This past weekend my sister, her fiancée, and I threw a Halloween/Día de los Muertos party. We set up a little altar with candles, calaveras, and saints, and made some Mexican food to go along with the theme. I made a Tamal de Cazuela, which is a Mexican tamal casserole dish. The casserole is made by layering masa with a filling of choice and then more masa in a dish, and baking it in the oven for about an hour. It is kind of like a Mexican lasagna. You can make a Tamal de Cazuela with basically any combination of vegetables and meats that you would like, as well as green or red sauces to go along. It is much easier to make than tamales, which are individually wrapped in corn husks and steamed. Emma and I actually made a Tamal de Cazuela last year for our Dia de los Muertos episode. I honestly had not realized that I was repeating the same dish until recently. The dish just makes perfect sense for familiar gatherings- its comforting, delicious, and easy to serve.
The secret to the Tamal de Cazuela is the ingredients of course. For the party I made two different kinds; one with chicken and guajillo sauce, and one with Queso Oaxaca and roasted poblano peppers. The masa requires corn flour that is specially prepared to make tamales. I bought mine at a Mexican panaderia on 110th and Lexington, but you can find it at most Latin food markets. I also used Flying Pigs Farm Lard, which in my opinion makes a huge difference in flavor. Lard is a healthier fat than butter or vegetable shortening, and if bought from sustainable farms, has incredible flavor and quality. For last year’s dish, Emma and I had opted to use olive oil as the fat for the dish. Either one is fine. For the chicken filled casserole, I bought a whole chicken and made a broth from scratch, along with some carrots, onions, celery, and aromatics. I then shredded the cooked chicken to use as the filling, and used the broth to flavor the masa as well. All of these little steps might seem trivial, but they make a really big difference in flavor. The recipe that I used for the party was from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. If you want another good recipe, check out last year’s Kitchen Caravan episode.