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.
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.