Tamales de Jamaica, Granada y Piloncillo

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There’s been a journey of months and miles back across the country from the backwoods of upstate New York back to the traffic, car break ins, searing sunlight and heat of the Phoenix desert.

But I am glad for the move. Along with all the bad listed above comes the rich flavors of the city, the endless quantities of chiles, the gleaming bottles of hot sauce spanning the length of the grocery store aisle, the piles of tortillas stacking at the whirling end of the never still tortilla machine.

I am glad to be home.

Notes on the recipe:

Quite a few recipes on this blog use ingredients which are not typically found in an average chain grocery stoew. Living in an area with as much Mexican influence as Phoenix skewed my view of ingredient availability; two plus years in the very un-Mexican upstate New York corrected this.

Piloncillo can be closely substituted by weight with dark brown sugar, with the addition of a tablespoon of molasses to more closely reproduce the flavor of piloncillo. If the read thing is desired, the cones can be easily found online at Mexgrocer.

This recipe calls for masa de maÍz nixtamalizado, or a real fancy way of saying corn dough. I’ve developed a distaste for simply using the word masa to refer to it, as this only means dough. Is it corn or flour? Is it nixtamalizado or (god forbid) corn meal? Best to be specific.

This dough can be purchased at almost any tortillería and most Mexican grocery stores, if you’re lucky enough to have one near you. Ask for masa de maíz no preparada, meaning it should be nothing more than corn, lime (the mineral not the citrus) and just enough water to make the dough.

If you get any funny looks when buying it, tell them a blog made you do it.


Tamales de Jamaica, Granada y Piloncillo

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

For the wrapping:

  • 8 ounces dried corn husks

For the syrup:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 piloncillo cone, approx. 8 oz / 240 g.
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 cup jamaica flowers
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the dough:

  • 4 oz lard / 115 g, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup / 112 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 900 g / 2 lbs. masa de maÍz nixtamalizado

Separate the corn husks and rinse under warm running water until they begin to soften. Squeeze any excess water, and cover with boiling water, weighing down to maintain submerged. Soak until husks become very pliable and soft, changing the water as necessary.

Place the water and piloncillo cone in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 5 minutes. When the syrup starts to thicken, add the pomegranate seeds and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Pick of any stems from the jamaica flowers and tear any large flowers into smaller pieces. Rinse well under cold running water to remove any grit, and squeeze dry. Add to the pot, simmer very lightly for 10 minutes, and remove from heat. Add vanilla extract and allow to cool.

Cream the room temperature lard, granulated sugar and salt together until light and fluffy. Break up the masa de maÍz nixtamalizado
into golf ball sized chucks and add to the creamed lard while mixing, alternating with the cooled syrup, until evenly mixed.

Drain the corn husks, squeezing out any excess water. Place a corn husk on the non-dominant hand, pointing the body. Add 4 ounces, or a heaping ice cream scoop, of dough to the husk, spreading it on about 1/2 of the top half of the husk. Fold the husk to close it up, first horizontally, folding the filling over on itself, then by folding the tail under.

Stack finished tamales vertically leaning against each other before cooking. Prepare a deep stock pot for steaming by inserting a steaming basket or rack. In a pinch, loosely balled up aluminum foil works well. It is ideal to have about 2″ of space for water underneath the tamales. Place a layer of corn husks down, then stand the tamales inside, not too tightly, covering with another layer of corn husks. Leave enough of a gap in the pot so water may be addd to it without pouring directly on a tamal. Add hot water to the pot, without touching the bottom of the tamales.

Place over medium heat, and cook for approximately 40 to 50 minutes, or until the tamales firm up but still yield when pressed. Remove from heat, placing tamales flat on a baking sheet.

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