Monday, April 27, 2015

An Agriana Tamale Weekend

We had a tamale making party this past weekend.  Our group made 1,153 tamales.  Yes, over a thousand!  To properly tell you the story, I have to go back in time to over a year ago.

When we process our ground venison for the year, we like to add seasonings to the meat mixture and then vacuum seal portions in 1 to 2 pound packages.  We have tried several, with our favorites being Italian seasonings and green onion seasonings.  These mixtures are staples each year.  We purchase these seasonings as venison sausage seasoning mixes, but make ground meat rather than sausage using 100% venison.  The process of vac sealing really pulls the spices together and infuses them into the meat.  The Italian, for example, makes excellent spaghetti and lasagna without having to add any spices while cooking.  We haven't purchased ground meat from a grocery store in over 8 years.

Two seasons ago, we tried a chorizo sausage seasoning.  We weren't sure what to expect, so we did a small batch of 25 lbs and shared with some friends.  One friend made chili and raved about it, so we had to try that.  It was delicious!  And oh so easy . . . just browned the meat with some onions and added crushed tomatoes and beans.  Voila!  Chili.  Hands down some of the best chili we've had.  When we served it to our neighbor, a light bulb went off and he declared that we had just discovered the perfect tamale meat.  Neither of us had ever made tamales, but we were sure we had discovered the perfect tamale meat.  And with such perfection, surely we should make 1,000 of them to store in our freezer.  An idea was born.  Wine may have been involved.

We used the following recipe as a guide, and perfected it after several attempts:

Original Recipe for Hot Tamales

Meat Mixture:
3 lbs ground meat
2 onions, finely diced
12 oz can tomato puree
3 oz tomato sauce
1 cup yellow corn meal
3 tb salt
1 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp red pepper
3 tsp cumin powder
3 tb chili powder
1 tb garlic powder
1 tsp oregano

Boiling Mixture:
48 oz tomato sauce
4 tb salt
2 tb cumin
4 t chili powder
2 tb red pepper
1 tb oregano
chicken stock/water as needed

For rolling:  2 cups corn meal, tamale wrappers, cotton string
Combine all Meat Mixture ingredients and mix well.  Form into logs.  Roll logs in cornmeal then wrap in tamale wrappers.  Tie 6 tamales tightly together using cotton string and place all bundles in a boiling basket.  Combine all Boiling Mixture ingredients and bring to a boil.  Lower basket into Boiling Mixture and simmer for 2 hours.

We like spice, but found we had to back off on the red pepper a little in the Boiling Mixture.  We preferred 4 lbs of meat for this recipe and with the chorizo venison didn't need any of the spices in the Meat Mixture that are listed after corn meal.  We also found some great food grade parchment papers online that were cut specifically for tamale making . . . so much better to work with than the corn husks we tried the first time.

After several small batches, we were confident that our tamale making skills were honed and ready for mass production.  Again, wine may have been involved.  

During this past season, we put aside enough venison to make 100 lbs of chorizo.  No turning back now!  Our shopping list included such things as 12 gallons of tomato sauce and 7 cups of chili powder.   We settled on the following recipe, which makes about 3 dozen tamales, and multiplied it to make 1,000:

Meat Mixture:
4 lbs chorizo seasoned venison
2 tb minced garlic, browned
4 tb dried onions, rehydrated and browned
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 cup corn meal

Boiling Mixture:
58 oz tomato sauce
4 tb salt
2 tb cumin
4 tb chili powder
1 tb red pepper flakes
1 tb dried oregano
chicken broth as needed so boiling mixture covers the tamales
3 cups corn meal for rolling

We used a commercial mixer for the Meat Mixture in (approx) 30 lb batches.  We spent about 6 hours (5 people) forming the meat logs, rolling and wrapping.

We divided the tamales into 3 batches for boiling.

After the tamales cooled, we added a cup of sauce to each bag of a dozen tamales.  The vacuum sealing was time consuming, but working in batches helped the process.

It was a tremendous amount of work, but so much fun with our group of friends and family.  Now, if we can eat all these tamales before the end of the year, we will do it again next Spring!