The Extra Step That Takes Your Tamales From Good To Great

Tamales stacked on a wooden board
Tamales stacked on a wooden board - Sergio Hayashi/Shutterstock

Wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and hiding a cavity filled with seasoned delights, tamales are a staple of Mexican cuisine. This ancient Mesoamerican dish is made with a ground corn dough called masa and can contain anything from savory meats and chilis to sweet fruits and chocolate. The perfect tamale holds its shape well while maintaining a strict consistency: not too dry, but not too wet.

These delicious wraps are always a fan favorite, but cooking them at home can be a bit of a mystery. Undercook them and you're left with a mushy mess of dough and filling. Steam them a bit too long and you'll be holding a crumbling pile of dried cornmeal. In fact, nailing the right consistency -- moist, yet firm -- can be a particularly difficult challenge for the home cook. However, one additional step can help take your tamales to the next level by solving the consistency issue: Let them sit after they're done steaming.

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Steam To Perfection

Tamales in a steaming pot
Tamales in a steaming pot - Jpavlish/Getty Images

While tamales can be baked in an oven, they are usually cooked with steam to achieve firm, yet soft, masa. Steaming cooks both the masa dough and the filling, while the humidity keeps the dish moist. Tamales are usually cooked in a steamer pot on the stove, but they can be made in a pressure cooker as well. If you don't have a dedicated steamer, you can craft an aluminum foil steamer that will work in a pinch.

To elevate your masa to the perfect consistency, add a simple step to the end of the steaming process. When finished steaming (you'll know when the husks gently peel away from the masa without sticking), remove the tamales from the heat but leave them in the steamer. Let them sit in the steaming basket with the lid off for around 30 minutes. This additional time allows the interior to firm up a bit and the tamales to cool off. Letting the tamales sit for a white also allows the flavors of the filling -- whether sweet or savory -- to soak deeper into the masa. You'll be left with an unbelievably soft tamale that still holds its shape.

More Steaming Hacks

Stack of steaming tamales on a platter
Stack of steaming tamales on a platter - Julia-Bogdanova/Shutterstock

A few steaming tricks will help improve your tamale game. When using a steamer, avoid letting the water get to a rolling boil. Rapidly boiling water can easily splash and soak the underside of the tamales. This will delay cooking times and may lead to confusion about how well the tamale is cooking. Instead of a boil, you'll want to maintain a proper simmer over medium-low to medium heat.

While you don't want the water too high, you don't want your pot to run dry, either. When steaming, be sure to occasionally check on the water level and make sure it's at least an inch deep. Timing is crucial when steaming, and steaming tamales can take well over an hour, which is plenty of time to nearly or completely evaporate all the water below the steaming basket. Not only is this bad for your steaming pot, but it could dry out and scorch the tamales as well. If your steaming operation runs out of water, simply pour a bit more down the side of the pot or away from the cooking tamales.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.