Jim y Nuvia Ruland’s mighty Irish tamale

Jim Ruland is a writer and occasional NPR contributor, and the founder of Los Angeles’ beloved Vermin on the Mount reading series. In 2004 he attended Dublin’s centennial Bloomsday celebration, and somehow remained sober enough to write about the festivities for The Believer.

Below he shares his and his wife Nuvia’s St. Patrick’s Day tradition-in-the-making: the mighty — and spicy — Irish tamale. Better stock up on Guinness in preparation. Or maybe just look for last-minute deals on flights to San Diego.

My wife is second-generation Mexican-American. I’m third-generation Irish-American. We couldn’t be more different, but we share a lot of traits (hot tempers, hostility toward the clergy, an inexplicable fondness for accordion music). We’ve both tried to be as open as possible to each other’s respective cultures. In Mexico, I ate everything from crickets to armadillo. Whenever we go to a new city, we end up in Irish pubs. As I write this, Lila Downs is blasting through the speakers (followed by The Tossers, Café Tacuba, Blood or Whiskey, Shakira).

The Mighty Irish Tamale has been in development for years. We first talked about it at Nuvia’s abuelito’s rancho in Valle de Guadalupe. It resurfaced during our travels in Oaxaca (where I ate fourteen tamales in eight days) and yet again during our honeymoon deep in the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula. This winter we made our first attempt at a Hibernian-Mexicana fusion and it was a huge success, so we’ll be serving the Mighty Irish Tamale again at our first, but certainly not the last, St. Patrick’s Day party as a married couple. Want to join us?

Here’s what you’ll need:

* 1 tamale pot (also known as a lobster pot on the Eastern seaboard)

* 5 pounds of masa made with lard

* 1 8oz. package of dried corn husks

* 1 large Irish brisket (a.k.a. corned beef)

* 6 red potatoes

* 12 bottles of Guinness draught

* 4 dried chili peppers

* 2 white onions

* 1 small green cabbage

* 1 package of baby carrots

* 1 cup of rice floor

* 1 bottle of horseradish

* ½ teaspoon of ground chili pepper

* 1 jigger of Jameson’s Irish whiskey (Q: What’s a jigger? A: Enough)

* 1 shot of Don Julio Blanco (of course)

* Several dashes of Tapatio (never Tabasco)

The night before your tamale-making adventure, place the corned beef in the crock pot with not-quite-enough water to cover the meat. Don’t trim the fat as it will help hold it together and add flavor. Add a bottle of Guinness draught and cover the brisket with foam.

Chop up the 4 dried chili peppers and toss them in the pot. If your corned beef came with a seasoning packet, throw that in there, too. Add a ½ teaspoon of ground chili powder. We use the concoction we bought on our honeymoon in an outdoor market in Campeche for 10 pesos and stored in a Gerber baby food jar with no label. Irish food has a reputation for being bland. Not anymore.

If you have a particularly big piece of meat — and I’m talking about the corned beef — consider putting the potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and onions in a second crock pot. Chop up the vegetables and top them off with more Guinness. You’re probably thinking that if you leave a potato in a crock pot soaked with Guinness for 12 hours, you’re going to end up with mush. That’s exactly what you want.

Turn the beef over every few hours to prevent it from drying out. Add Guinness as needed. Prepare the corn husks by soaking them in warm water.

Before you go to bed, separate the husks and set them out to dry. Take some of the corn husks that have tears in them and rip them into long threads that you can use as string. Now get a good night’s rest. You’re going to need it.

When you wake the next morning, your house should smell like a Knights of Columbus assembly hall on St. Patrick’s Day. Trim all the fat off the meat, cut into slices, and shred. It should have the same consistency of machaca, only redder. Ensure that no sliver is longer than your knuckle.

Bring the masa to room temperature and knead it on a butcher block. Sprinkle in a quarter cup of rice flour and knead it some more. Repeat until the rice flour is gone. The masa should be firm, but cooperative, like the elastic in your underwear.

Take the masa preparada and spoon it onto the husk. Use the Guinness broth to help make it more malleable. Spread the masa almost all the way out to the edge like a blanket too small for its bed.

Add a mixture of corned beef, potato mush, and a dollop of horse radish with some of the Tapatio mixed in. Roll the tamal up tight and tie it off like a tootsie roll.

One down. Forty-seven to go.

Go ahead and crack open a Guinness because this is going to take a while. And don’t be surprised if, an hour later, you’re still at it. You might want to do this while sitting down. And bring some of that Guinness with you.

Stand your tamales on end in the pot and steam for up to an hour-and-a-half. Serve hot with shots of Jameson’s and Don Julio.

Slainte and salud!

(If you’re going to be in San Diego on March 17, drop us a line: verminonthemount [at] yahoo [dot] com. Seriously.)


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