I was recently on the hunt for some fresh, locally-made tamales (’tis the season!), and a friend got me in touch with the fine folks at the Travis High School Culinary Arts Institute. Last year, Relish Austin‘s Addie Broyles covered the students’ tamalada for the Austin-American Statesman; read her excellent piece here.
For the past two years, culinary arts instructor Rob McDonald has invited parents to help students in his three classes to put on a weeklong tamalada, a tamal-making party that features an assembly line of people helping prepare the Christmas tradition popular in many Latin American countries.
Last week, we picked up six dozen (you read that right) tamales, sampling all three of Travis High’s 2011 flavors: traditional pork, chicken (pictured), and queso and jalapeño. And these are some tasty tamales! The medium to large and generously filled husks, stuffed with well-seasoned meat (or cheese and spicy chiles!) rolled in expertly executed, velvety masa are probably my favorite comestible way to get into the holiday spirit.* Though I come from an pretty exclusively Anglo family in East Texas, my great-grandmother Tollie used to make a huge batch of tamales every Christmas, and one of my aunts carries on the tradition. Maybe the fact that Granny grew up in Arizona had something to do with it…?
Every year I mean to try my hand at making tamales (thanks to ye olde job, I can’t make it back to East Texas in time to learn firsthand from family); I even have a tamale pot that my stepmom gave me a few years back! Maybe someday… Anyway, it’s an all-day (or, even, all-weekend) job, and I’m grateful that the culinary students at Travis High have done my work for me. And don’t forget that tamales freeze well, so there’s no reason not to buy several dozen at a time!
Unfortunately the Travis High tamales are all gone for this year, but they will be selling to the public again in February, when the students will be creating chocolate covered strawberries. These treats will be available by the whole and half dozen, and the students will also be selling pretzels – all to support this amazing program for aspiring culinary professionals. The Institute will be taking orders from February 1st through 14th, with pickup on the 13th and 14th, just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Before winding up, I have to note that, of course, no plate of tamales would be complete without Shanita’s Salsita’s award-winning roasted jalapeño and garlic salsa, Hal’s Hot Love.** Shanita’s is having a couple of open house salsita tasting parties this month, on Sunday, December 18, and again on Sunday, December 18. For details, contact Shanita through her web site. You won’t be sorry!
*Latkes are gaining. Fried foods with sour cream are my madeleine.
**Hal’s is my kryptonite.