Louisiana tamalero

30 years ago in Austin, Texas, old Mexican granny women used to circulate amongst the cantinas and taverns on the rough and tumble east side. They’d wheel coolers packed with hot tamales through the doorways and loudly announce their presence with sing-song cries of tamales !

The smoke-filled rooms of Chicano bars like Club Excitement, the Glass Key, and La Sirenitas were filled with drunken money marks who were hyped up on Bud Lite and Presidente brandy. Beers were a dollar, you could have a night on the town for a ten spot, and that included a late night tamale feast.

Ruben Ramos and Sunny Ozuna provided the soundtrack to those drunken evenings.

Those days are long gone. The Mexican taverns (outside of La Perla who clings to the old ways) have all been converted into chic neo-Bohemian ultra lounges or were just straight bulldozed in favor of shiny hi-rise condo towers.

For the first three decades of my tamale eating life it never dawned on me to buy tamales and take them home to cook them. I only ate them at night, and they were always served hot and for a pittance by a smiling Mexican grandma.

Nowadays are different. I live 500-plus miles from Austin, and I have to get my tamales shipped in frozen on a big jet airplane. A smiling abuelita is not part of the program. I have to cook them myself.

And I always use my 8 quart Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker.

Steam is your key weapon when cooking tamales and nothing produces steam like a pressure cooker.

How To Pressure Cook Tamales

  • Add four cups of cold tap water to pressure cooker
  • Place cooker on stove burner with flame on high
  • Pack tamales, open side up, into 2 quart, heat-proof vessel (I use a stainless steel bowl)
  • A steamer basket designed to fit your particular pressure cooker is ideal but use what you have
  • Lower vessel into pressure cooker
  • Secure lid and cook for 15 minutes at high pressure
  • Turn flame off and allow cooker to naturally release pressure.
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    At this point I like to remove the tamales from the husks and saute them with a little oil in a cast-iron pan til the outsides get crispy

    They are also delicious eaten straight from the cooker

    Standard garnishes are salsa fresca, pico de gallo, sour cream or slices of avocado

    Cooking notes:

    I have no idea how this method would translate to the Instant Pot. I only use a traditional, Swiss-made, stovetop pressure cooker. It’s going to outlast me, and I still haven’t figured out who I’ll leave it to in my will

    I still can’t figure out why traditional tamale-based restaurants don’t have mammoth pressure cookers in their kitchens.

    If you’re fortunate to ever be approached by a little Mexican lady in a car wash parking lot, laundry mat or nightclub, and she offers you tamales do the right thing and buy them on the spot.

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