Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Ahhh.... the tamale! You either love them or hate them. And I’d be willing to bet that if you hate them, you first tried them at a chain Mexican restaurant where they were sitting in a steam table until being plopped onto your plate with the texture of your kids dried out play-dough. A tamale that has been properly cared for should be moist, fluffy and give you warm chills down your spine as you swallow.
There are records of tamales dating back to 1492 when Spaniards came across them in Cuba on Columbus’s first voyage. So to say the least, tamales have a deep history and some even say the idea of tamales even predates the making of pottery.
With that being said, there are many variations of tamales and I actually have plans to cover each one of them over time. But today I’m going with a Venezuelan style tamale that utilizes a precooked corn flour (I prefer the P.A.N brand which can be bought on amazon.)
This dough is enriched with the addition of roasted acorn squash which gives the tamales a great wintertime flavor. Braised Venison neck, shank or front shoulder are ideal for this recipe.
Cooks Note: The recipe will require a steamer setup. I will post a few different options in a future tamale post.
*For the adobo braised venison
12 - large tomatillos (husks removed and boiled for 5 minutes)
1 cup - crushed tomatoes
8 - garlic cloves
2 teaspoon - salt
1/2 teaspoon - black pepper
1/2 teaspoon - dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon - ground cumin
1 teaspoon - achiote paste
1/4 cup - white vinegar
1.5 pounds - boneless venison shoulder (cut into two inch cubes)
2 tablespoons - corn oil (any high smoke point oil will work)
*For the acorn squash
1 small acorn squash (peeled seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces)
1 tablespoon - light brown sugar
1 teaspoon - kosher salt
*For the masa
1 3/4 pounds - precooked cornmeal (P.A.N brand is best)
1.5 cups - melted lard (mild olive oil or grassfed butter works as well)
6 cups - chicken or venison stock
2 tablespoons - light brown sugar
2 teaspoons - kosher salt
* Banana leaves or corn husks (for assembling the tamales)
Butchers twine for securing the tamale ends.
Combine all of the adobo ingredients (except the venison) into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour over the venison and let marinate for 2 to 8 hours.
For the squash. Place the squash, salt and sugar in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until just fork tender (about 15 minutes). Puree the squash and set aside to cool.
For the venison. Remove the venison from the adobo (do not discard the adobo). Dry the venison off as best as you can with paper towels. Heat a pot over medium high heat, add the venison and brown on all sides. Lower the heat to medium low, add the reserved adobo to the pot of venison. Simmer for around 1 hour or until the meat is tender. Shred the meat and let it rest in the adobo.
For the masa. Place the corn flour into a large bowl. Add the lard and knead until it is a smooth dough. Add the broth one cup at a time, kneading with each addition of stock. Add the pumpkin puree, salt and sugar and knead until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for a few minutes before assembling the tamales.
Assembling the tamales. Starting with about an 8" x 6" wrapper (banana leaf or corn husk). Place about 1/3 cup of the masa mixture in the center of the wrapper. Spread the masa out into about a 3"x5" rectangle. Place a good pinch of the venison down the center of this masa mixture. Carefully fold the masa/wrap around the venison making into a "burrito Shape". Fold each open end of the wrapper towards the center of the tamale and secure each end with butchers twine.
Cooking the tamales. With your steamer ready to go, nestle the tamales vertically along side one another in the steamer basket. Cover and cook gently for 1 to 1.5 hours. If you're worried about overcooking them, start checking them around 45 mintues into the cooking process. If the wrapper peels away clean, you are good to go. Serve with the warm reserved adobo and venison mixture on top.