Everyday Food Blog

How-to: Make Tamales

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As promised from a few months ago, here is a quick tutorial on how to make tamales. I picked up some freshly made corn masa from our friends at Tortilleria Nixtamal for these (if you can get fresh you definitely should) but you can always use the dried corn masa available in most grocery stores and follow the instructions on the back for re-hydrating it to  the proper consistency......

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The husks must be soaked overnight in cool water to make them pliable and to keep the dough from sticking to them.

1 The husks must be soaked overnight in cool water to make them pliable and to keep the dough from sticking to them.

Ingredients needed to make the finished dough. Corn masa, lard or shortening, stock/broth or water, baking powder and salt.

2 Ingredients needed to make the finished dough. Corn masa, lard or shortening, stock/broth or water, baking powder and salt.

The process is easier if you set up your ingredients in an assembly line fashion in the order that you will be using them. Corn husks, prepared dough, filling and foil.

3 The process is easier if you set up your ingredients in an assembly line fashion in the order that you will be using them. Corn husks, prepared dough, filling and foil.

First off you will need to soak your corn husks in water and prepare your filling. Corn husks are available at most Latin grocers or here. For the filling, I braised cubed pork shoulder in spices and broth then shredded it with the paddle attachment in the stand mixer after it was tender and beginning to fall apart. You want the mixture to be moist enough that it will hold together kind of like a paste but not so wet that liquid seeps out of it. You can also use refried beans, slices of cooked vegetable, leftover roasted chicken, slivers of cheese or whatever your heart desires. I like my filling to be cool because it is easier to handle and build the tamales.

After this you will need to make your dough. I used fresh corn masa but dried is most commonly available. Just follow the package instructions for re-hydrating the mix. After you have done this, you will need to add salt, baking powder, fat and possibly additional liquid. Since you will most likely be using the dried masa, there will be instructions regarding the ratio of re-hydrated masa to the amount of lard or shortening that you will have to use. The corn masa, fat, baking powder and salt need to be beaten together to make a fluffy dough. The baking powder combined with beating the fat into the corn masa is what will keep your tamale light and fluffy after it is steamed instead of being dense and thick. The dough should be tacky to the tough but not completely stick to your fingers. Another quick test is to drop a spoonful of dough into cold water. It should float just at the surface.

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Use a spoon to spread the dough about 1/4 inch thick onto the corn husk leaving a border on the bottom and both sides

1 Use a spoon to spread the dough about 1/4 inch thick onto the corn husk leaving a border on the bottom and both sides

Place several tablespoons of the filling in the center of your square leaving a slight border at the top and bottom

2 Place several tablespoons of the filling in the center of your square leaving a slight border at the top and bottom

This is where the dampness of the corn husk and the proper texture of the dough are important. Fold one edge of the corn husk over the filling and press lightly to adhere the dough to the filling. It should release easily from the husk

3 This is where the dampness of the corn husk and the proper texture of the dough are important. Fold one edge of the corn husk over the filling and press lightly to adhere the dough to the filling. It should release easily from the husk

Repeat with the other side so the filling is encased in a cylinder of dough

4 Repeat with the other side so the filling is encased in a cylinder of dough

Fold one edge f the corn husk over the tamale

5 Fold one edge f the corn husk over the tamale

Repeat with the other side then fold the tail under (this is not done in the photo above)

6 Repeat with the other side then fold the tail under (this is not done in the photo above)

I like to wrap my tamales into pouches of three. They can also be wrapped individually if you prefer

7 I like to wrap my tamales into pouches of three. They can also be wrapped individually if you prefer

Tightly seal the foil packet so no excess moisture can get in while they steam

8 Tightly seal the foil packet so no excess moisture can get in while they steam

The finished product!

9 The finished product!

Steam the tamales in a large pot fitted with a steamer basket or any item that can withstand boiling water that will keep the tamales suspended above the water until the dough is fluffy, about 45 minutes to an hour. Since I was steaming in a smaller pot I steamed in batches and also rotated the packets every time I added water to the pot to ensure even steaming. I just check one of the packets after about an hour to see if they are done. If not, seal it tight again and steam for another 15 minutes or so. ENJOY!

Comments (2)

  • avatar

    I make these once or twice a year. I use pork shoulder/boston butt roast, seasoned well with garlic,bay leaves,canned tomato/diced,cumin, etc. and shred it after its cooled, discarding fat/sinew. I then adjust seasoning,sometimes adding potato flakes if the filling is too juicy. For added fun I ask my neighbors over and have a "tamale party" for rolling them and eating. I also suggest seasoning the masa some/ the recipe on the bag does not have much seasoning added, but it enhances the flavor. And I use a bamboo steamer.

  • avatar

    Wonderful recipe and instructions. I used my pasta pot - it has a basket insert, I made a ball of foil to put in the center and the tamales stood up and cooked great. Thank you

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