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Tamales Cuban Style- Tamal en Hoja     
by Chef

Tamal en Hoja               Serves: 6  

Notes: A well-known Cuban song from the 1950s, "Los Tamalitos de Olga", (a cha-cha-cha sung by Orquesta Aragón) celebrated the delicious tamales sold by a street vendor in Cienfuegos.

Directions:
For the meat filling:

  • For meat, you need pork with plenty of fat — either well marbled or with a fat layer or both. We’ve had good luck with de-boned country style pork ribs. Or have the butcher cut something to order.
  • Whichever meat you use, cut it up into smaller pieces — no more than two inches thick or three inches long. Add a little salt with a shaker and place in a large sauce pan. Add water to just barely cover the meat. Add two peeled garlic cloves and one tablespoon vinegar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered until all of the water has boiled away. Fry the pork pieces in the rendered fat just until brown, but NOT crispy! The meat should be tender and stringy. Remove the meat. Trim off any excess fat (there shouldn’t be any) and with a knife or meat hammer; break up the meat into small pieces.
  • Slice the corn kernels off the cob (or use frozen corn). Quickly grind the corn in a food processor with your choice of fat (lard, or butter, or shortening) until you get a very coarse mixture with visible corn kernels. Don’t over process! Remove from the processor and blend in 2 1/2 cups warm chicken broth and two cups masa harina to the ground corn. Add a dash of Bijol powder to give it a nice yellow color.
  • Fry the onion and green pepper in olive oil at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Add garlic and continue to fry for two to three minutes. Do not drain off excess oil! Mix tomato paste in 1/2 cup warm water and add it and the  cooking wine to the vegetables. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Place the pork, vegetables, and the ground corn/masa mixture in a large cooking pot. Add lemon juice to the mixture and blend. Add salt and black pepper and stir. Cook the mixture on low heat, stirring frequently (don’t let it burn!) until it thickens — about 20 minutes.
  • Add more masa or more broth as necessary so that you have a stiff, but pliable paste. Taste and add salt if needed. Remove from heat and let cool.

The Tamales:

  • Take two corn husks and overlap them flat on the table. Put some of the corn mixture in the center of the cornhusks. Fold the cornhusks, first over the filling the short way, and then folding up the long way from the ends. Tie with a string.
  • Tamales are best cooked in a large pot with about two inches of water in the bottom. (If you have the little insert that keeps the food off the bottom, great!) Add the tamales, standing them on end and cover the pot. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer/steam about 90 minutes to two hours.

Note: Be sure to check the water level occasionally so that the pot doesn’t run dry!

Ingredients:

    1-1/2 pounds pork in chunks
    2 cloves garlic, whole, peeled
    1 tablespoon La Fe vinegar water to cover meat
    3 cups ground fresh yellow corn (may substitute frozen)
    3/4 cup lard, butter, or shortening
    2-1/2 cups masa harina
    2-1/2 cups chicken broth
    1/4 teaspoon bijol (annato seed powder)
    1/4 cup La Fe olive oil for frying
    1 large onion, chopped fine
    1 large green pepper, chopped fine
    5 cloves garlic, minced
    3 ounces La Fe tomato paste (1/2 can)
    1/2 cup water
    1/2 cup La Fe cooking wine (red or white)
    1 large lemon (juice only)
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon La Fe black pepper (fresh ground)
    24-32 dried corn husks (soak dried cornhusks in hot water before using)

In Cuba, before the 1959 Revolution, street vendors sold Mexican-style tamales wrapped in corn husks, usually made without any kind of spicy seasoning. Cuban tamales being identical in form to those made in Mexico City suggests they were brought over to Cuba during the period of intense cultural and musical exchange between Cuba and Mexico, between the 1920s and 2000s. A well-known Cuban song from the 1950s, "Los Tamalitos de Olga", (a cha-cha-cha sung by Orquesta Aragón) celebrated the delicious tamales sold by a street vendor in Cienfuegos.

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