from Chef Josh Gentry of Little Donkey in Birmingham, Alabama
1 whole beef brisket (about 8 pounds raw yielding about 3 pounds cooked)
1 pound corn husks
1 cup carrots, roughly chopped
1 white onion, roughly chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cups chopped habanero
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup lime juice
9 ounces pork lard or Crisco
3 pounds masa*
1 ½ cups pork stock
For beef, smoke beef brisket at 200−220 degrees for 12−14 hours (or you could use some leftover beef stew).
For husks, bring 2 gallons of water to a boil. Turn off heat and add corn husks. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
To make habanero sauce, sauté carrots, onion, tomatoes, garlic, red pepper, and habanero in oil until onions are translucent. Add ½ cup of water, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.
Add 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, vinegar, and lime juice. Purée on high speed in a blender until it is the consistency of baby food. Then purée some more!
Return to the pot and simmer another 20 minutes until it’s the consistency of Gerber sweet potatoes and the color of two-week-old Gerber sweet potatoes (kinda orangey-brown).
For the filling, add 1 cup of the habanero sauce to 2 pounds of smoked brisket.
For the masa dough, whip pork lard or Crisco in the bowl of a standing mixer for 2 minutes on the highest setting with the whisk attachment until fluffy. While whipping, slowly add masa in small batches until a fluffy paste forms.
Drizzle 1 teaspoon salt and pork stock in while mixer is still crankin’ away! This whole process should take 7−8 minutes—all ingredients should be whipped stiff.
Now for the awesomeness...prepare to get messy! Create a steamer by filling a large pot** with 1 inch of water. Place a colander in the pot so that you will be able to stand the tamales up without them being in the water.
Place one husk down on the table or kitchen counter. Fill the husk with 1 cup of masa and gently spread across the width of the husk—not up and down, you need volume to wrap the filling. Some of us use spatulas, some of us use butter knives. A cake spatula is best, but let’s be honest, Grannie’s been doing this with the backs of spoons since the dawn of time, so let’s move on.
Next, place a golf ball-sized portion of the filling in the top/center of the masa.
Hold each “side” of the husk and bring the sides together to meet in the center. Using your fingers push the masa together while holding the sides together, forming a solid “wrap” of masa over the filling. Fold the bottom up to cup the masa and place in the colander with the cupped bottom down.
Once your pot is full of tamales, cover tightly (like put a brick on it), bring to a boil, and steam for 45 minutes.
*At the Little Donkey, we use real nixtamalized corn (hominy) we cook in-house and grind, but you can use reconstituted Maseca. I never have, so let me know how it comes out...otherwise, buy some fresh masa from your corner Mexican grocery store.**You can also buy a tamale pot or use a bamboo steamer.