Tamale Claus

‘Twas the day before Christmas Eve, and all through the house, it was going down.

The kids were bickering and the wife and nanny cleaning, while in the kitchen a veritable assembly line of tamale production was stirring — chickens boiling, corn husks soaking, banana leaves being cut into squares, masa simmering on the stove.

Tamales steaming

Tamales steaming

I enjoy testing my ethnic and regional chops serving our very international community of friends and associates the food of their native country — as I did with our pal Brian’s Japanese girlfriend when I made a winter kaiseki dinner. Our nanny is from El Salvador, which I figured was close enough to Mexico to count her as a voice of authenticity for my Mexican tamale.

“You’re the official tamale tester!” I told her around lunch time, thrusting a steaming knuckle of corn dough in her hands.

“That’s delicious!” she said, and then queried me about the difference between the corn husk-wrapped tamales and the banana leaf-wrapped tamales.

“The corn husk-wrapped tamales represent Northern Mexican-style, with a plain masa and lard and chunks of chicken and olives inside,” I explained, “While the banana leaf-wrapped version is more typical of Southern Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and features a spiced masa cooked in chicken broth with shredded chicken and potato.”

Around 3:30, I loaded up my bag with tamales and skipped out for an hour to join my pal Mike with some seasonal sips of Del Maguey mezcals. I sliced up some of the world’s most expensive ham, Iberico bellota, from the ham leg in my fridge and brought that along to taste with Del Maguey’s special Iberico mezcal, a spirit that incorporates the famous Spanish jamon in the distillation process. The nutty sweetness of the meat was perfectly complemented by the smoky complexity of the mezcal. And all was right in the world.

Jamon Iberico

Jamon Iberico

With a light mezcalian skip in my step, visions of crab tacos dancing in my head, I hurried back home, as guests soon would be there.

Deciding that the 50 or so tamales I had, plus a dozen albacore tostadas and a couple of large roast-chile-and-wild-mushroom quesadillas, would be plenty of food for the seven adults of us, I opted to save the crab tacos for another night. But I have included the recipe here anyway, because they’re just so darned good.

Two kinds of tamales, albacore tostada, roasted chile and wild mushroom quesadilla

Two kinds of tamales, half-eaten albacore tostada, roasted chile and wild mushroom quesadilla

The kids and wife were in bed, the guests had mostly left by 9, except for my pal Steve, with whom I sat for another three hours finishing off the Modelo he had brought and solving all the world’s problems.

I packed up a bag of tamales for Steve to take home to his sniffle-stricken wife, Ashley, who had texted to warn him he would not be welcome without them, and sent him into the dark night.

The night was short, I awoke before the sun with a throbbing head and warm memories of laughter and dear friends, the very best gift there is. And an early morning run amidst the deer and meadows in the state park washed away the headache and reminded me that everything was in its right place.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Cheers from ours to yours!

Cheers from ours to yours!

*    *    *

Crab tacos
serves 4-6

1 lb. cooked king crab leg meat (about 1.5 lbs. crab in shell)
12 small corn tortillas
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup salsa naranja
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup cilantro

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place crab meat in a ceramic baking dish, cover with foil and heat in the oven for 10 minutes.

While crab is cooking, toast tortillas on a hot griddle or pan, about 1 minute per side. Stack and wrap in the kitchen towel to keep warm.

Mix the onion and cilantro until incorporated.

Remove crab from oven, and remove foil. Toss the butter in with the crab, gently stirring, until butter has melted and thoroughly coated the crab.

Assemble the tacos: Place some crab in the center of each tortilla. Drizzle with some salsa, then sprinkle with onion and cilantro mixture, and serve.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Dec 24, 2015 @ 23:42:30

    Happy Holidays Sean!!!

    Reply

  2. Sabrina
    Dec 25, 2015 @ 20:47:17

    These sound amazing!! Happy holidays 🙂

    Reply

  3. Michelle
    Jan 01, 2016 @ 15:01:03

    “Official tamale tester,” that’s the job I want. But is it mandatory that it also include nanny duties? I know your kids are cute and all, but… Looking forward to seeing what you come up with in 2016!

    Reply

  4. Trackback: Taco, I Can’t Quit You | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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