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Mississippi Delta Tamales

(recipe, Susan Puckett)


    1. 4 to 5 lb. boneless meat (pork shoulder, chuck roast, beef brisket, or chicken)
    2. ⅓ cup vegetable oil
    3. 2 large onions, minced
    4. 4 to 5 large garlic cloves, minced
    5. ¼ cup chile powder
    6. 2 Tbsp. paprika
    7. 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
    8. 1 Tbsp. salt
    9. 2 tsp. black pepper
    10. ½ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
    Husks and dough
    1. 40 to 50 dried corn husks (about 16 ounces total)
    2. 4 cups yellow cornmeal or masa mix
    3. 2 tsp. baking powder
    4. 1 tsp. salt
    5. 1 cup lard or vegetable shortening
    6. 3 to 4 cups warm meat broth (from cooking the meat)
    Simmering liquid
    1. Remaining meat broth, plus enough water to cover tamales
    2. 2 Tbsp. chile powder
    3. 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
    4. 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
    5. Saltines, hot pepper sauce, and leftover chili for serving (optional)


    1. Make the meat filling: Cut the meat into large chunks and place it in a large, heavy pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the meat is very tender, 2 to 2½ hours.
    2. Remove the meat and reserve the cooking liquid. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard any skin and large chunks of fat. Shred or dice the meat into small pieces. There should be about 7 to 8 cups of meat.
    3. In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; sauté until tender. Stir in the chile powder, paprika, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Add the meat; stir to coat with the oil and spices.
    4. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is warmed through, 7 to 10 minutes. For a smoother consistency, grind the meat with a meat grinder or pulse it in a food processor. Set aside.
    5. Prepare the husks: While the meat is cooking, soak the husks in a large bowl or sink of very warm water, until they are softened and pliable, about 2 hours. Gently separate the husks into single leaves. (Husks that split or tear can be overlapped and used as one.)
    6. Make the dough: In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon or your hands to blend together the cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and lard until well mixed. (Or use a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.)
    7. Gradually stir in enough warm broth to make soft, spongy dough that is the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. The dough should be quite moist, but not wet. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth.
    8. Assemble the tamales: Remove a corn husk from the water and pat it dry. Lay the husk on a work surface. Spread about ¼ cup of the dough in an even layer across the wide end of the husk to within 1 inch of the edges. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon of the meat mixture in a line down the center of the dough.
    9. Roll the husk so that the dough surrounds the filling and forms a cylinder or package. Fold the bottom under to close the bottom and complete the package. Place folded side down in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining husks.
    10. Reserve any leftover filling to serve as chili on the side.
    11. Simmer the tamales: Stand the tamales upright, closed side down, in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Place enough tamales in the pot so that they do not fall over or come unrolled. If needed, fill any empty space with a heatproof mug, bowl or rolled-up leftover corn husks.
    12. Stir the chile powder, cumin, and cayenne into the reserved meat-cooking liquid and carefully pour it into the side of the pot of tamales, taking care not to pour it directly into the tamales. The liquid should come just to the top of the tamales, so add water if needed.
    13. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the dough is firm and pulls away from the husk easily and cleanly, about 1 hour.
    14. Serve the tamales warm in their husks so that each diner can unwrap his or her own. Spoon a little leftover cooking liquid or chili on top. Shake on a few drops of hot sauce for extra heat and serve with saltines, if desired.