Clearly this is something you will want to make on a weekend. Making tamales is not quick and easy, although it isn't rocket science, either. A few tricks: The filling can be made several days in advance. The pipian sauce can also be made a day or two ahead, but not much more. Once made, the tamales store in the fridge for a week or so, and freeze well. To reheat refrigerated tamales, bring them out about 30 minutes before you eat them, and heat up a comal or skillet. Toast the tamales in their husks until the husks get mostly charred, then serve. This is arguably tastier than eating the tamales fresh. For frozen tamales, put them in a steamer frozen, and steam for about 20 minutes or so.
Legs and thighs from a turkey,or 1 1/2 pounds leftover turkey, or from 5 to 6 pheasants, or 2 rabbits
8allspice berries, cracked(optional)
10to 12 black peppercorns,cracked
3tablespoonslard,duck fat or other cooking oil
1/2a white onion,chopped
1large garlic clove,chopped
6guajillo chiles,seeded and torn up
2cupswater or broth from the turkey
Salt,smoked if you have it
1/4cuplard,duck fat or other cooking oil
1cupchopped white onion
1 1/3cuppepitas or 1 cup sesame seeds
6epazote sprigs, chopped(optional)
Salt,smoked if you have it
1butternut squash or pumpkin
2 1/2cupsmasa harina para tamales
Cook the pumpkin. Roast the pumpkin or squash at 350°F until it's soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Scoop it out of the shell and puree in a blender. This step can be done a few days in advance.
Soak the corn husks. Submerge the corn husks in hot water and let them soak until you need them, at least an hour or two.
Prep the turkey. If you are using leftover turkey, shred it up and chop it a bit. Remember it's going into tamales, and you don't want all the meat to come out when you cut off a piece with your fork later. If you are using fresh turkey, simmer it in the rest of the turkey ingredients until it's tender, then shred. Keep the broth.
Make the turkey sauce. While the turkey is simmering, make the sauce for it. Heat the lard in a pan and cook the garlic and onions over medium heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the torn up chiles and cook a minute or two, then add the remaining sauce ingredients. Simmer gently for 45 minutes. Let the mixture cool a bit before pureeing in a blender. You want this sauce smooth. Mix with the shredded turkey.
Make the pipian. After you're done blending the turkey sauce, rinse out the blender and pan. Wipe the pan down and add the next batch of lard, onions and garlic, and saute over medium heat until soft but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and pepitas and cook, stirring often, another 2 or 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and let this cool. Add the contents of the pan to the blender along with the remaining pipian ingredients. Blend until smooth, adding 2 to 3 cups of broth or water to loosen.
Make the tamale dough. In a large bowl, add the masa and 2 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree, along with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Add just enough hot water to make something between a batter and a dough: You will want to be able to spread it on the corn husks.
Form the tamales. Take a corn husk out and place it in front of you narrow side down. Smear some dough over the center of the husk, leaving about 1/8 to 1/4 inch free on the edges. Place a heaping tablespoon of turkey filling in the center. Fold over the corn husk to seal the dough, then roll it a little to make a cylinder. Fold up the narrow end of the husk to to form a stable bottom to the tamal. You can either stack them in a steamer that way, or tie them off with strips of corn husk, or use twine.
Cook the tamales. Set a steamer insert into a large pot. Pour in water to the level of the steamer, but not so much the husks get soaked. Line the steamer with spare husks and arrange the tamales open side up into the steamer. Cover the pot and steam for 1 hour. Check the level of the water in the pot and make sure it doesn't all boil away.
To serve. Heat the pipian gently -- don't let it simmer or it might break. Unwrap some tamales and cover with the sauce. Garnish with cilantro.
No turkey? Use any white meat. Pheasant, rabbit, pork or chicken are all good. Don't have the exact chiles? No biggie. Any combination of ancho, New Mexican or guajillo are fine. And needless to say it doesn't have to be a pumpkin in the masa dough; any winter squash (except spaghetti squash) works fine. When looking for lard, you want the refrigerated stuff. If you don't see it at a Latin market, ask. Ditto for masa. Many Mexican markets will have freshly made masa in the back, and are happy to sell it to you.