December 9, 2008
Hot tamales


The title of the book above pretty much sums up my feelings about a Bee tamale tasting last week. "Too Many Tamales" is a childrens book by the wonderful author/poet Gary Soto. He also penned one of my favorite poems, an achingly lyrical piece called "The Elements of the San Joaquin" which harkens back to Soto's days laboring in the farmland near Fresno.

But back to the subject at hand: tamales. We tasted a dozen or so tamales for Wednesday's Food & Wine cover story, and by the end of this session my stomach felt like it was made of masa. I was glad to see that tamales from my beloved La Esperanza showed well, though they didn't take the top honors. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to see the final rankings in this great tamale showdown.

I also learned that I'm pretty much a tamale snob. (Would that be "sangron de tamales" in Espanol?). But guess I'm just spoiled. I grew up in a family that made some seriously bomb diggity tamales each holiday season. And though mom is gone and her tamale touch is missed, I'm lucky to have so many great tamale makers in my extended family. I always look forwarded to these tamales - plump with meat, surrounded by moist masa and impossible to eat just one.

I thought about all this during the Bee's tasting, looking for tamales that had a good ratio of meat-to-masa, felt firm but moist under the fork and with a spicy kick. Restaurant tamales generally pale to the homebaked ones, but the tamales in our tasting were fairly good on the whole. There were a couple that suffered from mealy and dry masa - and one had a filling that tasted like Chunky soup - but the tamales that came out on top will do you right.

Question: any of you have tamale stories to share, or want to spill the beans on your favorite tamales around Sacramento? Leave a comment ... orale!

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