This time during my tamale making session, I only bought 5lbs of masa, and that was the perfect amount. I am lucky enough to live near several tortilla factories where masa is made fresh every morning. I have made my own masa in the past, but you run the risk of developing a Popeye sized arm when using a hand cranking corn grinder. My husband would usually do the gentlemanly thing and grind the corn for me, but I have decided to return the favor by never, ever, ever asking him to do this for me again. It is a tough bit of work.
Mark and Kelly also sell fatback, so I made my own lard this year too. The rendered fat turned out sweet and creamy, with a slightly nutty aroma, worlds away from those phosphorescent bricks that sit on the dusty shelves at the super market.
Next, I changed tactics with my chiles. Several professional chefs have commented this year during lectures I attended that toasting chiles is a must. Well, ok. Why haven’t I been doing this before? It only takes 45-60 seconds (yes, about 1 minute) to oven toast a dried chile. The toasting gives the tiniest taste of char to the spice of the chile, which balances incredibly well with the richness of the pork, and the hint of sweet bitterness from the corn masa.
Toasting the chiles also made them slightly crispy, and they easily broke apart before I boiled them to relinquish their seeds. Straining out the seeds after the chiles are boiled and pureed is messy and tedious. So, another plus.
BTW, occasionally folks ask me if there is any use for the water chiles are boiled in. Nope, there is not. In fact, discard it like dirty bath water. Dried chiles are not easily washed, but boiling cleans them up very well.