I grew up in Carson, California and had access to some of the best tamales on the planet made by Michoacán transplants, who had the gift for making the perfect tamale. Although, I always wanted more than the classic braised pork tamale, what about lamb tamales? After hearing from my family about the long procedure it takes to make tamales, “you have to make the masa, soak the husks, stew the meat…. ” I did the next best thing….I picked up a Melissa’s Produce tamale kit to save significant amount of time and focused my attention on the filling. I am using Lamb neck and blood oranges, so it is getting the name “El Cubcacabre”, after the mythical creature in Mexico.
Why lamb neck? This off-cut of meat is under appreciated due it’s primal nature. I like off-cuts for two reasons 1) All parts of the animal should be utilized, waste nothing! 2) I love the rich flavor provided by the neck. Although you can substitute lamb shank for this recipe, the neck is more flavorful.
As a side note, feel free to substitute other proteins like chicken or pork for this recipe if you don’t like lamb. If you are vegetarian, mushrooms are a good substitute.
Here is how I made them:
Lamb Neck Tamale Recipe
- 2 pounds lamb neck or lamb shank
- ¼ cup unbleached flour
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dry garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon pepper/salt
- 1 teaspoon dry fennel
- 1 teaspoon dry coriander
- 1 small carrot (chopped)
- ½ sweet yellow onion (chopped)
- Bottle of Wine (1/3 for cooking and 2/3 for drinking while cooking)
- 1 cans chicken broth
- 2 blood oranges – juiced (substitute: navel orange)
1) First choose if you want your filling to be extra slutty with lots of fat or if you want a leaner tamale. If you want a slightly leaner tamale, go with the lamb shank… it is also a lot easier to prepare. For the purpose of this recipe, I will be showing a lamb neck. Both preparations follow the exact same process.
2) Break down the lamb neck by the joint or crack the bone into large chunks, suitable for braising. If this makes you squeamish already, go for the shank. Season the lamb meat with garlic, salt and pepper. lightly dust the lamb with flour (helps to achieve a light browning of the meat). Place olive oil in the pan and then turn the heat on high. Sear both sides of the meat. Once seared remove the meat. Do not overcook!
3) Using the same pan, and lightly toast the fennel and cardamom seeds. Add olive oil and sweat the onions and carrots.
4) With the heat still on high, pour in the chicken broth and deglaze the pan with the spatula. Add in 1/3 bottle of wine and juice of one blood orange. (If blood oranges are out of season, use navel oranges)
5) Then turn down the heat to low. Place the lamb back in the pan, cover and let braise for 6+ hours or until the meat easily falls off the bone with a fork.Let the meat cool enough so you don’t burn yourself, then shred the meat from the bone. If you are working with neck, this process is a lot more difficult due to connective tissue.
6) Place the juices, meat, carrots, onions in a container and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight or until the fat congeals. Remove the fat layer to ensure a leaner tamale. The overnight resting period will also ensure that the flavors soak into the meat.Warm up the filling and then strain out the liquids from the solids and pick out the cardamom seeds if you don’t want them in the tamale. Note: If you don’t like whole spices in your tamale, I recommend you place the spices in a muslin straining pouch for easy removal. Retain the braising juices.
Making the Tamale from Melissa’s Produce Tamale Kit
- Melissa’s Produce Tamale Kit – (Includes moistened corn husks, masa (corn dough) mix powder)
- 2 cans chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- Pinch cinnamon
- Pinch nutmeg
- Braised lamb neck meat
7) Retrieve the foil masa pack from the kit and mix it with 2 cups of chicken broth, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg. Even though the Melissa’s Produce instructions call for water, the chicken broth produces a much richer masa. The spices are my variation on the packaged recipe as well.
8) For ease of measurement, I like to separate the masa out into 10 equal balls. Place the ball in the center of the glossy side of the corn husk and spread it out to form a rough square. Tip: Keep the corn husk in the palm of your left hand, while your right hand to spread the masa into a rough rectangle with a spoon.
9) Place about 1-2 ounces of the lamb filling along the center of the masa.
10) Fold the corn husk sides first and then the bottom. There are many ways to finish off the corn husk fold, including: tying off the ends with string, fold both ends over like an envelope.
11) Places tamales on a steamer on low/medium heat for 60 minutes.
Sauce & Platting
- Rendered braising juices
- 5 blood oranges – Juiced
12) Reduce the braising liquids to about half and then add the juice of four blood oranges Continue reducing on medium heat until the sauce thickens. Note: If blood oranges are out of season, try using navel oranges instead. You may not get the same color, but similar flavor.
13) Plate using the corn husk and drizzle the sauce over the tamale.