Crab and Bean Tamales for FF – R. Jehn

Crab and Bean Tamales with Spicy Rice (1 July 2000)

This is excellent, my faithful readers – start with a desire (crab and tamale flavours, in this case) and put your imagination to work.

This menu did take some time to perfect. The rice was great the first time I made this menu, but we could not taste the crab in the tamales because I had proportions wrong. It was still tasty, but not what I wanted. If you’ve seen the original book, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The version below is perfect – just ask Carolyn, Mom, Deb or Rebecca.

Crab and Bean Tamales


1/8 cup small, dry red beans (not pinto or kidney beans)
1/8 cup dry black beans
1 dried chipotle chile
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon fresh-ground 4-colour peppercorns

The small red beans will take about 2-1/2 hours to become tender, while the black (“turtle”) beans will take about 1-1/2 hours. The way I did this was to start the red beans using the chipotle, half the cumin and pepper, and all of the garlic powder. I covered with water plus an inch, brought to a boil, and reduced the heat. After they had simmered for one hour, I added additional water, the black beans, and the rest of the cumin and pepper. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Remove the chile, drain the beans, place into a bowl and cover.

1 large shallot, minced
1 clove Italian garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 jalapeño chile, deseeded and minced
1 pound fresh crab meat, drained of liquid and shredded
3 to 5 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme (substitute lemon pepper and fresh thyme, but then skip the fresh ground pepper)
1 teaspoon oregano
Fresh ground pepper and sea salt (be cautious!) to taste

Mix above ingredients in a large bowl, then fold in the beans. I used fresh Dungeness crab meat which tends to be slightly drier, so I think I used a larger amount of sour cream. Using King (or deep sea) crab may require less “softening.” Taste for seasoning and make appropriate adjustments. [The filling will taste really good!!! RDJ]

Masa Dough

2 cups masa harina
1/2 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs
4 to 6 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons olive oil (or melted butter)
Bottled water to make a heavy dough

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly in a medium bowl, then add the eggs, mixing well. Add the cream and oil, and continue mixing. Gradually add water and mix until you have an extremely thick pancake-style batter (i.e., you could not use it for pancakes unless you pressed it down with a spatula, but it could make fritters). Let rest for at least 10 minutes, then mix again until completely smooth and manageable for tamales.

Building the Tamales

20 to 24 very large corn husks*

Lay each corn husk onto a fair-sized work surface. Spoon 3 tablespoons of masa dough into the center of the husk and use a spatula or the spoon to create an even 4-inch by 4-inch square of dough. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling into the centre of the dough and also spread it a little, but not to the edges of the dough. Fold the sides of the husk over so the filling is completely enclosed by the dough, then fold the two ends (the very wide and the tiny ends) toward the middle of the husk. Lay aside seam side down. Complete remaining tamales.

Properly building these things does require some practice. You can make a smaller dough without all the fancy stuff and practice with some leftovers that you don’t want to eat anyway.

In a deep pot with a shallow steamer in it, bring water to a simmer. Place the tamales into the steamer, skinny end of the corn husks pointing toward the centre of the pot, but trying to maintain steaming space between each tamale. Steam for about 40 or 45 minutes, until the dough is not sticky at all. You can test with a toothpick, just as with cornbread. If the tamales on top are cooked, so are the ones just above the steam.

* Note: Using fresh corn husks is wonderful as they do add a flavour to the tamales. However, dried husks are fine, but must be soaked in warm water for awhile before you use them. Dried husks are usually packaged in whole-ear bunches, meaning do not soak 15 of them – you will have 5 dozen or more useable husk pieces. Hint, hint….

When I say “very large husk,” I mean 5 to 6 inches at its base and about 6 inches long. You will understand when you do this. Using smaller corn husks is an error.

Spicy Rice

2 to 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/4 sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 sweet yellow pepper, diced
1/2 jalapeño chile, deseeded and minced
1 medium ripe tomato, diced
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup rice (Carolyn used basmati, but I would use a long-grain, non-sticky rice, even Uncle Ben’s)
3/4 cup water

Sauté vegetables in the oil (toss them all in at once) until becoming tender (about 10 to 12 minutes), stirring almost constantly, and add the salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir well to coat rice with oil, about 3 minutes to toast a bit. Add the water, cover tightly, and simmer for 20 minutes until rice absorbs the water. Turn off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.


3 scallions, julienned into long pieces
3 leaves Romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
Sour cream, mixed with chipotle adobo to taste (optional)


Three tamales go in one triangle of the plate (remove the corn husks, or leave one for a little “affect,” if you wish?), a spoon of rice in the second, and the lettuce topped with scallion pieces in the third. If you use the chipotle-sour cream, small dollops go on each tamale.

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