Skip

Tamale Recipes, Sweet and Savory
August 12, 2014 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Delta Hot Tamales Are Hotter Than Ever
Delta "hots" themselves perfectly exemplify the tamale's malleable properties. Made with cornmeal instead of the lime-treated masa used in Mexico, a Delta hot is simmered (rather than steamed) in a spiced broth—hence the name. Though the dish's precise origin remains elusive, it's said that at one point in the 1920s a few Mexican cotton pickers made their way up from the Rio Grande Valley, toting a recipe that was then transformed by local African-American cooks—possibly aided by southern Italians who'd settled in the area. Whatever. By 1936, tamales were so entrenched in Delta culture that Robert Johnson, who'd made his pact with the devil just up the road from Greenville, recorded a song about them called "They're Red Hot."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (46 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh god this is making me hungry. My brother and sister-in-law make the world's best tamales (not just me saying that--the International Tamale Festival agrees) but their restaurant is across the country. Damn you all!
posted by Navelgazer at 10:47 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Way cool. I just learned about these this weekend watching S2 of The Mind of a Chef, so it's way cool to get some of the history fleshed out. Which, I highly recommend Mind of a Chef; the tamales were in the first episode of S2. It's all streaming on Netflix, and maybe elsewhere?
posted by The Michael The at 11:02 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: their restaurant is across the country. Damn you all!
posted by lalochezia at 11:14 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


This seems like a good time to ask: My wife spent some time growing up in Mississippi, and she says that people would often eat tamales on saltine crackers with yellow mustard. But we have yet to confirm this phenomenon outside her experience at whatever Jackson dive she used to eat at. Has anyone else eaten tamales on saltines with yellow mustard, or see it in the wild?
posted by vibrotronica at 11:14 AM on August 12


Being from Greenville, I can tell you that a Delta tamale is a damn fine thing -- but sadly, it is only a memory for me. I've been a vegetarian since I was a teenager, and nobody down there has heard of a queso-and-green-chile tamale. I swear I think they'd laugh if I brought it up.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:14 AM on August 12


It's a good thing that I don't have three wishes, because otherwise I'd wish I had some tamales right now and either the goblins would come and take me away or I'd start some horrible monkey's paw cascade of awful, because I really wish I had some tamales right now.

Although maybe the goblins have tamales.
posted by Frowner at 11:14 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I love Mexican tamales, but I don't think I've ever had a Delta hot tamale. I've been meaning to make some kind of tamale forever, and it seems so easy that I don't know why I haven't, yet. Maybe I'll give it a shot this weekend.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:14 AM on August 12


One of the meals I remember best from spending the better part of a week in New Orleans was a plate of red hots in a bar in New Orleans, a late, rushed lunch while on the way back to the hotel to meet my partner. It wasn't the best meal, by a long shot, but sitting alone in an empty bar during a hot afternoon mowing down a plate of red hot tamales, washing them down with a beer, watching the staff standing around and bullshitting with their colleagues from other establishments while everybody passed through the back alley, had a timeless vibe to it that none of the other really great meals matched.

And yeah, that damn Robert Johnson song was on a tight locked loop in my mind the whole time.
posted by ardgedee at 11:19 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Tamales with saltines, all the time, but never yellow mustard. Ick.

Reading above, I correct myself; I see that one of the celebrity chefs did bring a vegetarian tamale to the proceedings once. On the ground, though, I have never seen one in Greenville.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:20 AM on August 12


I had tamales at Abe's in Clarksdale MS and Does (which has several branches), but I didn't realize that they were different from the ones in Mexican restaurants; they were both served wrapped in cornhusks.
posted by brujita at 11:36 AM on August 12


I always love to see some positive attention about my home state. Especially tasty positive attention.
In my opinion, Joe's Hot Tamales are the best (also called the White Front Cafe).
posted by GreatValhalla at 11:50 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Has anyone else eaten tamales on saltines with yellow mustard, or see it in the wild?

Not that specific combo, but saltines and yellow mustard show up everywhere in America.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:52 AM on August 12


I had tamales in some hole in the wall taqueria in Raleigh NC about a decade ago.

My god they were good.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:53 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I love Mexican tamales, but I don't think I've ever had a Delta hot tamale. I've been meaning to make some kind of tamale forever, and it seems so easy that I don't know why I haven't, yet.

