Although I only ordered two dozen tamales, the sample tamal I ate at the table in the kitchen of St. John Fisher Catholic Church was so good, I ended up ordering another two dozen frozen tamales to cook at home. The pork was spicy, the masa was slick, and the price was only $9 a dozen. Even though they are formed on a machine before being hand-rolled in shucks, these are the most traditional Tex-Mex tamales in greater Houstonia.
St. John Fisher Catholic Church
410 Clay St.
"When I was a little boy, the church kitchen had a dirt floor and there was a group of old women who made tamales for the church to sell," Harris Perez, the head tamale man, told me. "I am 55 now, so that was like 45 years ago. We still use the same recipe the ladies gave us." Some things have changed though—the church kitchen is now inspected and certified by the county health department.
"Do you use manteca?" I asked Perez. So many great tamales recipes (including Walter Berryhill's) have been ruined by "fear of the lard" that I feel compelled to ask the question whenever I buy tamales. Harris thought that was pretty funny. He is running out of storage room for all the empty lard buckets he has stacked up.
During the holiday season, Harris Perez and his tamale-making crew meet at St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond on Wednesday nights at 3 a.m. to roll tamales for the week. The uncooked tamales are frozen and then steamed to order. "If you want to cook frozen tamales at home, you have to steam them for two hours," Harris advised.
To order tamales, call Harris one day in advance: 832-392-8998.