Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Conch Shell Aquatint

I used a drawing of the baby conch shell I posted about previously for my first attempt at an aquatint:
The final product could be cleaner but I'm loving the textural tones.  Aquatint may be my new favorite printmaking process.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chorizo Tamales | Charcutepalooza, challenge no. 5

I am participating in Charcutepalooza, a year of meat which entails twelve monthly challenges to prepare dishes using various charcuterie techniques.  For more information about charcutepalooza, click here.  To read why I decided to partake in the meatmaking festivities, read my first post here.

Spring means so much more than just the onset of warm weather.  For some it is about the colors; it is the season when blossoms explode in their riotous hues.  For others, it is all about the food as ramps and fiddleheads make their puckish appearances.  But for me, spring has a darker edge: every year it sparks in me a devastating wanderlust.  Each spring day with picture perfect roadtrip weather, warm enough to drive with the windows down, overcast enough to keep from baking, makes me want to jump behind the wheel and revel in the open road.  Frustration sets in when I realize I am living smack dab in the middle of a city of over eight million people, trapped in on all sides by hours of gridlock.

With this restlessness stirring within me, choosing to make chorizo for this month’s charcutepalooza challenge (making uncased sausages from scratch) was a no brainer.  The southwest has been a feature of several past road trips, memorable for the food as much as for the otherworldly landscape.  And recreating those flavors, and memories, was just what I needed to alleviate a little of my cabin fever.

Monument Valley, on the border of Arizona and Utah
Making sausages from scratch is an extremely rewarding process.  The flavor profile can be tweaked to exactly fit your taste.  In this case, I included dried New Mexican red chiles, which I had purchased near the Guadalupe mountains in Texas on my last road trip, to bring out a more southwestern taste.

Deciding to make tamales with my chorizo was also an easy decision.  It was on a much earlier trip through Texas and New Mexico with two of my best friends, where I first learned to love the taste of corn tortillas.  Their earthy flavor and grainy texture is an acquired taste in contrast to the simple pleasure of their flour counterparts, but one I acquired with a vengeance.  The taste became something I craved in its other forms as well: in hominy and of course in tamales.  I’ve made tamales a couple times before, but only using masa harina, a poor substitute both in taste and nutritional value for the traditional nixtamalized masa.

So last weekend, ken and I ventured out to Jackson Heights, home of Tortilleria Nixtamal, one of the few places in the metro-ny area where traditional masa can be obtained.

Of course on such a gorgeous day, we couldn’t resist sticking around for lunch.  Lounging in the airy back patio, secluded from the city by a brilliant yellow fence, with soccer “en vivo” airing on the flatscreen, we felt transported to a more exotic place.  For about an hour that sunny Saturday afternoon, we got to eat tacos, tamales, and a big bowl of pozole, sip Mexican coca-cola, and pretend we had finally escaped the big apple.

Pozole with tacos carnitas and al pastor
Close up of the pozole, full of delicious hominy
And that evening we returned home with a most precious souvenir, three pounds of freshly ground masa!
We kept the tamale filling simple - chorizo sauteed with shallots and garlic until just cooked through, to highlight the carefully calibrated flavor of the sausage.

The dough was made following the instructions in this Rick Bayless recipe, with tremendously good results.  The trick, I learned, other than using real masa, is to use home rendered lard.  

Once a nutritional scape goat, it is now generally accepted that cooking with lard does not require a death wish.  Home rendered lard is more nutritionally sound than the packaged stuff, which is hydrogenated to make it more shelf stable.
  (For more info check out these articles from the new york times, slate, and food and wine.)  The lard, whipped to a buttercream consistency, ensures flavorful, fluffy tamales (as opposed to the dry dense tamales one usually encounters).

The whipped lard is combined with masa and chicken stock to make a dough with a consistency similar to cake batter.  The tamale dough is then spread onto pre-soaked corn husks, and topped with a generous scoop of chorizo filling.

Each side of the corn husk is folded over to completely enclose the tamale, and the ends are tied off with thin strips of corn husk.  At this point, the tamales are ready to be steamed and served. 

In all modesty, these were the best tamales I have ever had.  Usually I find tamales slightly dry and a little bland, primarily a vehicle for showcasing a flavorful and saucy filling.  The lard of course added a lot of flavor, but more startling was the prominent corn flavor, reminiscent of my travels through the land of enchantment.  The texture was moist and airy, a perfect bed for the juicy chorizo filling.  

It was with great pride that I brought these tamales to our mothers’ day pot luck dinner.  Although compliments from people who love you have to be taken with a grain of salt, everyone, my mom and grandmother included, raved about my contribution.  And the opportunity to spend an evening with my family, enjoying delicious food and each others company, made me realize there are some things worth staying close to home for.  
Tamale served with a guacamole taquero
The process described above was based on a tamale dough recipe which requires no alterations from me, and on a filling so simple, no written recipe is necessary.  However, I wanted to offer a recipe to my readers, and so I asked ken, who is a great, amateur bartender to come up with a cocktail pairing.  If eaten outdoors on a sunny day, these tamales need nothing more than a cold beer, or maybe a michelada.  But if you want to make them part of a more classy Mexican inspired cocktail party, this is the drink we suggest:

loosely based on the Choke Artist
40 ML Tequila Blanco
20 ML Dry Vermouth
20 ML Cynar
2 Dashes of Bitterman’s Mole Bitters
Stir with Ice, strain into whatever kind of glass you feel like using.  Garnish with lemon peel.