I can't speak to Delta hot tamales, make making Mexican tamales is a massive pain in the ass. Not easy at all.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:03 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Late last year a tortillaria opened up in a stripmall near our house. They make great tortillas and for a while, on every Saturday afternoon Meguelena and some of her relatives would also have trays of homemade tortillas on the counter. One tray would be Salvadoran tamales, the other would be Mexican. They always seemed pleased and amused that this big gringoest-of-gringoes kept coming back for more.

One variety had very creamy masa like a smooth pudding, while the other was more gelatinous, having a texture something like flan, both of them filled with strips of green pepper and pork (Can't recall now which was the Mexican and which was the Salvadoran, though). I loved both, but they stopped the every-weekend sales after a while because it got to be too much work with their tortilla business taking off and the store constantly adding more merchandise to sell. Hooray for the success, but a little sad about the premature end to their tamales sideline.
posted by ardgedee at 12:04 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


That bit about Robert Johnson writing songs about them poked me in the back of my head and reminded me that 'hot tamale' was somehow part of my dad's lexicon when he was saying goofy dad stuff way back in the 70s. I've got to think that the term, which he used in a context appropriate to a Tex Avery cartoon, had to have made its way up to SE Michigan and into the mouth of a working class white guy by means of the blues to jazz and to whitewashed swing music. I'd bet Abbott & Costello were somehow involved, too.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:04 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I recently acquired a new tamale "dealer" who supplies me with all sorts of vegetarian tamales (it is LA, after all, so you need that to be competitive). So far his dear abuelita has made green chile and queso tamales, some sort of green corn, chipotle, and queso tamale, grilled corn, adobo, and queso fresco tamale, as well as one other one that I never did deduce the ingredients except that one of them was huitlacoche. A dollar each, and they're HUGE, each one easily a pound or just under. Just like crack, I must limit my purchases so that I don't end up a bloated sac. So very tasty.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:05 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


Tamales?

Y'all it ain't Christmas yet!

But when it is, I order them by the metric fuckton from HICA (nice hat tip to Mancha's, guys!). They're not traditional Delta hots (these are made with masa and steamed) but IDGAF -- they're delicious, they're cheap, they freeze well, and it's for a good cause.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:16 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


The only problem I've had with making tamales is that I end up making about a billion of them in a batch. Making just ten or so is easy...then you realize you have this giant bowl of batter left to go. Luckily, they freeze well, too.

My Mom used to make what's being described as 'Delta' tamales here; I use masa flour to make a 'Mexican' style. They can be very cheap to make. Great food for a gathering or church-supper-type event.
posted by gimonca at 12:19 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Mosley and I make a trip to Greenville about once a year to visit her father. Last year, we finally made our first visit to Doe's Eat Place, which is a bit of a legend in that area. Her father insisted we start with a plate of tamales, which was also new to me. I have to admit I was underwhelmed. Now, their ribeyes on the other hand... oooh, baby!
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 12:24 PM on August 12


As a mixed Chicana from Southern California, I make Mexican tamales and had honestly never even heard of Delta Hots, but now I am intrigued and want to try them.

I made queso & rajas tamales all the time, but they're not vegetarian...if you don't want crumbly, dry tamales*, you have to add lard or shortening to the masa, and I'm sure as hell not adding shortening.

*don't worry, vegetarians: plenty of people with no standards or tastebuds seem happy to peddle crumbly, dry tamales
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:28 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Robert Johnson, who'd made his pact with the devil just up the road from Greenville

Except he did no such thing.
posted by y2karl at 12:29 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


My tiny little Mexican grandma makes tamales for Christmas every year, even as she gets a little less nimble around the kitchen. My mom tried to continue that tradition when we were kids, but back then it was hard to find Mexican ingredients outside Texas (this was, oh, I dunno, late 80s Colorado and then eventually South Carolina). Even when they became more readily available, she couldn't be bothered. However I have decided to take up the Christmas tamale mantle because by god, someone in this family should.
posted by Kitteh at 12:30 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


There was a New Yorker article on delta hots recently.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:52 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]




Christmas tamales are way more fun when you have a family assembly line. We will definitely have to try delta hots this year.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 1:19 PM on August 12


We've been making tamales (Mexican-style) for Thanksgiving the last few years. We invite over friends without local family and have everyone join in the assembly line. Everyone gets fresh tamales to go with the turkey and a bag of tamales to take home to freeze.

