Holidays have traditional foods, from a Thanksgiving turkey pumpkin pie to peeps and jelly beans at Easter. If you live in some areas of the country, you’re probably familiar with the tradition of making tamales on Christmas Eve. One reason tamales are a traditional holiday dish is that making them takes hours, especially wrapping them in corn husks. If many hands make light work, then the more hands at work wrapping and rolling your tamales the better.
We once found a recipe for tamales and undertook the hours-long dance; but the recipe was fatally flawed: it instructed us to steam our tamales by baking them, flat on a rack over a pan of water, for 60 minutes at 450°. Ooops – that’s the last time we get a tamale recipe from New Yorkers…
Next time we found a traditional steamer; the kind where the little wrapped packets stand on end over boiling water. We bought it from the San Antonio-based grocery, H.E.B., which makes sense, since San Antonio is the heart of the Christmas Eve tamale tradition. Our steamer is an IMUSA 16-Quart Aluminum Tamale and Seafood Steamer. It works great… for steaming, anyway.
IMUSA’s steamer is a Chinese-made 16-quart aluminum stockpan with an indentation in the side two inches up from the base. It has a dome-shaped glass lid with a small steam vent and a flat aluminum base plate that sits on the indentation for steaming. The handles are coated with bakelite and riveted to the sides.
For steaming, you add about an inch and a half of water in the bottom and lay seafood, corn, tamales, and such, on the plate. Then place the pot on your stove and simmer for however long the recipe instructs. To that end, it works just fine.
Though the list price runs from $25 to $40, we only paid about fourteen dollars. Except that ours came with a glass lid, it seems fairly expensive for what we got. The pan is a gauge of aluminum only slightly heavier the top of a beer can, barely too thick to dent with a thumb. On a glass cooktop, the pot rocks and rolls on its uneven base; it is better on a gas stove. The local water is hard, which heavily stained the inner surface of the pot when we used it the first time.
For one or two times a year, our investment was worth it (assuming your cholesterol level will withstand the lard in the cornmeal mix). If you’re plan to use your steamer as a backup soup pot, I’d advise you to find a more substantial steamer pot made of stainless steel or enameled.