How white am I now, tortilleria guy?

So, for those of you who don’t know me, I am a white girl.  Porcelain white.  The other day, a passing cloud openly admired its tan in front of me. If I fell into a snow drift, even if I was in plain view, I wouldn’t be found for days. I am real, real white.  Chicago is notorious for its segregated neighborhoods, and whenever I go to Pilsen, I get the idea that not a lot of painfully white people are seen around the streets there, and probably, when they do make an appearance, they aren’t often seen going into tortillerias.

Last time I went into a tortilleria, I asked in Spanish, “Masa para tamales” in my best Latin American Spanish accent, to which the clerk replied, in English, “How many pounds?”

This time I asked in English.  While the guy went into the back and weighed my masa, two older Hispanic ladies came in behind me.  They stared, not unkindly.  They giggled.  They whispered to themselves, in Spanish, which I might have understood if they spoke loud enough.  When the guy came back and handed me my masa he said, “Are you going to be the one making these tamales?”  He was clearly amused.  “Yes,” I said, “I have some pork shoulder braising in beer right now.” I think that surprised him a little.  He said, “Sounds good.”  His scepticism was lessened but still palpable.

He couldn’t have possibly known that I had rendered lard from Gene’s (because Armour manteca lard has hydrogenated fats), fresh tomatillos and poblano peppers to make salsa, pinto beans soaked from the night before, chorizo, bacon fat, corn husks, sea salt.  A day later, I have about 10 dozen tamales in my freezer.  Some of them vegetarian to gift to my friends who never get them because they’re always made with lard.

First the fillings –

Beer Braised Pork Shoulder


3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground mustard seed

Mix ingredients together.

I generously salted the pork, and would consider brining it in the future, but this time I just salted it.  I only needed about 3lbs of shoulder, so I got it bone out so that I could get a small piece.  But if it were for a party, I would have gotten bone in to keep the moisture while braising.  Once I salted the pork, I rubbed it generously with the spice mixture.  Then I preheated the oven to 250.  I seared the pork on all sides in a high-sided cast iron pan on medium high in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil.  I removed the pork and added my beer of choice to the pan – a malty amber Russian beer called Baltika – about two cups.  I brought it to a boil, turned off the heat, and returned the pork to the pan.

Then I poured more beer in the pan, until it came a third to a half of the way up the sides of the pork

and popped it into the oven.  Afterwards I saw a post recommending you braise it fat side up so it can baste itself.  That’s a real good idea, and I wish I had done that.  Next time.

I cooked it for about 2 1/2 hours, until tender with a nice crisp outside.

It could have been more tender.  I could have let it go another hour, probably.  When it’s fork tender, it’s ready, but i temped it with a meat thermometer and it was hotter than I’d like, so I pulled it. Wish I hadn’t. I rested it for a good half hour, so it was as juicy as it could be, and it wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t as tender as it could have been. Once it’s rested, you can shred it with a couple of forks or cut it into small pieces.

I didn’t want the beer flavor to take over the tamale, since I was going to pair the pork filling with salsas, but I think perhaps that was a misstep.  I think I’m going to try beer braising a shoulder in the near future for tacos and sandwiches, and I’ll make a sauce out of the beer and let you know how it goes.

Filling the second

Roasted Poblano Salsa Verde

5-7 Tomatillos
1 poblano pepper, roasted
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup cilantro
salt and lime juice to taste

Don’t peel the charred skin from the poblano pepper, just cut off the stem.  Blend all ingredients together.  Done.


2 lbs masa, course ground*
1 lb lard (or butter for vegetarian), room temperature.
1 tbsp kosher salt (or 1 1/2 tsp fine salt)

Isn't fresh masa lovely?

Don't fear the lard

I blend them together with my hands.  Go on.  Get in there.  You’re going to use your fingers to spread it out anyway.


I also browned some chorizo, made some salsa roja, and some refried beans for the vegerarian ones. I gathered my ingredients unto me.

I soaked the corn husks in water.  You could do this with banana leaves maybe, but my Mexican grocery store sells giant bags of corn husks for five bucks.

I use a cookie scoop to portion out the right amount, but about 2 tablespoons would do it.  Then I spread it out on the corn husk, using my fingers, wetting them slightly if the masa was sticking.

yeah, the tomatillos are in the shot just to break up the monochromatism of the tamales and cutting board. Don't judge. Gotta be pretty.

Resist the urge to overfill.  About 2 teaspoons will do it.

Right in the center in an oblong shape.  I like chorizo because it packs a lot of flavor in small amounts, but I still added some salsa roja to these.  Any combination will do – pork and salsa verde, pork and roja, beans and chorizo, chorizo and roja, etc.  As long as you don’t overfill it you can’t really go wrong.  You need to get the masa wrapped around the fillings.  So you bring up the sides of the husks and press until the masa encloses the fillings –

then you lay down the tamale and roll it like an ah…erm..cigarette?

Then you fold the flap under.  If you want to be fancy, you can tear a strip off of one of the corn husks and wrap it like a present.

I have a tamale steamer which is a giant pot fitted with its own steamer insert

If you don’t have a tamale steamer…because I know how prevalent those are in the average American home…then a normal steamer insert in a pot will do.  But this guy is highly convenient and I got him for $15 in a bodega on Cermak.  Well worth the investment, and I can do a couple dozen at a time.

About a half hour or so.  Just until the masa firms up.  I check by tasting one.

These freeze great (obviously or I wouldn’t have made 10 dozen) but they’re best right out of the steamer with a little salsa.

How white am I now, tortilleria guy?  Ok, fine, I’m still real, real white, but these were some respectable tamales.

*If you don’t have access to fresh masa, you can make tamales with maseca by combining it in equal parts maseca with chicken or vegetable stock and subbing that in the recipe for the masa, but then you don’t get to be quite as smug.


One thought on “How white am I now, tortilleria guy?

  1. Pingback: Beer-braised pork shoulder – i.e. pork sandwiches with provolone and pickled peppers | CookSmarts

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