Originally written as part of the World Cup 2014 cooking project.
The year is 1986, a numerical anagram of 1968; the year Mexico hosted the Olympic Games. This time it was the World Cup and one that had spice, passion, flair and a really good feeling about it. Pique the jalapeño was the logo of the tournament, the Mexican wave, so prevalent around the world at many sporting events even today, was put on the map and controversy and brilliance rubbed shoulders; Maradona being the exponent of both memorable moments.
Mexico the football team took advantage of being at home and won their group in top spot. This was at a time when only 24 teams participated in the World Cup. Unfortunately, Mexico was to come up against a powerful West German side in the quarter-finals, a side that eventually lost out to Argentina in the final. One player from that era that never quite had the effect on the international stage as he did for his clubs, which included Real Madrid, was the iconic Hugo Sanchez. This guy was known for his acrobatic goal scoring and celebrations, and for me it was a disappointment that I didn’t see more goals from him. It’s this kind of player that can etch great memories in football fans.
Mexico face Croatia in the final game of the group stage in this World Cup, either team with a possibility of making it through to the next round. I really think they have a good chance of equalling their best ever result in the World Cup, the quarter-finals.
I have a fascination with the flavours of Mexico. You have the fresh zesty lime, excellent with a good tequila, through to heavy mole sauces containing chocolate. But the greatest flavour for me is of corn; in tortillas, blue-corn bread and the dish I have chosen for the Mexican World Cup dish, tamales.
Tamales are maize meal dumplings that are usually filled with a deliciously piquant filling and then steamed or boiled to firm up. They are staple in Mexico, in particular in Oaxaca in southern Mexico where the tamales are stuffed with mole negro. They are prevalent throughout Latin America though: In Guatemala tamales are coloured with chocolate; in Peru tamales are made with fresh white corn and are called humitas – wet ones; and in southern Brazil tamale dough is moistened with coconut milk.
We have a Latin American/ Spanish/ Portuguese grocers near where we live and when there I often chat to a great El Salvadoran lady who is full of advice, which I lap up. I said that I was making tamales and I need some yellow corn meal. She shook her head, scuttled off and came back with a very fine white cornmeal in a plain plastic bag,
use this she said; this is for real tamales.
I hope the ones I have made have done her proud.
Tamales Rellenos - MexicoPrint
- For the Filling:
- ■ 250g chicken breast with skin | Approximate weight of 1 chicken breast on a 1.6kg chicken.
- ■ a few coriander seeds |
- ■ a few black pepper corns |
- ■ 1 bay leaf |
- ■ 2 tbsp. grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured cooking oil.
- ■ 1 brown onion | Peeled and finely diced.
- ■ 2 medium ripe tomatoes | Peeled and diced.
- ■ 1 tamarillo | Peeled and diced. If you can't get a tamarillo then use an extra tomato instead.
- ■ 20g very dark chocolate | I use a Lindt 90% cocoa solids chocolate.
- ■ ½ tsp. allspice |
- ■ ½ tsp. chilli paste or flakes |
- ■ seasoning of sea salt |
- For the Dough:
- ■ 450g fine white corn flour (not cornflour) | Also known as masa lista.
- ■ pinch sea salt |
- ■ 3 tbsp. grapeseed oil or pork lard | The oil works well - the pork lard is traditional and makes for a lighter dough.
- ■ as required warm water | I used about 650ml but this quantity will vary from batch to batch.
- Banana leaves, lotus leaves, corn husks or foil to steam the tamales in. Corn husks are the traditional method, but I used lotus leaves due to availability. Any of the others will be good.
For the filling: place the chicken breast, coriander seeds, black pepper corns and bay leaf in a pan of cold water, ensuring that the water completely covers the chicken. Bring to a simmer and then cook uncovered for 12 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Discard the seeds, bay leaf and water. Remove and discard the chicken skin and shred the chicken breast with two forks, and put aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy based medium frying pan and add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes on a low to medium heat – stir to avoid browning. Add a pinch of salt and the diced tomatoes and tamarillo. Cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes and then mash using a masher or the back of a wooden spoon (whilst still on medium heat). Now add the chocolate, allspice, chilli and more seasoning and cook for a further 5 minutes. Finally add the shredded chicken, stir and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove from the heat.
For the dough: put the corn flour, sea salt and oil in a bowl. Now gradually add warm water whilst mixing with your other hand. Keep adding water until you have a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Knead it for a couple of minutes.
Lay out enough wrapping (corn husk, lotus leaf, banana leaf or foil) to wrap one tamale. Take a large walnut-sized piece of dough and place it on your wrapping and press it out with the heel of your palms to form a rectangular shape. The size should be about the length and width of your hand. Place a teaspoon of filling along the centre and then bring the dough over the filling with the wrapping to create a tube. Seal with a wet finger and tightly wrap the tamale with your wrapping and tie if necessary. Repeat for the other tamales.
Place a steamer over a gently simmering pan of water and steam the tamales for about an hour. I did mine in two batches. The dough should be light and firm. Enjoy just as they are.