If I were to tell you making tamales is easy, I would only be telling you a half truth. Tamales are not easy. Tamales are not difficult. Tamales are something you are either devoted to, or have no interest in ever making. There is no in between. You do not meet the non-comital tamal maker often. You meet the tamalera willing to churn out hundreds of these little warm bundles, because if she doesn’t do it, then who will?

Do everyone a favor, be a tamalera.

This size batch of tamal masa will yield approximately two dozen tamales of a healthy size, or bien dados. If working with a standard home size stand mixer, the recipe for the masa can be doubled and still fit in a 5 quart bowl. If more masa is needed, mix in batches.


Beef or Pork for Tamales

  • 2 pounds beef or pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
  • 1 white onion, cut in quarters
  • ½ head garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
  • 4 bay leaf

Place all ingredients in a deep pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the beef is pork tender, skimming any scum with may come up.

Allow the beef to cool in the broth. Once cool enough to handle, remove from broth and shred into large chunks. Strain the broth and set aside.

Chile Colorado for Tamales

  • 4 ounces dried anaheim (California) chiles
  • 1 white onion, cut in quarters
  • ½ head garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
  • Salt to taste

Clean the chiles by removing stems, seeds and any large veins. Wash the chiles well in cold water. Place in a small pot along with the onion and garlic and a good sized pinch of salt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Cook at a simmer until the chiles are softened, approximately 15 minutes.

It is helpful to place a small dish or strainer over the chiles while cooking to keep them submerged.

Puree the chiles, onion and garlic with just enough of the cooking liquid to keep blender blades moving. Add more liquid to adjust to desired sauce thickness. Strain if desired. Taste for seasoning, being aware the sauce at this point will have a slightly metallic taste.

Any unused chile colorado can be frozen in an airtight container.

Mixing the Filling

In a pot large enough to hold the shredded meat, heat a small amount of broth, and whisk in approximately a cup of chile colorado sauce. Simmer lightly. Add the shredded beef or pork and mix well. Add more chile colorado and broth as necessary to desired consistency, tasting and seasoning with salt as necessary.

Tamal Masa

  • 2 pounds unprepared masa
  • 6 ounces lard, room temperature
  • 1 cup warm stock or broth
  • ½ tsp salt, plus more to taste

Beat the lard until very fluffy, as if creaming for frosting. Add salt and combine with lard. Slowly add chunks of the masa, and while mixing drizzle in the warm stock. Not all of the liquid may be necessary, add just enough to produce a dough that is spreadable and just slightly sticky. Continue mixing until well blended.

To check the flavor, fry a small amount of the masa over medium heat, adjusting for seasoning as necessary. If refrigerating the masa before making the tamales, allow it to come to room temperature before working with it, as cold masa is not as easily spreadable.       

To Form Tamales

Clean 8 ounces of dried corn husks by rinsing well under running water, removing any dried corn silk still attached. Place in a lidded pot and cover with warm water, weighing down with a heat safe plate or other heavy object. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to soak in hot water until soft, approximately half an hour.

Remove the husks from soaking water and strain. Holding a husk on the non-dominant hand, pointed end towards the body, spread a large dollop of masa on the top half of the husk. Place filling within the masa, and fold the husk horizontally, completely surrounding the filling. Fold bottom half of corn husk up over the vertical seam. Place aside, maintaining the tamal vertical. Repeat until masa is gone.

Depending on the size of the corn husk, more or less may be necessary.

To cook tamales, cook in a large pot, placing in a steaming basket, which allows for 2 inches of water at the bottom of the pot. Arrange tamales standing vertically, and cover tops with corn husks.

Cover the pot and bring water to a boil. Once a good amount of steam is detected, lower heat to low medium. Cook for approximately 45 minutes. Tamales will still be soft to the touch, and with a slight tackiness. Remove cover, and allow to cool in the pot for approximately 10 minutes.

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