Friday, October 20, 2006

Masa (No, the OTHER one)

Picture a Christmas in Maine: huddled around a fire, snow falling outside, thick socks, gift-wrapping strewn about like a massacre had taken place, the buzz from new toys not yet worn off, and all family members are looking forward to eating their tamales. Tamales, you say? In Maine? Maybe it's not the normal tradition, but not all New Englanders have generous grandparents in Texas who ship mass quantities of frozen Mexican treats to them on the holiday season. Or maybe they do. Maybe it's one of the lesser notes in the back of the census. Haven't read it. But rest assured that those tamales were a significant part of our holiday season, in part because of their unavailability at all other times. Or it also could have been the novelty of the corn husk wrappers they came in. Or the small size; these were very small, thin tamales, about the size of a toothpaste tube, though not quite as minty fresh.
We each ate several in a sitting. They were steamed, like a dumpling offshoot with firm corn masa for dough, and a meat filling that may or may not have been pork or venison. We piled them on a plate, each individually wrapped in its yellow husk, and peeled one open, allowing the steam to lift that aroma, rather like cornbread, to our noses. There was no sauce but a simple bottled hot sauce; the family was partial to the flavor of Cholula, though the gloriously smoky Chipotle Tabasco Sauce would do as well. They were warm, spicy, meaty, perfect. We sat around the table, swung our stockinged feet because they didn't touch the floor, discussed strategies for making that new Transformer transform, and gobbled up our tamales.

New York has tamales, too. We have one particular recommendation, though these tamales are completely different from the Christmas version. These chicken tamales, at Great Burrito on Amsterdam Avenue and 79th Street, are occasionally featured on the specials menu - word is that there is a lady who comes in every so often with a batch of them. These are large, more like the size of an enchilada, and served in a similar manner, with a red chile sauce and melted cheese. They're rich, indulgent, and meltingly good. Comfort food of the best kind. We'll be on the lookout for more New York tamales, if only just to relive those holiday nights in New England.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Update, fella. Uuuuupdaaaaaate.