Mexican tamales are lovely parcels of steamed corn dough stuffed with a variety of usually meaty fillings. I’ve used a seductive mix of pulled pork and punchy chilli sauce. Making tamales is a little labour-intensive, but you can make the pork and sauce ahead of time, and it will keep in the fridge very happily for a day or two.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C Fan/Gas Mark 3. Place the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cumin and chilli flakes in a food processor, along with a good seasoning of salt and pepper, and purée until smooth.
Place the pork belly, skin side up, in a small roasting tin – it should fit quite snugly – and pour over the tomato sauce, spreading it all over the meat. Cover the tin tightly with a double layer of kitchen foil and slow-roast in the oven for about 3½ hours. The meat should be so tender that you can tease it apart with a fork. If it’s not quite there, re-cover and cook for a further 30 minutes or so.
Remove the foil and carefully strain out the cooking juices into a saucepan. Increase the oven temperature to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6 and put the pork back in, uncovered, for another 30 minutes to give it a little colour all over.
Place the chillies on a baking tray and slide it into the oven alongside the pork for just 3 minutes or so. You want to toast them so they are deeply coloured all over; they will be slightly blackened and crispy. Remove from the oven, pull off and discard the stalks and add the chillies to the pan of reserved cooking juices. Top up with 250ml cold water, pressing the chillies under the surface as much as you can. Cover the pan and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes to rehydrate the chillies. Tip into a blender and purée until smooth, then pass through a sieve into a clean bowl, discarding the seeds and membranes of the chillies. Place half the sauce in a second bowl and set aside to serve as a sauce to go with the tamales.
Remove the pork from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool a little. Once it’s cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and shred the meat with your fingers, tossing it into the first bowl of sauce as you go. Remove as much fat as you want to, but I’d urge you to not be too vigilant as a little fat will add much in the way of juicy succulence.
Place the corn husks in a large bowl or saucepan and pour over enough boiling water to cover well. Leave to soak for an hour or so; they need to be nice and pliable for rolling. Drain and pat dry. Take 3 husks and tear down the length to form long, thin strips – these will be used to tie up the tamales.
For the tamales, add the masa harina to a bowl and stir through the baking powder and salt. Add the melted butter, then start to pour in the stock, stirring constantly until you have a smooth, pliable dough. You may not need all the stock, or you may need a splash more (hot water is fine if you need a little extra liquid). Knead briefly to make sure it’s evenly mixed, then divide the dough into 12 even pieces, rolling each into a ball.
To assemble the tamales, take a whole rehydrated corn husk and lay it on the worktop, wide end towards you. Put one of the balls of masa dough in the centre and flatten it out over the husk in a rough rectangle about 4–5mm thick, ensuring you have a generous 2cm border of uncovered husk all round. The thinner you can get the masa the better, as it swells on cooking.
Take a tablespoon or so of pork filling and lay it down the centre of the masa. Roll up the sides over the filling, drawing the masa dough together at the top so you have a sausage shape of dough with a line of pork along the inside. Roll the sides up and tuck in the ends to form a neat parcel. Use the torn strips of husk, one at each end, to tie it into a neat parcel. Repeat with the remaining 11 whole husks. Uncooked tamales freeze very well at this point: place them on a baking tray to freeze initially, then pack into a bag or tub and leave in the freezer until ready to cook.
Add the tamales to a large steamer basket in a couple of layers. Pour boiling water into a pan to just under the level of the steamer and set over a medium heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and steam for an hour, checking the level of water every now and then and topping up as necessary. If cooking from frozen, cook for a few minutes longer. Serve the tamales in the husks for people to unwrap, with the reserved chilli sauce alongside.