CHICAGO (WLS) -- Homemade tamales can be found all over Chicago, sometimes from storefronts, other times from street carts.
And with Hispanic Heritage Month beginning soon, our Hungry Hound is going to spend the next couple of weeks taking a closer look at a few of his favorite dishes from Spanish-speaking countries, beginning with Mexico. He says a husband-and-wife company are producing thousands of tamales every week, selling them out in just three days.
Not all tamales are the same. There are red and green tamales, filled with shredded chicken, pork or just poblanos and onions. A new business is considering every element of the tamale, not only sourcing carefully, but cooking them with precision, consistency and a weekly dose of creativity as well.
Daniel Espinoza and his wife, Joanna, were planning to open a Mexican seafood restaurant a few months ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans. They're now the driving force behind Santa Masa Tamaleria, an Avondale commercial kitchen where they produce about 3,000 tamales each week.
"It was one of those passion projects down the road, just because we both derive from tamale-making families. Push came to shove and here we are now," Espinoza said.
They usually make a red and a green with chicken, a rajas of poblanos and onions, as well as a vegan. One weekly special is also available, like a cochinita pibil with roasted habanero salsa and pickled red onions, or a braised pork with crema and cotija cheese.
"I think keys to a good tamale is your ratio of fat to water, stock, whatever liquid you're using and the milling of the corn. I feel a lot of people use super fine, almost powdery type of masa. I like the grittiness; that reminds me straight up of my grandma's," he said.
They buy all of their masa from Los Gamas, a tortilla and masa factory in Logan Square, doubling as a restaurant, where they've been making two types of masa the past seven years. Corn from downstate is cooked and soaked in limewater, and while the wetter corn will be used to make tortillas, they dry out another batch, which gets used to make a coarser masa for the tamales. Espinoza and his wife are going through about 40 pounds a week. Another twist: They're bucking tradition by not adding lard to the masa.
"In the beginning I thought we were gonna get hassled for not using lard, but I think people are a little more educated and open to other alternatives," Espinoza said.
Espinoza said even the husks are sourced carefully from Mexico, soaked and cleaned before filling. And speaking of filling, Joanna makes it look effortless. Each one is assembled by hand, a process that's been handed down from both of their respective families. Even if you can't make it to their Avondale kitchen just off the Kennedy, Daniel said they'll make deliveries to the suburbs.
"I mean honestly, if you need tamales we'll get them to you," he said.
You can pre-order tamales Monday and Tuesday. They then make them on Wednesdays, and pickups or deliveries are Thursday through Saturday. They also make a fantastic pozole verde, which comes with the usual condiments of radish, lime and tortillas.
Santa Masa Tamaleria
Click here to place order.
$6 for neighborhoods within their delivery radius
$10 for surrounding suburbs
@santamasachicago on Instagram
Los Gamas Tortilleria and Restaurant
3333 W. Armitage Ave.