Ice House

How to Throw a Fun, Productive Tamale Party for the Holidays

What to prep, where to get it, and who to assign to masa-spreading duties.

By Gwendolyn Zepeda November 21, 2016 Published in the December 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

1216 ice house tamale party xjpuad

Tamaleswhich appear by the dozen during winter holidays (and closing time at patio bars)—are labor-intensive treats. Because they’re easiest to make using the assembly-line technique, hosting a tamale-making party is like running a temporary mini-factory in your kitchen. By employing our tips, you can throw an enjoyable soiree and make the most of your friends’ and family's manual labor.

The week before:

  • Decide on recipes. There’s always the deliciously  greasy, orange-tinted, classic pork tamal. But you may prefer chicken, rajas con queso, plantain- and banana-leaf-wrapped tamales of Central and South America, raisin-studded dessert tamales, the many vegan varieties…. The options are endless.  
  • Figure out your work area and materials. You’ll need plenty of table or counter space, large bowls and platters, and something in which to steam your creations. 
  • Calculate your yield. The Internet has many guides for the amounts of masa (dough), hojas (corn husks or leaves), and filling you’ll need.

What to prep the night before: 

  • Your masa, if making it yourself;
  • Your myriad tamale fillings;
  • Hojas! If nothing else, remember to soak your corn husks in water overnight. 

You’ll need friends to spread the masa on the hojas; to fill, shape, and fasten those hojas; to cook batches of tamales in the steamer; and to package the finished products. Delegate tasks wisely:

  • Optimal masa-spreading requires manual dexterity. Assign your crafters, surgeons, and makeup artists to this task.
  • Filling and rolling are simple tasks that can be entrusted to guests of all ages.
  • Pick your most reliable designated-driver types to oversee steaming. It’s fine to have tipsy spreaders and fillers, but a missed kitchen timer can ruin the night.
  • Project managers, overachieving parents and military types are good for keeping the line flowing.
1216 ice house tamale making party tamales rcat26

Your tamales may not turn out as pretty as these, but at least they'll be delicious.

Nice to have on hand during the party:

  • Online devices with instructional videos for guests uninitiated in tamale craftsmanship;
  • Some means of labeling your dozens, if making more than one tamale type;
  • Lively music to inspire quick work;
  • A knowledgeable abuela to conduct quality control and tell anecdotes about tamale parties past;
  • Runners to refresh materials and workers’ drinks;
  • A documentarian to capture the magic and post it online.

Know that, like hot dogs and buns, tamale ingredients rarely match up, and you may end up filling that last dozen with experimental ingredients from your pantry and refrigerator.

If you decide to nourish your workforce with the fruits of their labor, be sure to set out the appropriate accoutrements: salsa in various hues and intensities, queso, beer and tequila-based ablutions. Offering robust Tex-Mex sides—rice and beans, chips and guacamole—will keep your workers from eating all your profit.

Serving tamales at your tamale party, however, isn’t a requirement. Whatever you offer, plan to make extra tamales for taste-testing and to pay each worker a salary of at least two dozen to take home.

Tamale-making can be messy, arduous, back-straining work. But, if you do it with friends and family, it’s a really good gig.

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