A Tamalada of One

We were sitting around on New Year’s Day drinking bloody marys, when my pal Don showed up with caviar, creme fraiche and blinis.

New Years Day in the Colgin kitchen

New Years Day in the Colgin kitchen

His timing was impeccable — it was late morning, we’d eaten nothing yet, the drinks were beginning to take away the edge of nausea, and we had nothing planned. The only thing on my agenda for the day was culinary — I was going to make tamales.

The previous evening, my annual New Years Eve dinner, I had served a dish of pork belly steamed in banana leaves. I had purchased a large package of folded up banana leaves at the Vallarta Market, and had used about 1% in my pork dish. Anticipating this glut ahead of time, I had also bought a tub of lard with the intention of making tamales on New Years Day. It seemed like a worthwhile way to use up the surplus leaves, and a fine way to spend a lazy hungover afternoon.

Don at work

Don at work with the caviar

I had forgotten that Don had told me the night before that he was bringing caviar over, so it was a nice surprise. I had forgotten a lot of things from the night before.

For the next several hours, Don and I hung out in the kitchen, alternately making bloody marys, caviar and blinis, chicharrones tacos and other small bites of things to eat.

In Mexico, around the holidays, they have tamaladas — tamale-making parties where whole generations of family get involved in the fun. My kids were otherwise occupied with Don’s kids, our wives we’re chatting, Don was busy with his caviar. And so my planned tamalada came down to just me. Which was fine — I like the contemplative, solitary work of the kitchen, especially when people I love are nearby.

The tamalada station

The tamalada station

As he often is, Rick Bayless was my inspiration — I find he brings a finesse to his Mexican cuisine that results in a less heavy, more refined product. I consulted one of his cookbooks to find out how he approached tamales, which included whipping the dough to make it light and airy, which I did. Then I filled the banana leaves with dough, free-range dark meat chicken and a single green olive for each, folded them up and stacked them in Chinese bamboo steamers.

A couple hours later I had several dozen finished tamales, which made for a nice, simple rustic dinner after our gourmet orgy of the night before and our caviar lunch.

More of Don's creations

More of Don’s creations

These tamales keep for months in the freezer, and may be pulled out and microwaved for a quick lunch or dinner when you’re feeling uninspired.


*    *    *

Chicken olive tamales
serves lots of people

4 cups masa harina
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup lard (buy fresh from a Mexican carniceria, if possible)
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup homemade chicken stock
1 lb. boneless chicken leg and thigh meat, cut up in strips
1 cup green olives such as lucques or castelvetrano, pits intact
5-6 banana leaves, center rib removed, cut into large squares (12 or so inches) — you should have somewhere between 18 and 24.

Use an electric mixer on medium speed to combine the lard, salt and baking soda until smooth. Add half the masa, and when incorporated, add the second half. Finally, blend in the chicken stock until fluffy and soft (add a little water if it seems too dry).

Lay out squares of banana leaves. Spread a heaping tablespoon of the masa dough in a strip in the center of a banana leaf. Add a strip of chicken meat and an olive, then top with another tablespoon of dough. Fold the banana leaves around the tamale into a tight packet. Continue until you’ve used up all the dough and filling. (If you run out of chicken and olives and wind up with extra dough, be creative and try putting other stuff inside — cheese, fish, whatever inspires you!)

Using a large steamer or, as is my preference, stacking Chinese bamboo steamers, steam the tamales over medium heat for about 1 hour. Remove from heat and let cool some.

Tamales may be served at room temperature, reheated in the microwave or frozen. Drizzle with your favorite salsa and enjoy!

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andreathompson2
    Feb 20, 2015 @ 14:57:22

    Beautiful food!


  2. Mom
    Feb 20, 2015 @ 16:38:01

    And probably pretty good too.


  3. Andrea Cleall
    Feb 20, 2015 @ 17:44:31

    Hi Seanie,

    Bruce was telling me about your planned summer trip which sounds wonderful. So good for the kids to see the country. My family has a little history in that area that might be fun for you to know. It’s amazing that I know it as it was considered poor taste to brag upon ourselves and the really interesting stuff was always hushed up. Anyway my maternal grandmother was a Cushing and a cousin to the Cardinal Cushing who was such a nabob in Boston [he married the Kennedy’s].And Bruce says he ran the town. When I spent a glorious day alone in the Boston Art Museum I was ascending a staircase and noticed an Irish wench dressed in finery. She turned out to be another Cushing, Lady something or other. So the Boston Cushings seemed successful whereas the Quebec Cushings were numerous. My grandmother was a milliner, another of the family was a furrier and one cousin, a woman I think, was the mayor of Ottawa. I visited my Grandmother’s brother Michael on his farm. He had a bunch of kids, 2 of them grown boys, Michael and Bruce who had just returned from the war, one without a leg. I had a crush on both of them. I was 8 or 9.

    Just thought you might enjoy your distant connection with it all. xooxoxxo

    That museum was wonderful. I sat in the cafeteria and had a lunch of French pate, cheese and wine. They even had a maitre de who found me a nice corner tale for one when the room was so crowded I was about to leave.


  4. BloodyMaryTour
    Feb 20, 2015 @ 23:27:40

    Yum- your recipe sounds wonderful! I will have to try it sometime once I find a Mexican restaurant near me 😉 If you like Bloody Marys, feel free to browse my recipes on http://www.bloodymarytour.wordpress.com (I don’t think you would be disappointed).



  5. Michelle
    Feb 22, 2015 @ 03:01:21

    Tough life. 😉


  6. Trackback: Tamale Claus | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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