Tamales -- traditionally steamed or baked in corn husks or banana leaves -- usually feature a soft, doughy exterior with a meaty, mealy interior. But if you explore the culinary outskirts, such as the roadside diners of Mississippi and Texas or the street vendors of Mexico, you may find a dish that wraps the meat and dough in a crispy, crunchy exterior. Just like these culinary mavericks, you can deep-fry tamales in your own kitchen.
How to Fry
To deep-fry tamales at home, prepare and cook your tamales as you normally would. Remove the tamales from their husks or leaves and dredge them in a light, even coating of flour. If desired, add seasonings to the flour that complement the tamale, such as garlic powder, pepper, cumin or chili powder. Heat your oil – stick with vegetable or canola oil, as they have high smoke points -- in a deep fryer, wok or dutch oven to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Completely submerge the tamales in the oil and fry them until their masa flour wraps take on a golden hue and crispy texture. If frying the tamales in uncovered oil, place a sheet of parchment paper atop the oil's surface to prevent hot tamale stuffing from exploding out of the oil. Carefully remove the tamales with tongs and allow them to drain on a paper towel before serving.
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Tips and Tweaks
A strong foundation makes for a strong fried tamale; for the best results, start with a tamale that is delicious even without frying. Always soak your corn husks overnight and leave the fat and juices from your meat; these tricks help make for a succulent, moist and flavorful interior. Use homemade masa if you can -- if you can't, cut a bit of chicken or beef broth into the mix to help improve its texture and taste. Tweak the shape of your tamales -- wrapping the meat into smaller, ball-like shapes rather than long, flat cylinders, for instance -- to make party-friendly finger food.
Rich and savory deep-fried tamales stand up just fine on their own, but many diners enjoy dips with their fried finger foods. Salsa rojo and salsa verde, whether thin or chunky, add a spicy edge to salty tamales while thick, creamy ranch dressing cools down particularly spicy fried tamales. For a best of both worlds combo, stir a few drops of Louisiana-style hot sauce into the ranch for a distinctly Southern take on deep-fried tamale dip. Fried tamales paired with melted queso make a memorable party treat.
A Pan-Fried Alternative
For a lighter take on the deep-fried tamale that still lends the dish a crispier edge than steaming or baking alone, turn to pan-fried tamales. Prep and steam or bake your tamales as usual, then dust them in rice flour as you heat ½ inch of vegetable oil in a skillet to about 350 F. Let the tamales sizzle for roughly 5 minutes, turning each tamale halfway through to produce a crisp and golden crust. Allow the tamales to drain on paper towels before serving.
- Roads and Kingdoms: The Hot Tamales of Issaquena County
- Houston Press: Fried Tamales for the Holidays
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- Serious Eats: How to Deep-Fry at Home Without a Deep-Fryer
- Phoenix New Times: Tamales 101 -- 10 Tips from a First-Time Holiday Tamale Maker
- The Ultimate Guide to Frying: How to Fry Just About Anything; Rick Browne
- Delish: Poppers, Fritters and More -- 19 Recipes for Fried Food
- PBS: Pork Tamales