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A Well Balanced Tamal

People make a big deal about the masa to filling ratio. Texas style tamales have a good balance: just enough masa so that it compliments the delicious filling.

Presentable way to serve the Tamales


My parents came from Jalisco Mexico and along the way in their migrating experiences mi ama picked up new ideas or recipes, but her masa went with her. I think that perhaps every woman tweaks a recipe and makes it her own. When they arrived in Mexicali, Baja California they stayed a while. Although Mexicali is heavily influenced by Chinese cuisine, and my ama enjoyed it, flour tortillas were her take away. Flour tortillas originated in the Northern states of Mexico and quickly spread because they were economical and easy to make. Different from the corn tortillas they were light and fluffy. Mom mastered the smooth dough and made tortillas de harina almost daily for our family. The corn dough was now used almost exclusively for tamales. The family went and stayed in the Imperial Valley and here in America mom held on to her family traditions.

Sign board of Linea internacional


How Much Masa In One Tamal?

One of the debates about tamales is how much masa is enough? While tasty masa is important to the overall quality of a tamal, too much of it can drown out the flavor and spices of the filling. I find myself in a quandary. Do I acknowledge the sensible argument that equal proportions lend to a well balanced tamal experience? Or, do I stay loyal to tradition? My mothers tasty thick masa tamales with a savory and sweet fillings that we only experienced once a year.


Extra Large Tamales

My mothers “big fat” tamales looked even fatter with ties at each end. Huge tamales with a thick layer of masa filled with shredded chicken. Chicken that is cooked in anaheim chiles, slices of onion, garlic, comino, salt and pepper spices. I remember the strong pungent scent the cumin seeds released while they were still in the cupboard. Mom would take a pinch of her supply and crush them in her molcajete, scrape off the paste to add to her simmering dish, creating a wonderful familiar aroma. On top of the chicken filling we added a carrot and potato stick, a sprig of cilantro, a jalapeno strip and of course a green olive, then it was closed and tied shut. Try tying one of those fattys with the wet corn husk ties, my fingers stiffen up just remembering that task. It often happened that the tamal had to have a middle tie to hold it all together.

Black Mortar and pestle


Tamales at Christmas

Christmas didn’t come fast enough for us kids. Mom put in a good workout to get her masa well textured and just enough flavor in it. When it was nice and smooth she spread the masa onto the hojas to make her big tamales. Savory chicken or pork tamales and sweet raisin tamales. I always enjoyed her tamales, served with a good portion of rice and beans. Have you ever had tamales for breakfast? Riquisimos! My ama would fry the tamales in oil keeping an eye on them until they turned light brown and crispy. She'd top them with a fried egg and a side of frijoles. I would top them with her salsa or maybe some jalapenos. This might not sound too healthy, but my taste buds are swelling with delight. I can almost step back into my sweet mamas kitchen and imagine her savory tamales. Did I mention that her chubby sweet & simple tamales hit a good spot with a smooth cup of coffee?

Tamales stack in a triangle shape

A Skinny Tamal?

You can imagine the stiffness I felt as my cuñada schooled me on the technique of a thinner layer of masa. She gently informed me that people actually preferred a skinny tamal! “The trick was just enough masa to fully cover the delicious meat filling without overpowering it.”

Of course, in my struggle for loyalty to tradition...and to my mother, I resisted the idea for a time. Could people who made skinny tamales be trusted? Were they not cheating the tamal lover on tasty masa? Or worse! Maybe, they didn’t bother too much with making nice, smooth flavorful masa?.

Masa to filling ratio

Masa to filling ratio is “just enough tasty masa” to be able to stand alone if it happens to face those taste buds first. Along with the fact that most tamal lovers want to cut into a tamal and see it filled with a delicious filling.

Guide teaspoon set


Tradition lives on!

I’ve accepted the technique of spreading the right amount of masa and recognize it as a legit method, a lesson I learned from my cuñada, a true tamalera, who has expanded my horizons as far as making tamales goes. I’ve seen this technique prosper with the TLST store. They’ve got some specific good reviews on the appreciation for the right balance of masa to filling. However, seeing the Big Tex tamales in the TLST menu spurs me on with my loyalty to my amas tamales grandes. Tradition bids me to continue making tamales gorditos. Tamales with flavorful masa that has good texture filled with a delicious savory meat; estilo mi ama. I am glad that my mom's tamales live on.


                                                         What do you prefer: slim or chubby tamales?

                       Food wrap in a corn husk

1 comment

Joann Robbins

I love chubby chicken lots of masa, Uuum Yuum.

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