Chef Juan Mondragon’s Five Tips for the Perfect Tamales
Jon | On 12, Dec 2013
Chef Juan Mondragon, owner of Juan’s Restaurante in Baldwin Park, California, is presenting expert tips for tasty tamales this holiday season.
Chef Mondragon is from Guerrero, Mexico and has cooked for a variety of celebrities such as Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Lopez, President Barack Obama, Oprah, Martha Stewart and Ryan Seacrest, to name a few.
Chef Mondragon’s top five tips for the perfect tamales include:
PREPARE THE LEAVES: The leaves are a key element when it comes to wrapping the tamales, whether the recipe calls for cornhusks or banana leaves. These consist of the smooth and rough sides of the leaves. The dough should be spread on the smooth side so when the tamale is cooked it slides right off onto your plate. You can determine between rough and smooth sides by running your finger across the leaf.
Chef Mondragon’s grandmother taught him that soaking the leaves from the night before with a pinch of salt helps to soften and gives a rich flavor to tamales.
COOK THE FILLING WITH SPICES: It is important to cook the meat thoroughly with the spices regardless of what type of meat or vegetables are used. It is the only way that the tamale filling will get a rich flavor and taste. Just make sure to give the chile you prepare time to “marry” with the meat or vegetables. Mixing them together for few hours or even overnight is recommended.
GIVE THE DOUGH A “KICK” OF FLAVOR: The dough, called “masa,” is the capsule of the tamale and many people have their own recipe or purchase it pre-made from a Latin market. Chef Mondragon suggests leaving aside some of the prepared chile and stirring it into the dough to add rich flavor and a little color. He recommends the dough sit for a couple of hours before preparing the tamales.
USE THE RIGHT POT: To achieve the perfect texture and a delicious taste, a good steamer is essential. It is critical to maintain the recommended level of water to avoid burning and therefore leaving a bad taste in the tamales. Also consider that tamales need enough room for steaming; therefore, you must use a pot that is the right size according to the amount of tamales being prepared.
STACK ‘EM UP RIGHT: Finally, make sure the tamales are stacked properly for even steaming. Tamales that have an opening on one side, like many traditional Mexican-style tamales, need to be placed vertically in the pot so no ingredients spill out. Tamales like Salvadoran or Guatemalan-style tamales that are sealed can be stacked. Chef Mondragon recommends covering them with a damp clean cloth and aluminum foil to encourage good steaming.
Cook tamales according to your personal recipe. Tamales can be checked for “doneness” after a few hours in the steamer by testing if one slides off the leaf. If the tamale masa is still sticky, just wrap it up and place it back in for additional steaming.
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