"... a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa which is steamed or boiled in a corn shuck or leaf wrapper (which one discards before one eats the delicious tamal), and which may be filled with meat, peppers, cheese, vegetables, fruits, etc., as desired."
so saith the dictionary. however, as is often the case, this definition falls short of conveying the true passion that many people, me included, have for this most comforting of comfort foods. some are better than others, or at least suit my taste better, but I don't remember ever having a tamale that wasn't at least good.
and they generally get even better with the addition of a little red (salsa rojo) or green (salsa verde) sauce, or a salsa fresca, usually a pico de gallo. these sauces are native to the same cultures as the tamale, and their biting, aggressive flavors are perfect companions for the steamy, almost creamy character of a delicate masa as it melts in your mouth.
over the years I've had the pleasure of eating many hundreds, probably thousands, of tamales. decades spent in the restaurant/club industry, and therefore thousands upon thousands of hours in working kitchens all across the southwest and west, have given me the opportunity to get to know many cooks, dishwashers, busboys/girls, and waiters of Hispanic backgrounds, and they have often been kind and generous enough to share with me food of their own making, or of a family member, which has been some of the best I have ever eaten. and almost invariably, the one food that they take the greatest pride in is the tamale.
it's not unusual for several generations of a family to gather for the purpose of spending a day (or two or three) hand-crafting many dozens (or hundreds) of tamales for the use of the family and their friends during the holidays, and many women produce more than they need in order to have some to sell, as well. I have worked in several locations where women who were recognized as being exceptional at the art would begin taking orders from co-workers (and, in the case of at least one large private club, from a number of the members, as well) a month or more in advance of the hoped-for delivery date; that would be necessary because of the demand for their tamales, and because they are labor-intensive to produce.
all this is leading up to something, of course, which is to say that I discovered, at this year's redding farmers' market, a treasure: the little stand selling Colima tamales, made a few miles down the road in cottonwood, an interesting town just off I-5, sitting on the sacramento river. these are some of the best I've ever had, anywhere. their homemade salsas, which are offered to those who are buying straight out of the steamer to eat on the spot, are excellent, too, but the tamales are the prize.
all the usual suspects and flavors are there: pork, chicken, etc., but the real jewel, at least to my taste, is the chicken chile verde, a plump and tender bundle of shredded chicken and green pepper (jalapeno, I think) in steaming masa. pair that with their salsa rojo and you're a happy person for hours to come. i'll find out more about this; don't know if they ship frozen or not, but if so some of you might be interested. you should be, anyway. I've bought them frozen several times, and they keep very well. the trick is to thaw them individually at room temp, and only as many as you'll need at any one time, so they don't have a chance to absorb moisture, which can hurt the quality of the masa and cause them to become a little soggy. more to come on this one.
one more thing to mention tonight: new clairvaux vineyards' albarino. this is as pretty a white wine as I've had at this price point in a while, and the first California albarino I've tasted that tastes like albarino, although, in truth, I've not had that many yet because I love Spanish albarino and don't want to be disappointed in the comparison. however, new clairvaux's is fresh and peachy in the nose, crisply fruity on the palate, with hints of smoke and pears, and just-firm ripe peaches and a hint of vanilla in the finish. very nice indeed with cold boiled shrimp or lobster salad, or as an afternoon sipper. new clairvaux is, for those of you who don't know, the little winery in vina, California, between chico and red bluff, that is now producing some very nice reds, including really good zin and petite sirah, as well as an interesting tempranillo. this is the first of their whites I've tasted, and I'm impressed, especially given that their location, like ours here in redding, is hotter than hell during the growing season, and a little difficult to manage at times. probably the reason they've decided to pursue cultivation of rhone and Spanish varieties. more to come on them.
okay, that's it for tonight. hope you're well.