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Adventures in Tamale Making or How I Learned to Love my Ace Bandage

August 12, 2011

So no shit, there we were…

I’d been feeling the urge to make tamales for a few months now and with Moose out of town for a week, I figured I might as well dirty up the kitchen while he was gone*.

I was quite proud of myself for doing a lot of research on the appropriate spices to use, recommended meat blends, and methodology**. Some of the methods looked complex and beyond my skill level. Also, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task of cooking an entire pig head. I fully understand that meat comes from animals, but the idea of my meat having eyes freaks me out***. Eventually, I settled on MakingTamales.com, as the recipe was fairly in line with most of the other recipes I’d seen, and it included lots of great big pictures.

Naturally, I had to make my own modifications. Instead of shoulder roast, I picked up two packages labeled “Pork Barbacoa.” Since barbacoa around here is usually made from cow heads, I figured this was probably pig head meat. The grocery store where I usually shop has a very broad selection of Mexican staples, but the meat cases are sometimes annoyingly coy about just what’s in the packages. I also purchased boneless chicken thigh meat, since that’s my favorite part and I really didn’t feel like messing with the process involved in deboning a chicken. Besides, this gave me the option of doing the whole thing in a slow cooker.

I layered the pork and chicken with some garlic, onion, and jalapeño, sprinkled some salt and pepper over the top, and poured in water until the meat was mostly covered. In retrospect, I probably should have mixed the salt and pepper in with the meat before putting it in the slow cooker. Also, I feel like a bullion cube or some chicken stock would have added a much needed complexity to the broth. It’s either that or see if some of those coyly labeled packages in the chicken section are extra gizzards. I set the timer**** on my slow cooker to crank up at noon, figuring that 5 hours on low was probably about right.

In general, everything went exactly as planned. I came home to a giant pot of cooked meat, my friend Mira came over to help with the actual tamale making, and everything was going swimmingly. Mira and I don’t usually get to just hang out together, so it was quite nice to spend a few hours just working and talking. The problem started when I realized my stock pot wasn’t going to be big enough for all of these tamales.

It should be noted that I have a lot of pots. I really like cooking and I feel the need to have a variety of pots in various sizes and styles. For steaming the tamales, I was using my stock pot, which has a domed lid with a short inner lip. It has to be picked straight up in order to uncover the pot, but the domed lid catches most of the rising steam. For the second pot, I decided to use my large soup pot (AKA, The Gumbo Pot). This pot has a flat lid, and doesn’t need to be picked up at a specific angle to be removed, but there is most definitely a Wrong Way.

I prepped the soup pot, putting foil in the bottom since I only own one steamer basket, and we filled it up. Mira then left to go get her boyfriend and pick up some supplies for turning the leftover tamale meat into enchiladas. I started cleaning the kitchen. In the middle of that, I suddenly noticed that the soup pot was making a quite different sort of cooking noise. It was the dreaded sound of a pot whose steam has about run out. I grabbed the cup measure and funnel I was using to maintain the water levels in the bottom of the pot and lifted the lid.

Straight up.

Scalding hot steam billowed out of my beloved gumbo pot, hit the very flat lid, came rolling up the sides, and washed over my exposed wrist. I can’t remember what I shouted. It was probably profane. I dropped the lid, stuck my hand under some cold running water*****, and then, being a very practical cook, went back to adding water to my pot. By the time Mira and her boyfriend returned, I’d slathered aloe on my wrist and done what I could with the kitchen without smearing aloe everywhere.

So for the past week or so, I’ve been wandering through my life with a giant Ace bandage around my wrist. The burn isn’t bad, but it’s large, and it sits right where my wrist rests while I’m typing. The Ace bandage helps keep the gauze in place, but it has also provided some much needed padding during the important healing period. Strangers in the grocery store have been giving me funny looks, though. S’okay. I’m used to strangers in grocery stores giving me funny looks. I will say this is the first time those funny looks didn’t involve blue hair or a corset.

The tamales were tasty. And that’s what’s really important.

* It’s hard to do large projects with Moose in the house. Mainly because he wants to do things that take me away from my projects like “Spend quality time together,” “go out to eat,” and “cuddle.”

** I was appropriately horrified to discover the recipe that started off with “I hung out in the Mexican food aisle until a lady who looked Mexican came along and I asked her for her recipe.” If you don’t understand the many complex reasons why this is A Bad Thing, let me know. I’ll attempt to explain in very small words.

*** Except for crawfish, naturally. I may have been born and raised in Texas, but my mother is from Louisiana, and everyone knows that Cajun heritage passes down through the mother. Usually along with the cast iron pans.

**** My slow cooker is not actually fancy enough to have a built in timer. Moose, having the soul of an engineer, long ago suggested that a lamp timer would allow me to have the slow cooker turn on and off whenever I wanted, so long as all of the many complex dials were set properly. Even after having successfully used this technique on several occasions, I still don’t completely trust my ability to make it work right.

***** In Texas, the water which comes out of the pipes at 7 pm during the summer months has a pretty broad definition of cold. Later cold compresses used water from the fridge.

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