Cinco de Mayo is coming up – and while I don’t exactly have a vested interest in commemorating the military victories of our neighbors to the south, I will take any excuse to appreciate delicious Mexican food.
A while back, I read about a technique for pressure cooking tamales, and it caught my attention. It seemed like a fun/different way to take advantage of the pressure cooker, and I had been waiting for a reason to try it out.
Basically… excuse to eat Mexican food + excuse to play with Instant Pot = TAMALE PARTY, AMIGOS.
Since I happen to live about 25 miles away from the border, I have pretty easy access to any Mexican ingredient I could ever want. A trip to Northgate Gonzalez supermarket allowed me to pick up all the necessary tamale provisions, and a few fun impulse buys too. I even ended up buying a bag of pre-made masa dough, which definitely cut down on my work for the day. In the future, though, I found that I would rather make it from scratch. It’s really not very difficult, it’s more economical, and it allows the cook to control the ingredients.
Making tamales is sort of a big production, but I think it’s perfect dinner party material. Last weekend I had a couple of friends over, and we treated it as our activity for the evening. Before they arrived, I soaked the corn husks, prepped some tasty fillings, and set everything up on the table along with some chips + guac and festive drinks. After a quick lesson, everyone gets to have fun folding up little packages of dinner while chatting and snacking.
With Instant Pot (or another pressure cooker) it’s much easier to pull this off, because the cooking process is so much faster and totally hands-off. Cooking my batches took no more than 45 minutes from first button press to full natural release. With a traditional steamer, the masses may start to get restless during the 1.5+ hours the tamales will need to cook. But under pressure, once your batch is folded and loaded into the pot, just pour your guests another cocktail and dinner will be ready before you know it!
For our fillings, I decided to offer both meaty and vegetarian options. The veggie filling was finely diced and sauteed zucchini, onion, and Anaheim pepper, mixed up with crumbled queso fresco (yum!). The meat was Smitten Kitchen’s southwestern pulled brisket, which was amazing, and I made it in Instant Pot, too! Only 70 minutes for perfectly tender brisket versus 8-10 hours in the original slow-cooker recipe!
And if you’re going through the trouble to cook tamales, definitely make a huge batch, because they freeze flawlessly. We sent our friends home with leftovers to enjoy, and we stowed away a big bag in our freezer too.
While the pressure cooker was going, I sauteed a simple side of extra veggies, to create a semblance of nutritional balance. Tamales aren’t exactly the poster child for healthy Mexican food, but they’re so homey and satisfying, and we only celebrate Cinco de Mayo but once a year!
Don’t miss my next post, in which I share the perfect make-ahead dessert for your Cinco de Mayo festivities! What kind of Mexican cuisine are you most excited to cook/eat?