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Presidio Eats: Holiday Tamales by the Presidio’s Chef Traci Des Jardins

Thursday, Dec 03, 2015 Category Food and Drink

December 2015: Holiday Tamales by the Presidio's Chef Traci Des Jardins


Chef Traci Des Jardins has been a force in the San Francisco food scene for two decades. A James Beard Foundation award winner, philanthropist, and long-time supporter of the farm to table movement, Des Jardins runs three restaurants in the Presidio in partnership with the Presidio Trust – The Commissary, Arguello, and TRANSIT.

On December 3, 2015, ​Chef Des Jardins hosted a cooking demonstration of her favorite holiday tamales at the Presidio Officers' Club​. For those who couldn't attend, she says, "Tamales have always played a big role in my family, especially during the holidays. Here's an approachable recipe that's great to use or build upon, so you can start your own tamale traditions."


Roasted Poblano and Cheese Tamales


Corn Husks:
1 8-oz. pkg. dried corn husks


6 Poblano Chiles
2 lb. Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese


Masa for Tamales:

1 cup solid vegetable shortening or 8 ounce butter, room temp

1 Tbs. kosher salt

2 tsp. baking powder

4 cups fresh masa

1 cup vegetable stock or water


You will need a large steamer to cook the tamales, a canning pot can be adapted with a rack in the bottom. Fill a pot with enough water to cook for 1.5 hours covered and a rack which will hold the tamales out of the water.

To prepare Corn Husks: Place husks in large stockpot, and cover with hot water. Weight down with plate to keep husks submerged, and let soften for at least 2 hours or as long as one day.

Roast and clean the Poblano Chiles: place them over an open gas burner directly on the fire and turn until blackened, you want to keep moving them around, as soon as the skin is black, but not a deep grey (this is overdone) turn them to char another part of the skin, when they are black all over, place into a plastic bag and allow to steam for about 15 minutes with the bag closed. To clean, remove the stem and top and discard, rinse under cold water to remove all of the charred skin and seeds. Dry with a paper towel and cut into ½ inch wide strips. Cut the Oaxaca or jack cheese into 2 ½ inch long by ¼ inch square pieces (a baton).

To prepare the  Masa for the Tamales: Place the butter or  shortening into a mixing bowl of an electric mixer and add the salt and baking powder,  with the dough paddle in place,  mix  on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn mixer to low, and add masa a little at a time. Turn speed to high, and beat 3 minutes more, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl slow mixer and add warm water or stock. Turn back to a higher speed and mix for 3 minutes, should be the consistency of thick pancake batter.

To assemble tamales, organize the corn husks, masa and cut peppers in cheese in an assembly line. Place a large corn husk down, spoon and spread about 1/3 cup masa on husk, leaving 2-inch border all around. Place a piece of Poblano Chile and cheese down.  Fold one long side of husk over filling, and roll to enclose masa. To prevent leaking, roll tamale with second husk if masa is not fully enclosed. Fold wider end under, and tie closed with strip of husk. Leave pointed "top" end open. Prepare remaining tamales.

Line the steamer bottom with the remaining corn husks to protect the tamales from the direct steam. Stand tamales on their folded and tied bottoms in steamer. Do not crowd because tamales need room to expand as they steam. Cover tamales with some of remaining husks, and pack empty spaces of steamer with wadded husks or foil to prevent tamales from falling over during steaming. Cover steamer tightly, and, over high heat, bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and steam for 1 1/4 hours. Uncover after 45 minutes, and add more boiling water if needed. After 1 1/4 hours, remove one tamale, and check for doneness. Masa should pull away from husk easily. If done, remove from heat and set aside for 5 minutes to firm. Serve by themselves or with a favorite Ranchero or other Chile sauce.


Photo by Charity Vargas Photography​