Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cheap Bastid's "Deconstructed Tamales"

Simply put, Tamales are incredible. In Hispanic neighborhoods and families they are most often a holiday feast where whole families will spend a day (if not a night) with the multi-step preparation and then will eat freshly steamed tamales throughout the day on whatever special occasion is being celebrated—Christmas, New Years, a christening, etc.

We like to go to a bodego just a couple of blocks from our apartment called Tortilleria Los Hermanos Reyes. This is a neighborhood store right in the heart of downtown Vista which makes chicharrones, often in one piece of the whole side of a pig along with other meat cuts that you can find almost no where else. Plus they have their own tortilla “factory” which is busy all day everyday cranking out fresh corn tortillas starting with the ground masa and ending in fragrant, fresh tortillas.

And, this place makes some really, really tasty carne, carnita and pollo tamales. Here’s a recipe I made up for “Deconstructed” Tamales which creates the flavor but avoids the long, involved process which only someone with generations of tamale-making DNA seems to be able to master.

“Deconstructed Tamales”
2 cups yellow stoneground polenta
2 cups water
1 ½ cup chicken broth
1 cup shredded cheese—cheddar, jack or a combination
¾ lb cooked and shredded beef, pork or chicken
2 roma tomatoes
1 medium onion
1 orange or yellow bell pepper
1-2 jalapeno peppers
2 cloves garlic
Cumino, salt, pepper and chili powder

First do all your “prep” work of chopping the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and jalapeno. Peel the garlic than squash it with the blade of the knife so that it’s like a paste or use jarred, minced garlic. Next shred the beef, pork or chicken.

Prepare the liquid for the polenta (2 cups water and 1 cup chicken broth), put in a heavy pot and turn to high on the stovetop. When the water/broth boils add the polent, turn the heat to low and stir it for several minutes to incorporate the grits and water together. Cover and let it simmer on the lowest heat possible for 30 minutes.

At 30 minutes, put a skillet on the stove and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat to medium high. Add the onions, bell peppers, jalapeno and garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften then add the cumino, salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Add the shredded meat and stir everything together well. Then add the tomatoes and mix it all together. Turn heat down to medium low for 5 minutes.

Turn the heat off the polenta and add the cheese. Stir it thoroughly so everything mixes together.

Remove everything from the stove and prepare you plates. Put a generous scoop or two of polenta on a plate, cover with the meat mixture and you are ready. If you want, you can top with your favorite salsa.

So, what did you think of this recipe? I took a page from “Top Chef” with it in calling it “Deconstructed Tamales”. In that show, it seems like any dish labeled “deconstructed” or “crudo” gets rave reviews from the judges. It’s a fancy name for a simpler, faster way of preparing a dish that would normally take more time than the contestants have for preparing a dish for competition. And in restaurants, it’s a simpler, more cost effective presentation of the “flavor profile”.

My own term for this dish is “Grish” (which I pronounce “greesh”). It’s a left-over dish which to me is a little bit grits and a little bit hash. I personally would not call the stone ground corn prepared for this meal “polenta”. That’s way too “foo-foo”. It’s G-R-I-T-S! Grits and polenta are essentially made from the same stone ground corn and are prepared a bit differently.

But the main thing for Cheap Bastid is that the grits provide a base for the left-over topping of shredded meat. And it’s an incredible combination of flavors. What my wife particularly likes is that we’ll have slow-cooked pot roast one night and a couple of nights later we’ll take the left over pot-roast and turn it into “Grish” by adding just a couple of ingredients like fresh tomatoes and bell peppers and make it something new and exciting to our palate.

I came up with “Grish” one night when we had some left over pot roast and a part of a bag of stone-ground grits and Mrs. CB was whining for the taste of grits. It was an “a-ha” moment to combine the two rather than whipping up something like fried rice with shredded beef. And this is a totally different taste that takes no longer to prepare and is just as easy to prepare.d

What about The Cheap Bastid Test? This is cheap. There’s maybe a pound of left over meat at about $2 and there’s a couple of tomatoes at about $.75 plus onion, bell pepper and jalapeno for a cost of about $.75. Then I add some broth to the skillet. I use a cup and a half of grits and a pound and a half bag of them costs $2.29—so I’m using maybe $.50 worth of them. Total budget--$4. And we’ll have left-overs of the left-overs to reheat for lunch.

Think about it though. If you went to a restaurant and saw this dish and it was labeled “Grish”, you might pay $8. Same dish, labeled “Deconstructed Tamales”and the price just doubled except you’d also expect a linen table cloth and a skinny slice of lemon in your water.

You know what the bottom line is here though, don’t you? Sure you do:

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

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