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Tamales are a South Texas Christmas Tradition
I live in South Texas (San Antonio), and here tamales are a Christmas tradition. I have always thought of them as Mexican. Although they are available year round in restaurants and grocery stores, I usually dined on them at Christmas. Tamales made easy…the ones I bought were from the grocery store. 🙂
Whereas my annual Christmas dinner included store bought tamales, it’s a totally different situation for Hispanic families. For many Hispanic families, they gather together on Christmas Eve to make them. Over the years this gathering turned into a big social event called a tamalada. There’s a great article from NPR called “Tamales For Texas Are a True Texas Tradition” which I urge you to read for great background information.
From Buying To Making Tamales – My Day of Reckoning!
Having heard how difficult and time consuming it is to make tamales, I had always shied away from trying to make them. I didn’t need all that fuss! However, deep down inside I had told myself that one day I would give making them a go…and that day came because of one of our movie nights.
Movie Night – Crossroads
On movie nights I’ll cook a meal that has something to do with the film we are watching. A few weeks ago, my husband selected a film called “Crossroads.” This is a 1986 film starring Ralph Macchio and was inspired by the legend of blues musician Robert Johnson. I have linked to Amazon if you are interested in watching the film or perusing some of his recordings or books about his life.
Legend has it that Mr. Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the Crossroads in exchange for mastery over his instrument and to gain fame. One of his very famous songs is called “They’re Red Hot” about tamales. Apparently tamales are very popular around the Mississippi Delta. So…that was it! I was going to have to make tamales to accompany this film!
Mississippi Hot Tamales
Long story short…our DVD for “Crossroads” didn’t arrive in time for our movie night. So we elected to watch a documentary called “Devil at the Crossroads” on Netflix. It was a fascinating look into Robert Johnson’s tragic and mysterious life, highly recommended and discusses this “legend” of Robert selling his soul to the devil.
That night, I made what was akin to Mexican Pork Tamales. I cooked boneless pork shoulder in a crockpot using my Pork Carnitas Tacos recipe. They turned out YUMMY!! You can watch the video below (not professionally done sorry!) to see my first efforts. LOL
During the week, the DVD for Crossroads finally arrived so we were all set to watch it on the next movie night. I was all set to brush up on my tamale making skills and try making them again!
Also during that week, I did a little more investigating, and discovered that the tamales that Robert Johnson sang about were not quite the tamales I was familiar with, which was Mexican tamales. Apparently Mississippi has their version of tamales, called Mississippi Hot Tamales! I was over the moon when I discovered this because I was so keen to taste an American version of the tamale!
How Do Mississippi Hot Tamales Differ From Mexican Tamales?
It seems that tamales may have made their way to Mississippi via Mexican workers migrating north to work in the fields (although there are other theories). There, they shared their Mexican tamales with African-American workers, who developed their own version of the tamale. The tamale is a very hearty food and portable, which made it perfect for workers to take with them to the fields.
The main differences between Mississippi Hot Tamales and Mexican tamales seem to be:
- Use of corn meal rather than masa (although masa can be used)
- Differing spices and a more heavily seasoned masa, meat, and cooking water
- Cooking in water rather than steaming
So from here, I’m going to let the pictures and videos below tell most of the story. This time I used masa, but next time I will try corn meal. 🙂
How To Make Mississippi Hot Tamales in Mostly Pictures and Video
Here is a video showing how I spread the masa, topped with the spicy pork, and wrapped up these babies. At the end is my taste tester Toby trying them out. Sorry…the wrapping part goes on a bit but if you hang in there until the end you’ll catch Toby. 🙂
Give These a Go! Or Visit the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail!
Ok, so after having never made tamales in my entire lifetime, I made them 2 weeks in a row. Honestly I enjoyed both the Mexican and Mississippi versions. However, making the Mississippi version was very special as it was the perfect accompaniment to the Crossroads film.
Making tamales are a bit of a fuss! I will not kid about that! However, I’m so happy that I took the time to create these Mississippi Hot Tamales. They were absolutely delicious and I learned a bit of history! I can also confidently say that I know how to make tamales!
I urge you to try to make these at home sometime! If you decide to do so, enjoy the process, especially if you’ve never made tamales before. Not every tamale I made turned out perfectly, but’s that ok…it’s all part of the process which I thoroughly enjoyed.
One day, I hope to visit the Mississippi Delta and dine on some Mississippi Hot Tamales on the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail. Here’s a great article from Mississippi Farm Country called “Discover the Mississippi Delta’s Hot Tamale Trail which is so fascinating!
If you decide to make these please let me know by typing your comments below!
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Mississippi Hot Tamales
- 1 lb boneless pork shoulder cooked and shredded; I recommend you use my recipe for cooking this in the crockpot
- 20 ea corn husks softened
- 2 cups masa OR corn meal use corn meal for more authentic Mississippi Hot Tamales
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 ts baking powder
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 ts salt
- 1/2 ts pepper
- 1 1/2 ts cayenne pepper split
- 1 ts cumin
- 1 ts garlic powder split
- 2.5 ts chili powder split
- 1.5 ts paprika split
Boneless Pork Shoulder
- I recommend to make this the day before and allow to stay in the refrigerator overnight. I find it makes the entire process a bit easier!
- Please refer to my recipe for Pork Carnitas Tacos https://explorecookeat.com/pork-carnitas-tacos. Season with salt and pepper instead of the Goya, and after cooking allow to cool. You will need 1 pound of the pork shoulder for these tamales, so you can use any leftovers for tacos!
- Combine 1/2 ts cayenne, 1 ts cumin, 1/2 ts garlic powder, 1/2 ts chili powder, and 1/2 ts paprika in a small bowl. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a frying pan and heat on medium-low. One hot, add the shredded pork and spices and stir until well combined. Set Aside.
- Bring a large saucepan 3/4 filled with water almost to the boil. Place 20 good sized corn husks into the saucepan and weigh them down with something. Place the lid on the saucepan and allow to soak for around 30 minutes in the hot water to soften.
Masa or Corn Meal
- Combine the masa or corn meal, 1/4 cup oil, 1/2 ts baking powder, and 2 cups of chicken broth in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 ts salt, 1/2 ts pepper, 1/2 ts garlic powder, and 1 ts chili powder to the mix. Use your hand mixer or stand mixer to mix until combined well (about 3 minutes).
Assembling The Tamales
- Drain and dry the corn husks. Spread some of the masa or corn meal mix (around 1-1.5 tbsp) on the bottom wide end of the corn husk but leave room at the edges. Top with some of the pork (around .5-1 tbsp) spread down the center of the masa. Roll the husk so that the masa or corn meal surrounds the meat as best you can. Fold the husk over. I have included a video in the post above which shows how to do this if needed.
Cooking the Tamales
- Combine 1 ts cayenne, 1 ts chili powder, and 1 ts paprika in a small bowl. Take a smallish saucepan, and stand the tamales up next to each other. If there is leftover room, place something in the saucepan so that the tamales won't fall over. I happened to use a pizza slicer and ice cream scoop!
- Add water to about 1/2-3/4 to the top of the tamales. Add the cayenne, chili powder and paprika to the water. Turn the heat up and bring to the boil. Once brought to the boil, the lower to a simmer and cover. Simmer for around 1 hr to 1 hr 10 minutes or so, or until the tamales are cooked. You know they are ready when they pull away easily from the husk!