of tamale filling into the center of the tamale. The filling should be placed in a straight vertical line of even thickness.