Tamales My Way…

Tamales My Way…

The final chapter of my nixtamal adventure begins with my family’s favorite pulled pork recipe, and I’ll tell you the story because this is how a favorite recipe morphs into a family tradition. It’s also a story about how a series of little discoveries become favorites, and fixtures in your kitchen. Before you know it, you’ve put together what looks to others, like a very complicated recipe. But you know, it’s not complicated at all. It’s just a string of treasures.

The sauce was found many years ago from a Gourmet Magazine recipe called Johnson’s Spare Ribs, which I tweaked a bit by adding some dried guajillo and negra chilies (lending a wild fruity electricity). This sauce was so incredible I would make extra to use on burgers, hot dogs, anything we could think of. There’s usually a jar of it in my refrigerator.

The sauce often graces our table with the pulled whey-fed pork I get from the nearby Cherry Grove Farm. Much like the spare rib recipe, I coat pork shoulder with Cajun spices (Yeah, you can buy the spice mix in bulk at Costco, but I have a favorite homemade blendalways on hand…) I slow-roast the pork until it falls off the bone. Roasting the meat leaves me

Cajun spice coats pork

with a flavorful gelatinous broth topped by a layer of spicy lard which, to be honest, is too darned expensive for me to want to throw out. (Whey-fed pork is a smart buy for a lot of reasons. But those prices really encourage one to use every bit of what is bought!) I usually freeze the lard-broth, maybe make some smokey beans or something with it.

Back to the pork…it gets shredded and stir-fried with some of the sauce until it becomes caramelized and sticky–like some kind of saucy pork candy, then served with soft buns or biscuits. This is where my son stops. He couldn’t imagine life getting any better.  But I can never let things be…Why not use the meat in tamales????

Back before I learned how to make my own fresh masa. It was the instant masa harina I was using when I needed some lard and broth to work into the dough. And there it was, my spicy lard-pork broth just calling out to me! (Actually it had nothing to do with me–that lard-broth was calling out to the masa and I was just in the way.) I obeyed and used that in my tamale dough. There’s been no other way since. I’m using every bit of that amazing pork, and making something my family can’t get anywhere else.

And then…I learned how to make fresh masa! My husband’s birthday was the day I first used the nixtamal method to get some first-class fresh-ground masa, which I mixed with the spicy lard-pork broth. I spread a rectangle of that masa on banana leaves (or soaked corn husks, which are easier to find in stores), topped it with a portion of my sauced-up shredded pork, wrapped it into bundles, then steamed it off.  Unbelievable stuff.

My friend who joined us for dinner took a bite, closed her eyes and said quietly, “Marcia, these are going to make you famous.”

But I don’t really need them to make me famous, do I? I just want them to make me a tradition.

Do you have recipes that are a family tradition? I’d love to know about them and how they started. Remember, any comments on my posts put you in the running for an apron at the end of February.

This recipe is one of the newest additions to the roster of offerings in my cooking-class dinner parties.


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