Tamales with a Beery Twist

Cooking with Beer by | Apr 2010 | Issue #39

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Who doesn’t like unwrapping a gift? Especially when that gift is an individual package, filled with an edible treat… what could be better? Here are two recipes that incorporate craft beer into what is considered a tamale: the perfect edible gift.

Thai Green Curry Chicken Tamales
Think Thai-Mexican with a biére á la cuisine influence on a classic tamale. Try these unconventional tamales with coconut rice and some stir-fried vegetables.

Makes: 16 tamales

Thai Green Curry Paste Ingredients:
1 oz. galangal or ginger root, peeled and minced
1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped, stems, leaves and roots
2–4 each Thai chilies, depending on heat level
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 each lemongrass stalks, outer layer removed, chopped fine
3 each garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup water, filtered
1 tsp. coriander, ground
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
3 each cloves
1 each onion, yellow, medium size, peeled and chopped
3 each kaffir lime leaves (optional)

Thai Green Curry Paste Directions:
In the pitcher of a blender or bowl of a food processor, add the galangal/ginger, cilantro, chilies (remove the seeds if spice is a concern), salt, lemongrass, garlic, water, coriander, peppercorns, cloves, onion and kaffir leaves, if using. Pulse to begin to break up all the ingredients and increase the speed to high, mixing until a smooth paste forms.

Pour this paste into a mason/ball jar and refrigerate for up to three weeks. This paste can also be frozen by filling a clean ice cube tray and placing it in the freezer on a level shelf. Freeze until solid and then remove from the tray, placing the cubes into a labeled freezer bag. The cubes will last for up to six months. Makes about 3 cups of Thai Green Curry Paste.

Other uses for the Thai Green Curry Paste:
• Mix some with some mayonnaise for a dip, sandwich spread, or to dip boiled artichokes in.
• Use in any Thai dish calling for Green Curry Paste.
• Add it to soups, seafood, pork, chicken or duck recipes for an added Thai flair.

Braised Chicken Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 each onions, yellow, medium size, peeled and chopped
3–5 tbsp. Thai Green Curry Paste (recipe above) or store-bought version
2 tbsp. palm sugar, honey or regular sugar
24 oz. Tangerine Wheat Beer from Lost Coast Brewery
13.5 oz. coconut milk
1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 tbsp. Thai fish sauce (optional)
4 each chicken legs & thighs (bone in and skin on)

Braised Chicken Directions:
In a medium-size, oven-proof pan, place over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and the onions, sautéing for 8–10 minutes, until the onions are a light golden-brown color. Add as little or as much of the Thai Green Curry Paste to your liking and heat tolerance. Then add the sugar, beer, coconut milk, tamari, fish sauce (if using) and mix to combine. Add the chicken and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Cover the pan and place into the center of the oven, cooking for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is fork tender. Remove from the oven. (This can be made into an entrée and placed over rice noodles or steamed rice.)

To make the tamale filling, remove the chicken legs, bring the liquid to a boil and reduce by half. Then remove from the heat and let cool completely. Once cool, remove the skin and bones from the chicken and shred. Mix the meat into the reduced sauce and reserve until the tamale dough is ready to use.

Green Curry Tamale Dough Ingredients:
4 cup masa harina*
2 tbsp. black sesame seeds*
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 each orange, zested and juiced
1 cup lard (rendered pork fat) or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup Thai Green Curry Paste
3 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
24 oz. Tangerine Wheat Beer from Lost Coast Brewery
1–2 heads Napa cabbage, outer leaves removed if dirty or damaged
* Found at most ethnic markets or in the gourmet aisle of many grocery stores. Can also be ordered online.

Green Curry Tamale Dough Directions:
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the dried masa, sesame seeds, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Turn the mixer onto a low speed and let the ingredients combine. Add in the lard or shortening, and mix until the fat is incorporated and the masa forms small, pea-shaped pebbles, about 2–3 minutes. Add the orange juice, Green Curry Paste, tamari and beer. Once the liquid has been incorporated, increase the speed to high and beat for 2–3 minutes; the mixture should be light and fluffy. Turn off the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate out the leaves of the cabbage and blanch in salted water for 30 seconds, then transfer into an ice bath to shock them. Dry them off and follow the directions to fill the tamales in the side bar. Any extra filling can be used to fill wonton skins, fried to make some appetizers or warmed up and served over Asian-style noodles.

