Mexican tamales pose a challenge to many home cooks, as they are made up of multiple layers and require precise cooking to achieve favorable results. If you are able to get the layers right and assemble your tamales correctly, using a bamboo steamer for the cooking part can help produce authentic results. Steaming tamales in bamboo will take more than an hour, but they will cook all the way through and taste just the way you want them to taste.
Forming the Tamales
To establish a correct steaming time, you must form the tamales correctly so they will cook properly. First, submerge the corn husks in hot water until they are pliable. Then, prepare your batter according to the instructions. It should be about the consistency of soft cake batter, but it shouldn't be runny. If you need to refrigerate the batter for any reason, you may have to beat it over again with a little extra liquid to make it soft once more. Spread batter into the corn husk, then spoon your filling onto the batter. Fold the two long sides of the corn husk together and fold one end up, so three sides are secured. Tie a string or thin strip of husk around the tamale to keep it together.
Bamboo Steaming Technique
To use a bamboo steamer for your Mexican tamales, set the steamer into a wok or deep saucepan that has a couple of inches of water in the bottom. Ensure the steamer doesn't touch the water and then bring the water to a full boil. Stand each tamale up on end in the bamboo steamer, so the open end is pointing up. Don't crowd the tamales too much because they will need some room to expand during cooking. If you use your bamboo steamer for different types of meals, consider lining it with parchment paper so it won't absorb different flavors.
Tamale Steaming Time
Providing that you have constructed your tamales the right way and have given them ample room to steam and expand, it should take between one and two hours for them to steam completely. The cooking time will vary depending on the overall size of the tamales and what ingredients you included in the filling. They should be finished when the masa in the batter stops being sticky. If you have pork in your filling, which is common, ensure that it is cooked all the way through before you remove them from the heat and start eating.
If you don't, or can't, eat all the tamales right away, you will have to re-steam them at some point when you serve them again. You can heat them in your microwave for a couple of minutes until they are hot all the way through, but you'll get a more authentic result if you reheat them in your bamboo steamer. Since they were already cooked once, you'll just have to heat them through, so set it up like the first time and steam them for 10 to 15 minutes.
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