Tagged tamales

Tamales, Tamales, Tamales


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.

Reading Material: 11.20.15

Some of what you could be reading:

450 illegal tamales from Mexico seized at LAX and ‘incinerated’ (not steamed) – LA Times. My reaction: Noooooooooooooooooo!

Truck Full of Domino’s Pizza Dough Crashes, Dough Rises Across Road – Eater. Also: Noooooooooooooooooo!

America’s Test Kitchen Founder Chris Kimball Leaves Show and Dana Cowin Stepping Down as Food & Wine Editor – NPR and NY Times, respectively. Two American culinary gods are stepping down from their posts. My theory: A culinary Atlas Shrugged is upon us.

It’s Time to Put New Nordic Cuisine Out of its Misery – Amuse. To quote the man who first introduced Noma to the American culinary press : ‘When I hear that a plant has been foraged in an urban environment, all I can ever think about is dog piss and pollution.’ Amen brother. Someone needed to say that.

Is haute cuisine still relevant? – The Rambling Epicure. Short answer: Yes. Why? Because the French know how to eat better than we do.

Ruth Reichl Recharges in the Kitchen – NY Times. This is completely my life, except I live in the not cool part of upstate New York, it’s a Focus and not a Lexus with 100k miles on it, and I don’t have a fancy book deal. But otherwise, completely my life.

Tim Hortons Closes At Least 21 Stores With No Advance Warning – Consumerist. Where am I supposed to get my fruity muffins now?

GMO Salmon Approval Turns Up Heat in U.S. Labeling Battle- NY Times. Hate to break it to you, but you’ve been eating GMO corn since the 50s, and it was never labeled. The GMO argument is far more complicated than labels, or ‘evil corporations.’

Corn Tamales

Tamales in my family, are always what can be only be referred to as ‘bien dados,’ a phrase with no literal translation but that can only mean large, chunky, well proportioned, will not leave you hungry. If you have to eat more than two or three of these tamales, they are decidedly not bien dados.

Making corn tamales with American corn is a much different experience than when using Mexican corn, requiring more time and work. The corn is smaller, sweeter and filled with moisture. The husks are usually useless, and there is usually no point in reserving them to wrap the tamales. Usually.

Heirloom corn grown in Saratoga County, New York.
Heirloom corn grown in Saratoga County, New York.

Thankfully, heirloom varieties of American corn haven’t forgotten how to be proper corn. They’re still slightly too sweet and too wet, but occasionally, with careful cutting rather than forceful pulling, the husks will still be large enough to once again wrap the corn it originally contained.

To deal with the excess of moisture in the corn, plan ahead and allow the corn to drain for a few hours and press out any excess moisture. Mixing in a bit of maseca (or corn masa flour) will absorb any remaining moisture and help bind the ground corn.

This is a recipe for which I do not recommend under any circumstances using frozen corn, as it would simply have too much moisture to it and would be a wasted effort.

Reserved corn husks.
Reserved corn husks.

Corn Tamales

  • Servings: 12-14 each
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 12 ears of corn
  • 1 pound butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup maseca, if needed
  • 8 ounces queso fresco or oaxaca cheese
  • 4 chiles verdes (anaheim peppers)
  • Reserved husks or dried corn husks as needed


If the corn has husks large enough to use as wrappers for the tamales, approximately 8″ wide and at least as long, cut all the way around the base of the ear with a sharp knife. Peel off the husks, stacking and pressing them flat to ease working with them. Cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel and refrigerate until ready to use.

If the husks are not usable, tear away. The silk of the corn can be reserved and dried if desired. Consumed as tea, corn silk has many health benefits.

Working over a large shallow container lined with a clean kitchen towel, hold the corn vertically and carefully cut away the grains. Cut deep into the corn, even cutting into the cob itself, which holds a lot of flavor begging to be taken advantage of. Depending on the size, each ear of corn should produce approximately one to one and a half cups of cut grain.

Use a food processor or meat grinder to coarsely grind the corn.

Roast the peppers under the broiler or on a grill lightly charred. The skin on anaheims is very thin and can burn quickly. Sweat the peppers in a covered container at room temperature until cool enough to handle. Remove the skin, stem and seeds from the peppers. Cut into 1/4″ strips, or rajas.

Cut the cheese into 1/4″ by 2″ long pieces.

Whip room temperature butter until very fluffy, approximately 5 minutes, mixing in the baking powder. Mix in the corn, seasoning with kosher salt to taste, and combining well. If the batter should have the consistency of cake batter. If too runny,  add in the maseca one tablespoon at a time, mixing in completely before adding more, as needed.

If using fresh corn husks, rinse well with hot water. If using dried husks, rinse well under running water and soak in boiling hot water for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Drain before using.

To assemble the tamales, hold a corn husk at the widest part. Spread an approximately 1/4″ thick layer of the corn mixture on the husk, measuring around 7″ wide by 4″ high. Place cheese and pepper strips in the center of the tamal and fold to enclose them. It is usually necessary to use more than one husk to completely enclose the tamal.

Corn tamal with chile verde rajas and queso fresco.
Corn tamal with chile verde rajas and queso fresco.

Place a steamer basket inside a deep pot just big enough to hold the tamales and line with a layer of corn husks. Be sure there are at least 2″ of room to fill with water between the pot and the steamer basket. The tamales will cook best if standing vertically in the pot without too much overlap between them so they cook evenly. Cover the top of the tamales with more corn husks and cover the pot.

Cook over medium heat for approximately 40 minutes. Tamales should feel set yet still soft when done.  

Be very sure to not run out of water in the pot. Scorched corn husks absorb an acrid burnt smell and taste. Not being vigilant about your water level means all the effort in making the tamales will be completely wasted. Keep a kettle of warm water handy in case it is necessary to add more water.

Allow the tamales to cool for ten minutes before eating. If you can wait that long.