Duck Tamales Up a Kriek
I love the flavors of duck with a sour cherry beer. To achieve the hints of almond that come from the cherry pit in some sour beers, incorporate almond flour into the masa dough, which creates a unique, Belgian-inspired tamale.

Makes: 16 tamales

Duck Kriek Tamale Filling Ingredients:
4 each duck legs, washed and patted dry
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 each bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 tsp. thyme, fresh or 1 tsp dried
1 each cinnamon stick
8 oz. dried cherries, preferably Montmorency
22 oz. Kriek Lindemans or Supplication from Russian River Brewing Co.

Duck Kriek Tamale Filling Directions:
Take the duck legs and rinse them in cold water. Pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the legs with the salt and rub the salt into the skin and meat of the leg. Place the legs into a medium-size pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the bay leaves, thyme, cinnamon, dried cherries and the Kriek of choice. Seal with a sheet of aluminum foil, then top with the lid of the pot. Place this into the center of a preheated 300˚F oven and let braise for 3 hours. The meat will be tender and falling off the bone.

Remove the pot from the oven, and remove the duck legs from the pot (and meat) onto a large plate to cool. Place the pot onto a burner and reduce the sauce by half over medium heat, about 8–10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the meat, shredding the meat to small pieces. Mix the meat with the reduced sauce and set aside to cool before stuffing the tamales.

Almond Orange Tamale Ingredients:
3 cup masa harina*
1 cup almond flour or meal (finely ground almonds)
2 each oranges, zested and juiced
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup lard (rendered pork or duck fat) or vegetable shortening
16 oz. water
1/4 lb. goat cheese (optional), crumbled
* Found at most ethnic markets or in the gourmet aisle of many grocery stores. Can also be ordered online.

Almond Orange Tamale Directions:
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the dried masa, almond flour, orange zest, baking powder and salt. Turn the mixer onto a low speed and let the ingredients combine. Add in the lard or shortening, and mix until the fat is incorporated and the masa forms small, pea-shaped pebbles, about 2–3 minutes. Add the orange juice and water. Once the liquid has been incorporated, increase the speed to high and beat for 2–3 minutes; the mixture should be light and fluffy. Turn off the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Follow the directions to fill the tamales in the side bar. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the filling and wrap as directed. Any extra filling can be used to fill puff pastry to make a turnover or as a filling for a stuffed chicken breast.

How to Assemble a Tamale
The classic dried corn husk: a perfect instrument for wrapping your edible gift. To use, separate husks and soak in warm water for 30 minutes to soften, prior to filling. Take one husk and peel into thin strips to use as a tie or string, holding the husk together around the tamale. The remaining husks should be laid out, with the natural curl facing up, tapered edge pointing away.

Divide the masa dough into 16 equal-size portions. Place the masa dough into the center of husk. Using one extra husk as a press, squish the dough flat into the bottom husk, making a 4-by-6-inch rectangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Remove the top husk and repeat. This can be a job for one person, while another can help with filling the tamale; this will speed up the process.

For the filling, place about 2–3 heaping tablespoons of filling into the center of the pressed masa, forming an oval shape. Taking the husk with each hand on each side of the wrapper, fold/roll like a taco, bringing each side together, keeping the filling inside, and join the masa dough together. Then wrap one side of the husk around the masa, rolling the tamale together, pressing the masa together to seal the dough and form a long cylinder. Fold the tamale at the top of the dough, creasing the husk and folding it toward the back. Tie a knot with the husk string. Set the finished tamales, open end up, into a steamer, standing straight up. Repeat this process with remaining husks.

To cook, cover the steamer and fill the bottom of a pot with 3–4 inches of water or beer of choice. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, covering the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Steam the tamales for 40–45 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before consuming.

Alternatives to the Corn Husk:
• Banana leaf—no soaking required and adds a nice flavor and color to the plate.
• Napa Cabbage—see recipe.
• Ti leaves—used in dim sum recipes, they will also add a wonderful flavor to the masa.

Coloring the Corn Husk: Soak the husks in Stout, red beet juice, hibiscus, a hop tea, dark Kriek, or squid ink instead of water. This will add a wonderful color to the plate and capture the essence of the gift idea for your guests or family.