login | Register

Hot Tamales and They Red Hot

Hot Tamales and They Red Hot

by Ron Williams
December 2002

On Friday, November 27, 1936, in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, Robert Johnson recorded "They’re Red Hot." While this song remains one of the least covered of his immortal recordings (along with "Dead Shrimp Blues"), he does pay homage to the "Hot Tamale" which originated in the Mississippi Delta. Frozen dinner and canned versions of the Hot Tamale gave it a bad reputation; and the interior Mexican tamal made with masa harina and shredded meat is a much different delight.

The "Hot Tamale" is not the shredded pork, chicken, or beef tamale that one now encounters in most Mexican restaurants. The real Hot Tamale has become rather uncommon and local to places such as Chicago and Shreveport. But once, it was sold by street vendors from push carts nearly everywhere. Our Hot Tamale is a concoction born from the collision of African-American, Native American, and Mexican cultures. In its prime, the Hot Tamale vied with hot dogs as the premier street vendor food from the 1920’s until the 1960’s. It was a staple from the Great Depression; and post war prosperity doomed it to a childhood memory of people like me who, as a kid, saw the Tamale Man and his product as some sort of exotic and daring culinary adventure. Then, the Hot Tamale didn’t have much competition for daring food, as opposed to these days of street vendors hawking gyros, frozen yogurt, and alligator-on-a-stick.

Though I was born in Nashville, TN, my father was a Church of the Nazarene evangelist and he and my mom lived next door to her parents in Siloam Springs, Arkansas (which is the corporate home of Allen Caning Company, one of the great purveyors of Southern foods and an advertiser in Gritz! My grandfather grew green beans for them!) My father received a call to become the minister of a church in Kirksville, MO when I was 2 years old. During the 1950’s, I remember my parents buying Hot Tamales from push cart vendors in Kirksville and Siloam Springs. And my mom talks about Hot Tamale stands when she was a child living in Dust Bowl Oklahoma in towns like Shawnee and Bethany.

And I think it’s time for a comeback. I’ve got a sixteen year old boy that would look real good pushing a Hot Tamale cart down by the Tennessee Aquarium raking in them tourist dollars! So come on down to Chattanooga. If you see a tall lanky, rather bored looking adolescent on Broad Street this summer barking, "Hot tamales and they red hot!" slip those dead presidents to him and enjoy some real old-time, honest eats!The joke goes: "What’s the difference between a Northern zoo and a Southern zoo?"

"At a Southern zoo, they post the recipe on the sign!" The Tennessee Aquarium at Chattanooga is the largest fresh water aquarium. They’ve got the world’s largest small-mouth bass and so forth swimming in their tanks. Now, is this a great place for a seafood restaurant or what! Tour the aquarium and pick out a display; then order it up for supper! "Miss? Me and the family’ll have that 60 pound blue catfish down in the "Rivers of the South" display. Fry the sonabitch … oh, a bucket o’ slaw, too, an’ sweet tea!"

Red Hot Tamales

1 / 2 lb. ground pork
1 / 2 lb. ground beef
1 / 2 c. chopped onion
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 1 / 2c. canned enchilada sauce
1 c. water
(Seasoning mix)
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 Tbs. Paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 / 2/ tsp. onion powder
1 / 2 tsp. garlic powder
1 / 2 tsp. ground cumin
1 / 4 tsp. allspice

2 c. white cornmeal
1 / 2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. fat (I use the drippings from the ground meat)
2 1 / 2 c. boiling water
3 Tbs. flour
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 egg, beaten
Roll of Parchment Paper, cut into 12-15 6 inch by 4 inch pieces

Enchilada sauce
In a well seasoned cast iron skillet, brown the ground pork, ground beef, onion, and garlic until done. Drain, reserving 2 Tbs. of the drippings for the dough. In a food processor, chop the meat mixture for 10 seconds or so until finely ground. Return to the skillet, add the enchilada sauce, water, and the seasoning mixture and cook for an hour or more. Add more water, if needed, but let it cook until the mixture is thick and most of the liquid is evaporated.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, and reserved meat drippings (or 2 Tbs. of lard, shortening, etc.) Pour the boiling water in the bowl and stir. Add the flour, chili powder, and beaten egg and continue stirring. The dough should be thick but pourable and thinner than what you’d use for making cornbread.
On the parchment paper, spread about a _ c. of dough, leaving an inch of margin to the sides. Place a row of meat filling in the middle of the dough, about 2 Tbs. of filling. Carefully roll the tamale up and place seam side down in a steamer. Repeat until you’ve made all the tamales you can! Steam for 1 _ hours. Serve tamales in an oval plate over a _ cup of heated enchilada sauce. (For the steamer, I use a large stock pot with 3 Mason jars filled with water placed in the pot, open end up. Fill the stockpot with water almost up to the top of the Mason jars. Place a round cake rack on top of the Mason jars and put the tamales on the rack. Figure out a way to get a second rack in the pot, too. I bent up a square cake rack so that it would fit inside the stockpot but push against the sides enough to keep it from moving…)

related tags


Currently there are 1 comments. Leave one now!

Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.
Copyright 1998-2018 by Swampland Inc. All rights reserved.