Tamales de Cambray

Source: Laurie McKenzie, cooking instructor

Recipe Type: | Seasons: ,

These delicate tamales come from the region of Juchitán, in the southern part of the state of Oaxaca.

Serves 16


1 8-ounce package corn husks or 1 pound banana leaves, defrosted if frozen
Very hot tap water
1 pound fresh masa for tamales (masa quebrada) or 1 ¾ cups masa harina
mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water, then allowed to cool
5 ounces plus 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable shortening
1 cup broth (approximately) from cooking the meats, cooled
2 teaspoons salt (add to taste)
6 guajillo chiles, wiped clean, slit open, stems and seeds removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable shortening
8 ounces tomatoes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 peppercorns
2 cloves
3 sprigs thyme, finely chopped, or ¼ teaspoon dried
3 sprigs marjoram, finely chopped, or ¼ teaspoon dried
1 small bay leaf
¼ cup raisins or currants
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
¼ cup manzanilla olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 ripe plantain, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
1 cup cooked, shredded and chopped pork
1 cup cooked, shredded and chopped flank steak
1 cup cooked, shredded and chopped chicken breast
3 hardboiled eggs,peeled and cut in wedges (optional)


  1. Gently open the corn husks and clean out any silk. Put the husks in a bowl and cover with very hot tap water. Let stand at least one hour. For banana leaves: Unfold the banana leaves and cut off the hard sides (where they were attached to the central vein). Cut the leaves into unbroken 12 inch squares, saving smaller sections for patching. Wipe the leaves clean with a damp towel and run them over an open flame or hot griddle until they turn soft and glossy, but do not toast or burn. Set aside.

  2. Beat 5 ounces of the lard or shortening in a mixer at medium speed for 1 minute, until light and fluffy. Continue beating while you add the masa, in small handfulls. Slowly add ½ cup of the cooled broth while beating. Continue adding broth until the mixture is the consistency of a soft (not runny) cake batter. Add salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon).
  3. Heat a griddle to medium hot. Open the chiles and toast them briefly, pressing them flat with a spatula, until they crackle and send up a wisp of smoke, turn and toast the other side. Put them in a bowl and cover with hot water and rehydrate for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the chiles and put in a blender with 2 cloves garlic. Blend to a smooth puree, adding just enough water to keep the blades moving. Push the puree through a medium mesh sieve to remove the bits of skin and seeds. In a small heavy bottomed saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon lard until rippling. Add the puree all at once, it should sizzle and jump, and stir constantly until thickened and noticeably darker, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Roast the tomatoes on a sheet pan under a hot broiler until blackened in spots and soft, about 4 minutes per side. Cool, peel off skin and chop, saving all the juices. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon lard in a large skillet and add the onions, sauté until translucent without browning, Add the chopped garlic and stir for a minute, then add the tomatoes, cook over medium heat until the juices are reduced. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, including ½ cup broth and simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until almost all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt. Let cool.
  5. Fill a large pot or tamale steamer with 2 inches of water. Place the steamer in the pot lay a few corn or banana leaves on it. Cover and bring to a boil while you fill the tamales. If using cornhusks, remove the husks from the soaking water. Wipe dry. Put 2 husks down on your work surface and overlap the wide ends, with the points facing in two directions. Spread about ½ cup of masa on the center, leaving a ½ inch border on the edges. Spread 3 tablespoon filling down the middle and add 2 teaspoons guajillo puree. Place an egg wedge on the filling, if desired. Now roll one side of the tamal over the filling. Gently roll up and fold the pointed ends in over the seam. For banana leaves, lay a square on the table. Spread a rectangle of masa in the middle. Add the filling, chile puree and egg. Fold one third of the leaf over the masa then the other third. Gently fold the sides over at about where the masa starts. Lay the tamales folded side down in the steamer. Cover with more leaves and tightly cover the pot. Steam for 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Remove a tamal and let sit for a few minutes to check if done. Tamales are done when the leaf or husk peels off easily.


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