the appetizer:

Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, includes recipes and articles like Shirred Eggs in Prosciutto Crudo Cups; Jerk-Style Country Ham and Pineapple Tamales; Europe On A Plate (European Dry-Cured Hams); and A European Ham Party.

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Jerk-Style Country Ham and Pineapple Tamales


Jerk-Style Country
Ham and Pineapple

Makes 20 Tamales


Call this Bruce's culinary free-for-all: a Caribbean filling made with American country ham and served as a Tex-Mex delicacy in corn husks. There's not much more I can say, except they freeze well. Make them in advance, then wrap them individually in plastic and freeze for up to 3 months; thaw on the counter for 30 minutes before steaming as directed.

1. Put the corn husks in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Set them aside to soak until soft, about 30 minutes. If they all won't stay submerged, place a little plate over them in the bowl to force them down into the hot water.

2. Meanwhile, put the dried pineapple in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 10 minutes, then drain in a colander set in the sink. Chop the pineapple into tiny bits.

3. Transfer those pineapple chunks to a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the ham, scallions, rum, ginger, brown sugar, vinegar, 1 teaspoon cumin, the coriander, oregano, thyme, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne, and garlic powder. Pulse until well chopped and thoroughly blended but not pureed. This is the filling for the tamales, so you want some tooth in the thing—in other words, no baby food.

4. Mix the masa, hot water, oil, onion powder, and remaining 1 teaspoon ground cumin in a large bowl to make a wet dough.

5. Take a corn husk out of the hot water and spread it on your work surface so that its natural curl faces you. Spread a generous 1/4 cup of the masa dough into the corn husk, smoothing it out but also keeping it near the thicker bottom of the husk, like a little bed of dough for the filling. Spread the dough out to the sides a bit so that when you roll the husk closed the long way, that dough will encircle and even cover the filling.

6. Place about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the ham mixture in the center of the dough in the corn husk.

7. Fold the sides of the husk up and over the filling, thereby also bringing the masa dough up and around the filling inside. Make sure the sides overlap and fully close, holding the filling tightly inside. Fold the wider bottom up over the husk and do the same with the narrower top. Tie these in place with butchers' twine so the tamale will stay closed.

8. Repeat steps 5 through 7 with the remaining husks.

9. Set up some kind of steaming contraption: either a large vegetable steamer in a large saucepan with about an inch of so of water in the bottom, or a couple of bamboo steamers placed over a wok with a similar amount of water in it. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.

10. Stand the tamales up in the vegetable steamer or lay them in the bamboo steamers. Cover, reduce the heat, and steam for 40 minutes, checking the water occasionally and adding more if necessary. In no event should the water rise and come in contact with the tamales. You want the water gently simmering in the pan or wok but not boiling vigorously. Once steamed, set the tamales aside for 5 minutes before serving, just so no one gets a steam burn from the incredibly hot filling inside. And don't be a Gerald Ford. In the 1976 presidential race, he tried to eat a tamale still in the husk while campaigning in Texas. He lost the state. Unwrap the husk and fork out the tender filling inside.

Slash the Shopping List

Omit 1 teaspoon cumin, the coriander, oregano, thyme, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne, and garlic powder in step 3 and replace them all with 2 tablespoons jerk seasoning mixture. (Note: You'll still need 1 teaspoon ground cumin for step 4.)

The Ingredient Scoop

Masa harina (Spanish, MAH-sah hah-REEN-ah,"dough flour") is the base ingredient for tortillas and tamales. It's made from dried corn kernels that have been cooked in limewater, then ground to a powder. Some masa harinas are labeled "for tamales," others are all-purpose. Either will work here, so long as you have the instant variety.


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This page created April 2010