Recipe 22: Tamales

I love tamales. They’re tasty and deliciously doughy. The type of filling I am using here is pork shoulder that was boiled with spices for about 3 hours until it started to fall apart. I made fresh masa and then rolled the two in soaked corn husks. After that you have to steam them for a bit, and then do a little dance because you don’t have to pay out the nose for fresh tamales anymore!!

Pork Tamales!

Truthfully, tamales are easy, they just tend to get a bad wrap because they can really take a while to do, that is, if you want them in the same day. I made the dough in advance and was too wiped from other activities to make them fully. It’s okay though, I delivered tonight. So roll up your sleeves and lets make something amazing.

Recipe 22: Tamales

Notes: The recipe for the masa was taken from off the bag by Maseca (how convenient!) and modified to not include lard or crisco (vegetable shortening). You can include countless fillings, both sweet and savory in tamales, so have fun with it. Chile relleno (poblano peppers and cheese) are pretty amazing tamales, for example.


  • Corn husks (they’re sold rolled up together, dried at Mexican grocers or near the Mexican spices in the grocery store)

Dough: (makes enough for about 16 small tamales)

  • 2 cups Maseca Masa (or similar)
  • 2 cups broth from the filling, lukewarm
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened but not melted. (You’re going to cream it)

Filing: (makes enough for the tamales and enough to snack on too)

  • 1.5 lbs (or more) of pork shoulder.
  • 2-3 dried chile pasilla or California pods (depending on how hot you want it), honestly, you can flavor it with whatever chile you like…
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt to taste
  • whole black pepper (about 20 peppercorns)
  • 1/2 onion, whole
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • Water to cover the roast


Well, the limiting factor is your filling in this case, because the masa calls for some of the broth as an ingredient. So, put your roast into a large pot with the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer for about 2 hours, or until you can stick a fork in the pot and drag shreds of meat off, make sure you taste it. :]

Remove 2 cups of broth and let it cool to slightly warmer than room temp. You can  expedite this process by placing it in the freezer a bit, but make sure it’s not too hot or it will ruin the nice fluff you’re going to create with the butter. Once your meat is done, turn off the burner and grab your corn husks. In a large bowl, try to deconstruct them as best you can (they roll a bunch up together in to cones) and submerge as best you can in water. I know, they float. Let them soak for at least 10 minutes, or until soft. Pull one of the wimpy ones out and make thin strips like string cheese. These will be your ties to the ends of the rolled tamales.

Now, make your dough as the meat cools down. In a large bowl, sift together the masa flour, salt, and baking soda, giving it a quick whisk to ensure an even distribution. In your mixing bowl, cream the butter until it is nice and fluffy. Then, add your masa/dry mixture and then the lukewarm broth. Keep mixing until a soft dough forms. It will firm up as you let it sit, so don’t worry.

Now, to construct your tamale. You want to lay down a towel to blot the corn husks as the wetness is going to turn your dough to soup. Lay your blotted corn husk down and spread it out. One end will be pointy, and the other broad. Orient it so that one end is on your left, and the other is on your right (as opposed to up and down). See the gallery for a reference, but essentially you’ll be rolling away from you, and this is a good way to make sure it’s easy to roll and not against the “grain”.

Take a small chunk of dough, and press it down in the middle of your husk, your objective is to make a rectangle that runs longer from left to right. Run a strip of meat from left to right just as long as the masa is. Make sure you squeeze the meat out before you put it down, because as you remember, excess liquid isn’t good to the dough. Then, slide the palm of your hand under the tamale and close the masa up around the meat. Unfold the husk and your meat should be enclosed in a tube of dough. Roll this up in the husk, tying the ends just as the masa ends on each side, and then flatten into a thin rectangle.

Arrange your tamales in a steaming basket and make sure there’s not too much water (that it’s touching the tamales), have it just under the basket. Put a lid on and crank up the heat. Because these guys are quite thin, steam for 30 minutes (check the water level frequently and add water if you have to), and then serve. The husk should come clean away from the tamale. You may have to play around with this, but at the very least, if the masa is a bit undercooked, at least the filling is done…


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