While on the phone with Sandra Opher to talk about her delicious S & S Tamales, her doorbell rings and she politely asks if she can call back. Turns out it was a customer picking up an order. There’s no rest for the weary – or good cooks.
Whether you love tamales or feel mediocre about them, one taste of Sandra’s tightly-wrapped sensations will sell you on hers. The savory smell of chili, beef and spices that escapes when she lifts the lid from a freshly cooked batch…well, you can understand why it’s said the Mayans offered it to their gods.
Since the authentic recipe for these ancient treats was given to Sandra 15 years ago, she’s perfected it to one that brings customers coming back for more. “I use a mixture of half ground angus and half ground pork now – and I’ve gone to a leaner ground pork,” she shares, talking from her home kitchen in Lydia. To ensure a quality product, a couple years ago she also began grinding her own rump roast and pork loin. “I trim all the fat off before grinding,” she adds. In addition, she’s discovered a cornmeal, from a local seasoning wholesaler, that she prefers, “It’s a coarser yellow cornmeal which gives less of a coating on the outside of the tamales,” she explains. Discerning palates might notice that she’s also switched chili powder and ground cayenne to add, what she thinks is, a better flavor to her tamales.
Aside from their taste, Sandra says what sets her tamales apart from others is the generous amount of meat in them. Another thing you’ll find different with S & S Tamales is that they’re not wrapped in corn husks like most. Instead, after rolling the cornmeal into the meat, Sandra uses coffee filters to shape them into tight, small 6-inch logs. “The filters allow the juices to soak in,” she reveals.
After the tamales are shaped, they’re placed onto a roasting rack – so they don’t stick to the bottom of the largest Magnalite pot that could be found. Adding just enough chili sauce to cover the tamales, Sandra simmers them for about an hour and a half. “Then I always taste one to make sure they’re ready,” she smiles.
Some 50 dozen tamales are made for market days, sold both hot and frozen for $10 a dozen. And they’re always a sell-out. Last month, Sandra included a version with half pork and half venison that proved to be a hit, although she’s limited by the venison provided to her. “I don’t hunt,” she smiles, “so I’m dependent on the venison people give me.”