Tamales are the best group project/food.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:24 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


♪♩♪♫ my tamales are red hot, your tamales ain't doodly squat ♩♫♪♩♪
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:24 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


That bit about Robert Johnson writing songs about them poked me in the back of my head and reminded me that 'hot tamale' was somehow part of my dad's lexicon when he was saying goofy dad stuff way back in the 70s....

Me, circa 70's: What's the weather like?
My dad, circa 70s: "Chili today, hot tamale."
Both: "Ha-ha."
posted by spacely_sprocket at 1:45 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


(I should mention that if you're in the vicinity of Blue Jay, CA and want to taste the aforementioned world's best tamales, get in touch with me.)
posted by Navelgazer at 1:47 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


From the New Yorker article:

They’re simmered rather than steamed, then wrapped in shucks (dried corn husks) and often tied together in packs of three.

Um...there's no way that's actually the correct order of events, is it???
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:49 PM on August 12


Although maybe the goblins have tamales.

They do but it's the frozen ones that come in plastic wrap and you steam them in the plastic and they come from the same guy who sells the hot dogs at Home Depot.
posted by PMdixon at 1:49 PM on August 12


[pet peeve] Here in Mexico the singular for tamales is tamal, not tamale. [/pet peeve]
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:50 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


And by "come in plastic wrap" I mean there is a plastic sleeve instead of corn husks.
posted by PMdixon at 1:57 PM on August 12


OK, I am officially having tamales for dinner tonight. Even if they are shitty ones from the grocery store.

And I want to make some soon. Not too hard but a fair amount of work. However they freeze well so making a bunch at once can supply me for months.
posted by TedW at 2:26 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Happily, not three blocks from my house are not one, not two but three places where I can procure tamales if I so desire. Perhaps tonight will be tamale night.
posted by Frowner at 2:28 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I am a victim of time and place but I remain wedded to the pedestrian Tex-Mex tamal, be it beef, chicken or pork. It has its fixed place on the combo plate wedged in between the enchilada, the frijoles refritos, the arroz and the crispy taco...
posted by jim in austin at 6:05 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


And all this time I thought the 25 quart pot I steam them in was the tamal. Live and learn. They're delicious anyway.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:34 PM on August 12


I don't know if I can buy masa flour over here. Anyone know whether regular corn meal (e.g., very fine polenta) would work? Or any other substitutes?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:44 PM on August 12


Joe, the corn used in masa is processed, "nixtamaluzed" so that the B vitamins are available. Polenta is just fine ground corn. One of the reasons that Pelagra happened was unprocessed corn being a dominant staple that filled a stomach but missing vital nutrients.
posted by jadepearl at 9:11 PM on August 12


Does nixtamalization change the cooking properties, though? I'm not worried about pellagra, because I'm Australian: our Vegemite mines are one of the world's most concentrated sources of niacin.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:13 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Oh good lord, I have mostly forgotten those delicious greasy little meat-paste tubes we called "tamales" down in New Orleans in the 1970s. You could buy them here and there from street vendors, at a time when Mexican food was all but unknown in the east-of-Texas southern U.S. (We had one Disneyeland-esque buffet-style Mexican restaurant back then, along with a "Taco Tico" fast-food place in the old Pitt Theater. The restaurant, Pancho's, was very much like a Zorro set, and kids loved the sugary sopaipillas.)

There were canned tamales available, too. Incredibly delicious to a 10-year-old. But those southern hot tamales were a special thing. Once out here in California, those frozen XLNT tamales in the little plastic husks served as a blander substitute. I don't miss eating meat, but I occasionally miss eating whatever the hell those things are.
posted by kenlayne at 10:42 PM on August 12


McClard's in Hot Springs AR has a dish they call tamale spread: tamales, bbq chopped beef, beans, onions, fritos and cheddar.
posted by brujita at 12:39 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Joe, I do not believe that it will change the properties radically. But I have not used polenta this way. Masa feels different to me than polenta so your texture won't be the same. The polenta should be able to hold together, though, just use a fine grind and a thick consistency.
posted by jadepearl at 5:07 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


JiA: Powered by Frijoles has an Aus-centric list of suppliers.
posted by zamboni at 5:17 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


*sigh* I am now craving Peruvian tamales. I really miss the sweet tamales.
posted by research monkey at 1:27 PM on August 13


« Older Vice in the Islamic State   |   This surgery could pay for... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post