Smoked Tomato Shrimp Tamal


My inspiration for this dish was that I have been working on making and using fresh corn masa.  I have been experimenting with tamales and tortillas made from my own nixtamalized corn.  I’ve used various types of corn, different processes, and different fillings to make a wide range of dishes.

I created this recipe for the Washington Post’s 2015 TopTomato contest, and it finished in second place.  Because it is a tomato contest, I wanted to highlight the tomatoes both as an element of the masa itself and in a rich tomato-y shrimp filling.  I wanted the rustic touch that fire and smoke add, so I used smoked tomatoes and fire roasted poblanos.  Originally, I was going to make individual tamales, but I was afraid the steaming process might hurt the shrimp texture.  I opted for a large baked Tamal.  The filling is sealed in and becomes one with the soft interior of the tamal, while the exterior of the tamal gets crisp and golden. The whole loaf is infused with the flavor of the banana leaf.  Smoky tomatoes, head-on shrimp, roasted peppers, luscious fresh masa, and the elegance of banana leaf and Spanish saffron.  A delicious, elevated variation on shrimp and grits.
The tomatoes, peppers and green onions were from my backyard garden.  The corn, cal, and lard came from Americana grocery in Fairfax, VA.  This is a great Latin American store! I found head-on Gulf shrimp and banana leaves at Super H Mart in Fairfax (Korean supermarket).
 Smoked Tomato Shrimp Tamal
Serves 12 as an appetizer course or side dish, or 6 as a main course
5 cups diced, smoked tomatoes
3 poblano peppers, roasted over flame, peeled and diced in ¼ inch pieces
4 cups White mote corn (dried hominy)
3 Quarts Water, divided
2 Tablespoons Cal Mexicana (Codex Hydrated Lime)
1 ½ pounds head-on large white Gulf Shrimp
¼ t Saffron
1 cup good quality golden lard, plus some to sauté vegetables and to grease pan
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
10 green onions, white and light green parts cut into 1/8 inch rings
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Sea Salt, plus more as needed
Banana Leaves
Smoke the tomatoes:  Light about half a chimney full of charcoal.  Soak several large handfuls of fruit wood chips in a pan of water.   Choose 25-30 vine ripened Roma tomatoes (or another meaty plum variety).  Core and blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for one minute to loosen the skins.  They will appear slightly wrinkled when they are ready to remove from the boiling water. Don’t let them in the boiling bath too long because you still want the flesh to be firm.  Remove from the boiling water with a slotted spoon, and place the tomatoes in an ice bath. Slip them out of their skins. Slice the top off of each tomato to reveal the seed cavities.  Cut each tomato lengthwise through the seed cavities.  Run your fingers down the seed cavities to scrape out the seeds.  Arrange the seeded tomato halves on a wire rack to drain.  Place the lit charcoal on one side of your BBQ.  Cover the coals with the moist wood chips.  Place the grill over the fire, and then smoke the rack of tomatoes over the cool side of the grill.  Place the lid on the grill.  It should be smoky and between 100-200F.  Add more wood chips if needed.  Smoke for about an hour or up to 3 hours.  The tomatoes should appear somewhat dry, a little brown around the edges, but not burnt. Dice in 1/2″ pieces and set aside.  This can be done in advance and the tomatoes either reserved in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or placed in a small bag and frozen for 6-12 months (freezing is good for a larger batch, but would recommend freezing in 1 cup bags for portioning).
Roast the poblanos:  Do this on a hot grill or put a cake cooling rack over a gas stove burner.  Move the peppers around until they are blackened on all sides and up to the stem.  Place the blackened peppers into a metal bowl covered with a damp cloth.  After 10 minutes or so, they will be cool to the touch.  Run the peppers under a stream of cool water and peel off the charred skin leaving the roasted flesh.  Remove the stem, seeds, and ribs.  Dice in ¼ inch pieces and set aside.
Prepare the tamale masa: Wash 4 cups of white mote corn (this is the large kerneled dried corn used for pozole or hominy, available in South American or Latin American groceries).  Place in a Dutch oven that holds at least 4 quarts.  Add 2 quarts cool water and 2 Tablespoons of Cal Mexicana (slaked lime, available where you buy the corn). Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and allow the pot to sit covered for 4 or more hours. Vigorously wash the corn under running water in a colander, squeezing it in handfuls to remove the skins from the kernels of corn.  Place the corn back in the Dutch oven and cover with cool water; if the water is cloudy, more washing is needed. Once the corn is clean, allow it to drain of any excess water and run it through a meat grinder with 1/8 inch plate.  Run the ground corn through the grinder a second time.  The corn should hold in a clump if you squeeze some in a closed fist. It’s ok if some of the corn is coarser like grits at this point.  The corn may also be ground in a food processor, but make sure the corn is not ground to a paste (like tortilla masa) or left in large pieces that may detract from the texture of the tamale dough. Set the ground masa aside.
From dried hominy to soft masa
 Prepare the shrimp:  Wash the shrimp in a colander under cold water. Remove heads and peel and devein the shrimp.  Reserve the cleaned shrimp in a bowl, refrigerate.  Place the heads and shells in a small sauce pan. Cover with water and add the saffron along with 1 t sea salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until the broth tastes rich.  Add salt if needed.  Strain the broth, and put about 1 ½ cups of the strained broth in a bowl in the freezer to chill.  Reserve the remaining broth in the sauce pan and keep at a low simmer.
Prepare the tamale batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the mixing blade attachment, place the tamale masa, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 cup of the rich golden lard, and 1 cup of the diced smoked tomatoes.  Mix on low speed until all ingredients are evenly combined.  Add the shrimp stock from the freezer in small amounts until the batter is the consistency of thick pancake batter.  Taste a bit of the batter and add salt if needed. The batter may be made ahead and refrigerated; then prior to assembling the tamal, place the chilled batter back in the mixer bowl and whip it with some more stock to make the batter fluffy.
Make the filling: Heat 2-3 Tablespoons of lard in a cast iron skillet.  Sauté the green onions and garlic until soft a very slightly caramelized.  Add the remaining tomatoes and continue to cook until the juice from the tomatoes is mostly evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add the diced roasted poblanos. When all is heated through, add the reserved simmering shrimp stock.  Continue cooking until the mixture is almost the consistency of a stew but liquid is still evident.  Add the shrimp and cook until they are mostly pink, just a minute or two.  Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning if needed.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Assemble the Tamal: Grease a 4 ½ x 13 inch or similar sized loaf pan with lard. Cut a banana leaf in two 15 inch pieces and two 4 inch wide strips.  Run each piece over a stove burner to make them more pliable.  Place the two smaller pieces of leaf at the two ends of the loaf pan so they drape out the end of the pan.  Place the two larger pieces across the pan draping out both sides.  Press the leaves down in the pan so they make a smooth surface for the filling.  Pour half of the batter into the pan.  Top with half of the shrimp mixture. The top that with the remaining batter.  Fold the leaves over the tamal, ends first and then the sides.  Tuck the leaves in the other side to make a seal.
Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet in case it cooks over.  Place in the 375F oven for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 325F and continue to bake for 60 minutes.  I use convection baking, so adjust your temperatures accordingly.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes.  Warm the remaining half of the shrimp mixture.  Remove the tamal from the loaf pan, and remove the banana leaves.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice in 1 inch thick slabs for each serving.  Spoon more some of the reserved shrimp mixture over each slice.
Top this with some roasted tomatillo-garlic-chile de arbol salsa and some crumbled smoked Cotija cheese!

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