A Well Balanced Tamal

Wrapping up 2020 with another tamal post. ‘Tis the season is it not?

How Much Masa is enough?

Recently my focus on tamales has heightened since it’s Christmas time. One of the great debates about tamales is the masa to filling ratio. While tasty masa is important to the overall quality of a tamal, too much of it can drown out the flavor and spices of the filling. I find myself in a quandary; do I acknowledge the reasonable argument that equal portions lends to a well rounded tamal experience, or do I stay loyal to the tradition of my Ama: Tasty chubby tamales with a savory filling.

California Tamales

I grew up eating my mothers “big fat” tamales that had to be tied at each end to keep them together. Huge tamales with a thick layer of masa filled with chicken cooked in anaheim chiles and strong spices of comino and pepper seasonings. They were embellished with a carrot and potato stick, a sprig of cilantro, a jalapeno strip and of course a green olive embedded somewhere in it. (Try tying one of those Fattys with the wet corn husk ties, my fingers just got stiff with the memory)  l’m not sure if it’s a California, or a Baja California thing. I think it was more like a metamorphosis, as my mother settled first in Mexicali, Baja California from Jalisco Mexico. Then, after thirteen years and four more kids the family came across to the Imperial Co. California. However it happened, so long as the masa was tasty, I didn’t mind the huge tamales, especially the next day and mi ama would fry those tamales in oil and let them simmer until they got a little crunchy. She’d serve the crispy tamal with fried eggs and refried beans. I would top them with her salsa or maybe some jalapenos. This might not sound too healthy, but my taste buds are swelling with delight and my mind swarms with the images of my sweet mama serving her family on Christmas morning.  

A Different Tamal

You can imagine the stiffness I felt as my cunada, an “out-law” (as my husband’s family likes to call all of us in-laws) schooled me on the technique of a thinner layer of masa . She gently informed me that people actually preferred a skinny tamal! “The trick was just enough masa so as to not overpower the delicious meat filling.” 

Of course, in my struggle for loyalty to tradition, and to my mother, I resisted the idea for a time. Could people who made skinny tamales be trusted? Were they not cheating the tamal lover out of the tasty masa? Or worse! Maybe, they didn’t want to bother with making nice, smooth masa?. 

Masa to filling ratio is “just enough tasty masa” to be able to stand alone if it happens to face those taste buds first. Along with the fact that most tamal lovers want to cut into a tamal and see it filled with their delicious filling.

Tradition lives on!!!

I’ve accepted the technique of spreading the right amount of masa and recognize it as a legit method. I appreciate the lesson from my cunada, a true tamalera, who has expanded my horizons as far as making tamales goes. However, my loyalty to mi Ama is fixed. Tradition bids me to also make my tamales gorditos with flavorful masa that has good texture filled with a delicious savory chicken; estilo mi ama. 

As they get eaten, I am glad that my mom’s tamales live on.

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