Martha+Tom

Uchepos — Fresh Corn Tamales

Another week, another trip to the farmers market, another six ears of sweet corn. Maybe you’re one of those stolid types that needn’t go beyond the perfection of an ear of fresh corn, boiled and slathered in butter, salt and pepper, but after a few weeks of that routine I’m ready for a change of pace. Now you might suggest I go a week without buying corn, but with a season that lasts only six or so short weeks and a longing that builds up over an entire year, that would just be wrong. But where to find fresh ideas for consuming fresh corn — that was the question.

As a Midwesterner, corn forms a small part of my cultural DNA, but there are other foods that equal or surpass it in significance. For the indigenous people of Mexico, corn played (and continues to play) a much more central role, taking on religious significance. Who better to turn to for corn advice, then? Tamales are one of the more famous corn-based foods of Mexico, but the tamales most of us are familiar with used dried corn. In the state of Michoacán, however, they make uchepos, which are made like tamales but use the husks and kernels of fresh corn. These sweet tamales, complemented by a spicy salsa, are the perfect answer to the midsummer sweet corn doldrums.

Uchepos

Adapted from Diana Kennedy, The Art of Mexican Cooking: Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2008).

  • Husks from 5 ears of corn
  • Kernels from 5 ears of corn (about 5 cups)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 T sour cream (original recipe calls for natas, creme fraîche or thick cream, but I used what I had)
  • 1 t sea salt

The easiest way to prepare the corn for this recipe is to cut through the unhusked corn at its thickest part — just above the base — and then carefully roll off the husks in sheets. This also gives you a nice flat base to stand the corn up as you slice off the kernels.

Line a steamer basket with any husks that are too small to roll uchepos from; set steamer over low heat.

Process half the corn in a food processor until reduced to a pulp. Add the rest of the corn and process until corn forms a loose puree. Add sugar, butter and cream and process to combine. Transfer to medium bowl and stir in salt.

Taking one husk at a time, place a heaping tablespoon of corn mixture near the center.

Fold the sides of the husk together so they overlap and enclose the filling.

Fold the thin, tapered end of this cone up over the uchepo to close the bottom. The top will remain open.

Lay horizontally in lined steamer basket.

Continue doing folding uchepos until a layer covers the bottom of the steamer basket. Place in steamer and cook ten minutes, until just beginning to firm up. Remove steamer basket and fold the remainder of the uchepos, adding them in horizontal layers. When all the uchepos are prepared, place a towel over top of them inside the steamer, then cover the steamer with plastic wrap and place the lid on top. Steam 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours, until the filling is pretty firm.

Serve uchepos hot with salsa and sour cream.

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10 comments on “Uchepos — Fresh Corn Tamales”

  1. Kevin 7 August, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Maize; the grass that changed the world!

  2. Amy P. 8 August, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing the photos of how the uchepos are made, you make it look entirely doable. I can practically taste the sweet milkiness of the corn.

  3. Brian 12 August, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    I’ll definitely have to try making these before corn season ends. How does the texture turn out compared to tamales made from masa harina + lard + liquid?

  4. Brian 30 August, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    I gave these a shot a last weekend, and the puree came out a pretty watery and made for some messy wrapping. Would you advise draining the puree a bit, or do you think it would lose too much flavor?

    Also, I opted for a sweet version for half of the batch and topped it with a traditional Vietnamese coconut milk + salt + sugar + corn starch combo. The resulting flavor was much like Vietnamese che bap. Like you said, a meat filling would be interesting, and I think a young coconut meat filling would make for a nice sweet, filled version.

  5. Tom 3 September, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Brian-

    It does tend to be pretty watery, but rather than draining I just stirred the mixture frequently.

    The coconut/sweet corn mixture sounds pretty brilliant; I’ll have to give it a try (though I get the sad feeling that the sweet corn season is waning).

  6. puck 29 October, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    hooray! trying to figure out what to do with the consistent stream of corn, tamales have definitely been on the mind… i couldn’t believe how many recipes were all about corn meal and no corn, though! i think i’m going to mix your recipe with this (rather dubious) one: http://www.cajuncookingrecipes.com/mexican/mexican5.htm

    thanks so much!

  7. Nik 30 September, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    With regards to the watery filling problem, I believe the traditional recipe for uchepos was not intended for modern sweet corn, which is naturally very watery. Older flour corns, flint corns, or dent corns, will yield a much firmer filling, more like traditional masa tamales. But these do have to be fresh from the garden or farm (not dried) in order to work for uchepos. I have a few different heirloom Indian varieties in my garden (like Zapotec green dent, Lenape blue “sehsapsing” and white “puhwem”, and a light purple Mixtec variety), with which I’m planning to make uchepos tonight. Even when they are fresh, they are still much harder, chewier, and floury.

  8. Liz 31 December, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Corn here in the USA is much more watery and has less starch compare to the corn in Mexico. My family is from Michoacan and every summer when the whole family would go, my aunts will make “uchepos de dulce” (sweet) and “uchepos de sal” (salty) with a side of a super spicy salsa. Uchepos de sal are not overly salty but they are less sweet. Of cource the uchepos de dulce were the first ones to go but I will eat them without the salsa. Ahhhh good memories. Can’t wait to try this recipe since I have been dying for some. Some of my aunts here in the states mentioned that they added a tablespoon or two of masa harina to make it more firm. Haven’t tried it but since its coming from my aunts I will most likely try it.

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