Mexi-Cajun tamales, updated with recipe

Mexi-Cajun tamales:  what else would you call a creamy, crawfish-plus-sauteed-trinity filling inside fluffy, yellow-corn masa, all rolled in a corn husk and steamed?

My brother Jean Paul’s latest brainchild is the crawfish tamale.

His tamale retains the classic, Tex-Mex skinny tamale form, but it tastes like Acadiana rather than the borderlands.   The corn-plus-crawfish flavor reminds me of the cream-based corn & seafood soups so popular all across Louisiana.

These tamales are delicious, but I’m hoping he swaps out the bell peppers for roasted poblanos or Hatch chiles in the next batch.  A little more chile heat and green-chile brightness would suit the crawfish just fine.

He has successfully infected me with his tamale obsession:  I’m thinking about tasso & ground pork tamales, or andouille and shrimp tamales…or how about dirty rice seasoning (onions, peppers, ground chicken livers & gizzards) in a tamale?

UPDATE:  by popular request, here’s the crawfish tamale recipe.  Fair warning–it makes 120 tamales, so don’t make the whole batch unless you have many hungry friends.  If you don’t have that many friends, you can freeze the tamales uncooked.

JP’s Big-Batch Crawfish Tamales

Yield:  120 tamales

Masa ingredients:

  • 21 cups cornmeal
  • 2 T baking powder
  • 7-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1-1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 13 cups water
  • 8 T seafood base
  • 18 cups lard
  • 4 large bundles corn shucks

Filling ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 lbs butter
  • 8 cups onion, diced
  • 4 cups bell pepper, diced
  • 2-1/2 cups celery, diced
  • 1-1/2 cups jalapeno, seeded & diced
  • 7 lbs crawfish tails
  • 7 T seasoned salt (use your favorite:  Tony’s, Slap Ya Mama, etc.)
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 T cayenne pepper
  • 1 T Zatarain’s liquid crab boil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3-1/4 lbs shredded pepper jack cheese

For the masa:  Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In a separate container, mix water and seafood base.  Slowly add water mixture to the dry ingredients, using your hands to combine the two.  A cup at a time, add the lard, continuing to mix with your hands until all lard is incorporated.  Set masa aside until needed.

For the filling:  melt butter in a large pot.  Add onions, bell pepper, celery, and jalapenos to the melted butter; cook until onions are wilted.  Add garlic, crawfish tails, seasoned salt, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, crab boil, and salt.  Cook for 10 minutes on low heat to combine the flavors.  Place filling mixture in refrigerator until it begins to congeal.  (DO NOT fill tamales while filling is hot.)

To make tamales:  Soak corn shucks in very warm water for at least 20 minutes.  Tear ½ inch strips from the smaller corn shucks.  Tie two strips together; 120 of these two-strip pieces are needed to tie the tamales.  Place a large corn shuck on a flat surface and place ¼ cup (or a #16 scoop) of masa onto the right hand side of the square end of the shuck.  Using three fingers, spread the masa to form a 4-inch square.  Place 2-3/4 tablespoons (approximately 1/6cup, or a #24 scoop) chilled crawfish mixture onto the center of the masa, spreading it slightly lengthwise.  Place 1-1/2 tablespoons pepper jack cheese atop the crawfish filling.  Fold the corn shuck over, covering the filling with masa.  Fold the empty end of the shuck over onto the tamale.  Roll the tamale up.  Top the open end with masa to fill.  Place the tamale onto another shuck, keeping the pointed end of the shuck outward.  Roll the second shuck around the tamale and fold the excess shuck under the bundle.  Use a cornhusk strip to tie the extra shuck into place.  Place filled & tied tamales onto a sheet pan while filling & wrapping remaining tamales.

To cook tamales:  place a few corn shucks into the bottom of a colander, steamer basket, spaghetti-pot insert, or 4-inch deep perforated pan.  Place about 24 tamales into the pan.  Fill a pot large enough to accommodate the colander, steamer basket, etc. with ½ gallon water.  Insert the basket or colander of tamales atop the pan of water; ensure that the water does not touch the tamales.  Cover the entire top tightly with foil.  Cook over medium heat for 1-1/2 hours.  Watch carefully near end of cooking time to ensure that pot does not boil dry—a lack of steam will impart a burned taste, spoiling the entire batch of tamales.

9 thoughts on “Mexi-Cajun tamales, updated with recipe

    • My brother graciously sent me the recipe…see above. It’s big enough for a massive tamale party, though it can certainly be reduced to a smaller batch size if you’d like.

      • Thanks for the Crayfish Tamale recipe-I will be making it for the 4th of July.
        What is meant by “Seafood Base?” Is that a stock or a seasoning?

  1. Celeste,

    That sounds delicious. Also, It was great meeting you at the Tulane School of Continuing Studies Convocation dinner. Keep up the good work with the web page, I really enjoy it.


  2. I tasted some Crawfish Tamales the other night but they were diffrence from this recipe. I;m looking for that recipe it was boiled crawfish, the seasoning , and a masa covering with a red sauce, it had no peppers, chesse in it . but they were so good.But i will be trying this recipe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s