Gastronaut: Tamale Recipe
A veteran of America's most avant-garde kitchens shifts his intense focus to making extraordinary tamales.
"Americans usually think tamales are filled with meat and wrapped in a dried corn husk," says Alex Stupak. "But I've seen them both sweet and savory, with fillings and without, and wrapped in fresh corn husks, corn leaves and banana leaves." Stupak, once the hydrocolloid-wielding pastry chef at New York City's WD-50, now makes tamales at his new Mexican restaurant, Empellón, in Manhattan. He begins with masa, the key ingredient in tortillas and a dough he calls "the foundation of Mexican cuisine." Preparing masa from scratch requires "nixtamalizing" dried corn by boiling it with calcium hydroxide (also known as lime), then grinding it; as a shortcut, Stupak buys masa harina, a kind of corn flour. Here, he shows how to use masa harina to make three different recipes: tamales stuffed with spicy braised pork and wrapped in banana leaves, a variety that he first tasted in Oaxaca; a savory pie known as a tamal de cazuela that's a great, easy way to feed a group; and tamales fried in a skillet for a hot, crispy snack.