Friday, May 7, 2010

0 My Six-Hour Tamale Project, or Why There Can Never Be Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen at Once :)

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There's a fabulous local area Mexican restaurant we go to called Rio Grande (a.k.a. Uncle Julio's). It's authentic Mexican cuisine, as in Mexican-owned and operated :), and is one of the better Mexican restaurants in the Greater DC area. [They also have a small handful of restaurants in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, & Boca Raton, but it's by no means your "typical" restaurant chain. In other words, we aren't talking Mickey D's here. :) More like Legal Seafood, or its equivalent. In other words, high quality, fresh food.] Quite frankly, it puts the competition -- i.e., Chevy's, Guapos, Anita's, etc. -- to complete & utter shame. :-D

One of the dishes I like to order there is the chicken tamales. They come out of the kitchen, piping hot, and smelling absolutely divine. :) They arrive in perfect little rectangular bundles -- neatly-wrapped, moist & tender packets that have been steamed in corn husks to heavenly perfection and then topped off with a delectably tangy combination of salsa verde and drizzled sour cream.  So, are you drooling yet? ;)

For some reason, when we go to this restaurant, we always seem to be ravenously hungry. Part of that is that sometimes there can be a long wait and after 45 minutes to well over an hour, our stomachs are grumbling quite loudly by that point. :) So, when we sit down to eat, we have only one thought on our minds -- digging into our meals. :) So it's best to keep all limbs tucked away safely. Haha!

However, at no point during those previous restaurant visits did I ever think, "Hmmm, well maybe I could try making these tamales at home."  I was usually so hungry by the time the food arrived that I was just focused on devouring them!

I'll admit that when I went to this restaurant, there were dishes that I was so contented with that I thought, "Why should I bother to try making them at home when I can come here instead?" ;) Making fajitas al carbon or camarones a la parilla is one thing, but tamales?! Oh my goodness. They are so involved and time-consuming that you've really either got to be part of a team of chefs in a Mexican restaurant who can quickly pump 'em out in assembly-line fashion, or if you've got enlist a whole army of friends and family to help you in the kitchen. :) [I'd originally considered naming this post, "Tamales: A Project Best Attempted with 40 Family & Friends." ;)] They are a huge all-day undertaking, and for people who make them by hand, it's a real labor of love. :)

And needless to say, after yesterday's tamale-making experience, I now have complete and utter respect for anyone who makes tamales on a regular basis. :)

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The thing is that, even though I'm a fearless explorer when it comes to eating & cooking all sorts of cuisines and dishes, there are some dishes that I've just never thought about cooking before. It's not so much that I'm not up for it, but rather, the thought just hadn't crossed my mind. That is, until now. :)

I think it had something to do with Cinco de Mayo.  I'd created a recipe in honor of the holiday, and then began to think about all sorts of Mexican dishes that I enjoy. One thought led to another, and I realized that, even though this blog already contained a multitude of Mexican recipes, I'd never posted a tamales recipe before. And it seemed like this was a grave omission.

OK, let's face it. Until just yesterday, I'd never made tamales before in my life, let alone posted a recipe for them. :)  I guess I'd just never had the occasion to do so before.

I would sometimes hear friends talk about their tamale-making parties, and while they sounded like a great deal of fun, I wasn't exactly going to intrude on their family gatherings and invite myself over. :)

But as I've become more and more adventurous in my cooking over the years, I thought, "Hey, waitaminnit, I think I can do that." Sure, why not. :) I'd read a bit about tamale-making, and most sites describing the tamale-making experience as "easy, fun, and oh yeah, you might want to take the afternoon off." LOL.

So last night I made chicken tamales. Or rather, I did everything except the last step, i.e., steaming the tamales, which I'm going to do tonight an hour or two before dinner. :) And thanks to a Mexican-American friend of mine, who gave me a whole slew of useful insights and advice on tamale-making methodology, I was able to accomplish the task without too much hair-tearing. :)

Making tamales as a solo effort could probably best be compared to running a marathon.  It takes many hours to complete, and there are times when one might be thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?" but even despite the inevitable exhaustion, you're going to feel an amazing sense of accomplishment when it's all over. :)

-C

P.S.  Be on the lookout for the tamale recipe. It will hopefully be posted either later today or tomorrow. :) But who knows exactly, because at present, I am still recovering from my tamale-making marathon. ;)

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