Just Good Food

by John Ryan


Preparing the Husks
and Making the Masa


Corn husks are always full of surprises. As you'd expect, there's corn silk between the husks, but I've found leaves and dried bugs as well. It's all harmless and easy to discard.

Soaking the husks:
The first thing you'll notice is that the husks float and seem water resistant. I find that standing them up vertically in a large Tupperware bowl or the pot that I use to cook pasta and using hot tap water works the best. The tops will be bobbing out of the water, so after 15 or 20 minutes, I just flip the husks.


You'll need:
1 pound corn husks
Lots of hot water


Separate the husks, discarding silk and foreign matter. Soak the husks in hot water for about 30 minutes. Then set aside about 70 of the biggest ones for the tamales. Make ties by tearing the torn or small husks into 1/4-inch strips. You'll need about 120 ties. Save the other husks for back up. Don't allow the husks, especially the ties, to dry out. They need to stay wet to be flexible.


Making the Masa:
14 ounces lard (the rest if you bought 1 pound)
8 cups masa harina
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
Approx. 8 cups pork broth
1/2 cup chile purée


(You'll probably have to do this in two or three batches.) Beat the lard until it's fluffy, then alternately add masa harina, baking powder, salt, and pork broth until it's the consistency of frosting, thick but spreadable. Then add the chile purée.


I have some space here, so I'll warn you, you're going to have too much or too little of something. Don't worry, if you did this every day, it'd be one thing, but for a one shot deal...don't be hard on yourself.

Here are some ideas:
If you have too much sauce: You probably will. Serve it over the tamales.

If you have extra filling: Put it away. Heat it up later and have it inside tortillas. Or make some polenta, and serve the filling over that. Or use it to make a kind of "sloppy Jose" with cornbread.

If you have too much masa: Toss it—you're not throwing out much in terms of dollars and cents.

If you run out of husks: Improvise a tamale pie by putting a layer of masa in a casserole, then some filling, then cover with some masa and maybe some grated cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F until it is hot and bubbly, 45 minutes to an hour.


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John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.


This page created December 1998