Tamales in Cuba can be traced back to the Ciboney, the original native inhabitants of the island.
Cuban tamales are made with pureed or ground fresh corn; that filling is mixed in with the dough. They are sold today from paladares: independent, small, state-sanctioned, family-run restaurants that serve authentic, inexpensive Cuban food.
For this recipe, you'll need kitchen twine and an 8-ounce package of dried corn husks. The tamales are cooked in water rather than steamed, so make sure you wrap them effectively, making them as watertight as possible.
Serve with crema and salsa verde.
Make Ahead: The sofrito can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. The husks need to be soaked in warm water for 1 hour.
Servings: 14 - 16 tamales
- For the sofrito
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 cubanelle pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 pasilla pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 dried mulato chile pod, stemmed, seeded and chopped or torn into tiny pieces
- 12 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or bitter orange marinade, such as Goya brand
- 3 tablespoons Spanish olive oil
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- For the tamales
- One 8-ounce package dried corn husks (about 50 husks)
- Three 1-pound bags frozen corn kernels, defrosted, then coarsely chopped in a food processor (do not puree)
- 3/4 to 1 cup masa harina (finely ground cornmeal)
- 1 pound small peeled, deveined, cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped in a food processor (do not puree)
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the sofrito: Combine the onion; the green bell, cubanelle and pasilla peppers; oregano; cumin; dried mulato chili pepper; garlic; and orange juice or bitter orange marinade in a large mixing bowl, stirring to incorporate.
Heat the oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers, then add the onion mixture. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture seems almost dry. Stir in the wine and cook for 3 to 4 minutes; the wine needs to evaporate as well.
For the tamales: Soak all of the corn husks in very warm water for 1 hour. (Each tamal uses 3, and some might split as you work. It's good to have extra.)
Place the coarsely processed corn in a large saucepan over medium-low to medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, so it is thoroughly warmed through. Gradually add the masa harina (as needed), stirring constantly to form a thickened mass that holds together and pulls away from the sides of the pan; this should take about 5 minutes; adjust the heat as needed.
Stir the sofrito mixture into the corn-masa harina mixture, then gently stir in the shrimp. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. The mixture should be a bit salty, because some salt will be extracted from the tamales as they cook. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes (until cool enough to handle) and up to 2 days.
When ready to assemble, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat.
Drain/pat dry the soaked corn husks on clean dish towels. Cut 14 to 16 lengths of kitchen twine, about 16 inches each.
Work on a clean, dry surface. Align 2 corn husks so their with wide sides overlap by 2 inches. Place a third corn husk on top to cover the overlap.
Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the shrimp-corn mixture slightly above the center of the third husk. (The amount of filling will be determined by the size of the husks, as some of them are smaller than others.) Fold in the long sides of the corn husks so the filling is completely covered. Fold in the top and bottom ends, one atop the other, to make a watertight package. Tie with kitchen twine (horizontally, at the midway point). Repeat to create 14 to 16 tamales. If some of the husks split, exposing any of the filling, it's advisable to unwrap and transfer the filling to a new set of husks.
Reduce the heat to medium under the boiling pot of water. Add the tamales and cook for 45 minutes, making sure the water never returns to a rolling boil. Transfer to a colander to drain and cool slightly before unwrapping.
The tamales' filling will be puddinglike and should pull away slightly from the husks. Serve warm, opened, in their husk wrapping.
Adapted from chef Sue McWilliams and the students of the Paint Branch High School culinary arts program in Silver Spring.
Tested by Joe Yonan.
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