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Culinary Class: Tamales

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Wrap it Up

A Mexican Staple Made Easy

Written by Lia Grabowski | Photos by Jonathan Boncek

First popularized in the lower South as a portable snack by seasonal field workers from Latin America, tamales are traditionally made in a communal setting, in which generations and communities gather to stuff and wrap corn husks. We turned to Wesley Grubbs, the chef de cuisine of Minero in Charleston, South Carolina, to show us how to make them. Start by soaking corn husks in hot water—use a pot lid or heavy object from around your kitchen to keep them submerged. For the proper dough consistency, be sure to find masa harina instead of corn meal (which is the backbone of Delta tamales, but that’s another story). Grubbs advises not getting too caught up with appearances. “A bad-looking tamale is still a good tamale,” he says. “It may not be pretty, but who cares?” With the husk in hand, spread a spoonful of dough in the center and top with chicken filling. Pull the two long edges of the husk toward each other to gather filling into the center, then tuck one long edge under the other and roll into a cigar shape. Take one of the open ends and fold it toward the center, sealing it off. You can use butcher twine or the traditional strip of corn husk to tie off the tamale, but leave room for the dough to expand during steaming. Grubbs finds they’re even better as leftovers, so pop them in the microwave for a minute and a half and enjoy all week.