Last night I finally did it. I set out to make the masa of which I had once thought could only be found in obscure villages of the old grandmothers. Using instructions from Rick Bayless, I put two quarts of water to boil with 2 tablespoons of pickling lime. Next, I pulled down my jar of white corn, then washed and added one quart of the kernels to the hot water.
At first, the kernels turned bright yellow, and the water too, became milky yellow even though the corn was white. Suddenly the most amazing thing happened! The kernels became striped into a deep golden brown, yellow, orange and white…”So THAT’S how candy corn got its name!” I thought. It looked exactly like that. Then the aroma hit my nostrils. It was the most ramped-up toasty corn aroma ever to hit my nose. Real corn as I’d never known it.
For tortillas, Rick says to simmer the kernels about two minutes, then cover and steep overnight. For tamale masa, cook the kernels for 15 minutes, and steep one hour only. So, I split the kernels into two pots, one for tamale masa, and the other for tortillas. After an hour, I rinsed the tamale kernels, rubbing the outer skin, which by now was more like a slippery coating. I rubbed and rinsed the kernels until they were white, then put them through the grinder–first the coarse, then the fine setting. Rick says a food processor will do.
Finally, I kneaded in enough water to create a stiff dough. I plan to mix this with salt and fat and do a more traditional tamale thing a little later, but right now I did what any self-respecting kitchen geek would do at 3am, I made a little tortilla and crisped it off in lard. It was life-changing. A Frito-like toastiness that I had only known in junk food, but there was a realness too. Complex nuttiness, a deep crunch, warm and salty…
Later, I told my son, ” Think of it this way… It was like, if all you had known your whole life about women were Barbie dolls, and then you woke up with your arms around Scarlett Johannson…Fresh masa is like that!
So, back to that corn-fritter recipe I mentioned on the last email newsletter— I just tried it with the tamale masa. It changed that friendly little party appetizer to something you could talk to all night.
Next post: My favorite (non-traditional) tamale recipe…hint, it uses banana leaves!