November 22, 2012

by Kathleen Furore

Joe St. Columbia, owner of Pasquale’s Tamales in the Mississippi River Delta town of Helena, Ark., knows how important a good recipe can be. The business started serving tamales in the 1930s, and now makes just one version of the traditional Mexican delicacy.

“We’re a tamale business only. We have a concession trailer open every Friday and Saturday selling beef tamales, and we are on the internet at,” St. Columbia says. “We have been in Southern Living Magazine twice and on many tv stations about our Delta Tamale.”

Pasquale’s “very large following” savors the top sirloin-and chuck roast-filled tamales rolled in corn shucks imported from Mexico and USDA inspected. To save time, St. Columbia uses Tamale Tuckers in place of corn husk pieces as ties. “They’re fast, clean and they get the job done,” he says.

A Menu Must-Have

Although challenging to make, tamales are a necessity on Mexican restaurant menus, experts say.

“Especially for the Christmas season, I think it important to have at least two or three different types of tamales on the menu,” says Marilyn Tausend, owner of Culinary Adventures, Inc. and author of cookbooks including the new La Cocina Mexicana: Many Cultures One Cuisine. “To anyone of Mexican heritage, it is the single food that is inseparable from Christmas.”

Her suggestion: Corn husk-wrapped Tamales Navideños with shredded, cooked turkey or chicken in a mole of ground toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, chiles anchos, mulatos and pasillas, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and Mexican chocolate; a banana leaf-wrapped tamal, such as one from Veracruz where masa is filled with small chunks of pork, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, garlic and chiles; and a tamal dulce (sweet tamal)—traditional in Mexico but new to many U.S. restaurant patrons.

Tausend’s favorite sweet tamales? Tamales de piña con coco served with ice cream, toasted almonds or pecans and fresh pineapple; a sweet and spicy tamal with canned pumpkin puree and spices mixed into the masa; and one sweetened with refried pinto beans, raisins, piloncillo and spices.

Tamale Tips

There are several ways to add tamales to menus. Dessert tamales can reap better profits, notes Roberto Santibañez, chef/owner of Fonda in New York City and author of cookbooks including the new Tacos, Tortas and Tamales. “If restaurants do tamales as a dessert, they can get better money. You need to make less, and you can charge the same price as you do for any other dessert,” he says. “If you offer appetizer tamales and charge $8, customers expect a lot— they might think $8 is a lot for ‘just a bunch of masa!’ As a dessert, they consider it a better value. Coconut and strawberry are most popular, and chocolate is absolutely delicious!”

He and Tausend also recommend the Tamal de Cazuela (tamale cooked in a pot) as a time-saving option. “Cook the masa on a stovetop, layer it in a baking mold with filling, then bring the mold to the table,” Santibañez says.

“The traditional tamal de cazuela would be made in a rather shallow cazuela and the servings scooped out which works well for a buffet,” adds Tausend, who also offers these tips:

*Think beyond corn husk and banana leaves wrappings. Try blue corn husks, fresh corn leaves, or chaya (Tausend uses Swiss chard) as cooks do in the Yucatán. “Always use a sturdy aromatic leaf that will impart a complementary flavor,” she says.

*If serving tamales in wrappers, give guests a dish to put discarded wrappers in.

*Consider serving a tamal in place of rice.

Tamale Source Guide

*BE&SCO. Manual and electric tamale machines. 800-683-0928;

*C.T. Beavers/Tamale King. Tamalemakers, corn husks, masa, pots, spices. 800-531-1799;

*Minsa. Corn Flour Masa Mix for Tamales. 800-852-8291;

*TNI Packaging. Tamale Tuckers pre-tied covered elastic food loops. 800-383-0990;

November 22, 2012

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