Recipe (and Instructions): The Master Chef’s Tamales

In the Recipe post for John’s Pork Tamales, there are several mentions of the “making tamales suggestions” in Mr. Big Food’s Big Food Manual and Survivalist Flourishing Guide. These are the suggestions to which he refers, all by The Master Chef.


From Master Chef Louis P. De Gouy, The Gold Cook Book (1947)

“The Spanish-American tamale, that delicious edible cigarette in a corn-husk wrapper, has preserved its identity even when jammed into tin cans, though its distant cousin, the dolma of the Near East, has been brought to ignominious disaster by American cook books. If vine leaves are not obtainable, say the cook books, parboiled cabbage leaves with do as well—and did they not say, also, under prohibition, that a little Worcestershire sauce would do as well as a glass of sherry for a Newburg and that milk was better than beer for a rarebit?

“However, the tragedy of the dolma is another story, and the hot tamale is yours for the making in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Palm Beach, Chicago as well as in Mexico City, without makeshifts or apologies. But corn husks, you say, come only with the green corn and the watermelon for July 4. Aye but thousands of people make and eat tamales, and husks are harvested by proper husbandmen and stored away against the lean days of winter, when piping hot tamales fill empty stomachs and warm the cockles of fainting hearts.”

Preparing the Corn Husks: Go to the Spanish and Latin-American shops and you’ll find the thin, tender husks of corn tied in neat bundles hanging on walls or packed in bins and boxes. Buy yourself a liberal supply and procure at the same time some of the best chili powder and a sack of Mexican corn meal, finely ground for tortillas.

Soak the husks in water until they are soft and pliant, then select the best ones and trim them neatly into rectangles about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide.

The Filling.

Scald about 4 cups of corn meal with boiling stock of chicken, veal or beef and, if it is not rich, replace 1 cup of the stock with 1 cup Pique seasoning and stir in 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Stir vigorously to make a soft but firm and workable paste and season with enough chili powder to make it as hot as you desire it. Do not salt if you have added Pique seasoning.

Your meat may be chicken, veal, beef or pork, or a mixture of beef and pork; and it may be cooked or raw; but at any rate you will grind or chop it coarsely, then brown it in a skillet with a medium-sized onion, grated, a clove of garlic, mashed, a green pepper, finely chopped with seeds and white ribs carefully removed and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley. Season generously with chili powder again, adding a little of the stock if the mixture seems too dry.

Rolling the Tamales. Spread your corn husk wrappers on a board and line each one with a thin layer of the corn meal paste, leaving a margin all around. On the corn meal paste place a spoonful of the meat mixture, then roll up carefully, folding in the ends as you compete the cylinder. Some cooks tie them with kitchen thread, but it is better to place them side by side, horizontally or vertically, in a steamer, so that they will bind one another. Steam for 2 long hours over boiling water, and when they are done they will stay rolled and keep their shape. Like the lamented dolmas, they are good hot or cold, and packed hot in a vacuum jar they will create a sensation as a cocktail, a picnic, or a buffet snack.”


“When summer rolls around and brings green corn, you can make another kind of tamale, familiar to travelers in the Caribbean, by grating sweet corn right down to the cob, pressing the pulp through a sieve if the hulls are tough. Using no other moisture, cook the pulp with your meat mixture as described in the above recipe and add a tomato or a little tomato paste. In this form no corn meal is used, and the filling is applied to the fresh husks in a single layer. If the white meat of chicken is used and the mixture is enriched with crushed almonds and pistachios and minced ripe olives, all lightly seasoned, the result is delicious and entrancing.

“With the vogue of the cocktail hour and the progression of hors d’oeuvres into the cosmopolitan mazes of smorgasbord, thrills and innovations are coveted, and the sudden appearance of well-molded tamales among the sausages, filets and canapés is sure to be a little startling. Hot or cold, in winter or summer, they are generally well received—if not too fiery—and if those made from green corn are well iced or chilled in the refrigerator the filling will become a soft and delectable jelly, savory and refreshing.”