Tamale Recipe

Finally got a few minutes free to sit down and type in my tamale recipe. I hope that this turns out as well for you as it did for me. Very simple, yet labor intensive. So, without further delay, here we go.


I'll do this in sections as you can pretty much do these as individual tasks. Let's start with an ingredient list for preparing the meat:

  • 2 tsp Chili Powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1-2 pounds Meat

Normally I use some sort of beef or pork, but chicken or turkey would work as well. Put meat and spices in a pot with just enough water to cover it. You will be slow simmering this for several hours, until the meat basically falls apart. I have a special simmer burner on my stove that I can set to low and cook mine overnight. Haven't tried a crock-pot yet, but see no reason why it wouldn't work. The spices above are a base list. I keep out the oregano and use a smoked paprika instead for a little different flavor. Some like it hot, some not, so adjust to your own tastes.

Meat is just one aspect of tamale filling. When the meat is done, remove it from the pot and let it cool. It may be easier to shred it up with a fork while just a bit hot, and depending on your cut of meat, you will want to also remove the excess fat from the meat before shredding it. Once the meat is shredded and cooling, you will need to prepare the rest of the filling materials. Again, this is to taste, but the basics are:

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Chili Peppers, diced, to taste
  • 1 cup of liquid from cooking meat

First thing here, Chili Peppers means green or red chili, poblano, or other type of chili, not necessarily jalapenos. Jalapenos are spicy, but also a bit on the bitter side. Also, you will want to remove seeds from peppers as they too are bitter. For our tamales, we want a gentle, subtle spiciness. So, get a big pan down, put it on low heat and put in all the ingredients. The key here is to slowly cook the ingredients until softened, slow being the key word.

Once you have achieved soft veggies, add the meat into the pan (that's why the big pan) and add about a cup of juice to the mix. Keep cooking this over low heat until the mix has absorbed all the juice. While this is in the final cooking stages, it's time to prepare the Masa. No real trick here, well, ok. one trick. If you've ever made biscuit dough by hand, that's almost the exact technique to use here. ingredients are:

  • 3.5 cups Masa (corn flour)
  • 2-4 cups of liquid from cooking the meat
  • 2 1/4 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Tbs Salt
  • 4 ounces Lard

Yes, Lard. Most stores, you can pick up what is called Snowcap Lard in a one pound block, or sticks much like you would purchase butter. I didn't say these would be low fat, but trust me, you need to use Lard. Start with a working bowl and put the salt, baking powder and Masa flour in. Then cut up the lard into cubes and drop it in the flour. here comes the biscuit method. Basically, what you want to do is slowly, using just your finger tips, grab a piece of lard and slowly pull it apart, pinching it and then grabbing another, while keeping the flour between your fingers and the lard.

You will go from big globs of lard to little tiny pebbles of it. That is what you are looking for. When it gets to that state, you want to add the liquid from the meat about one cup at a time. One note here that is also important, you want the liquid to be on the cool side. I usually add a couple of ice cubes to drop the temperature. This keeps the liquid from melting the lard which causes it to coat things prematurely. Sounds goofy, but an important step. Just like kneading bread dough, you can get in there and use your hands to squish and squash away. You are looking for a final consistency of fluffy mashed potatoes or soft serve ice cream, easily spread but not runny.

If you've made it this far, you are almost there. Now comes the most labor intensive part of the whole operation, rolling the tamales. For this operation, you will need to set up a few thing. They are:

  • A 1oz or 2oz Disher
  • Corn Husks, presoaked in water about one or two hours before use.
  • Mixed Masa
  • Filling Mixture
  • Tea Towel
  • Something to steam tamales in

Basically, the way this works is that you take a soaked corn husk and lay it out on a tea-towel. Next, take the Disher and scoop an ounce or two of Masa and place on the corn husk. Mash the Masa out to about half an inch from the top and sides, leaving a few inches at the bottom.  Looking for about 1/2 inch thickness. Next, spoon about a tablespoon of filling down the center, top to bottom, then roll the edges in towards the center and fold the bottom up to seal the end. For more detail, check here for info. While you don't need a Disher, my goodness they are so handy. I use mine for making cookies and all sorts of stuff.

When you have two dozen or so of them assembled, next comes the cooking. You will need to steam them to cook them, about an hour and a half per load, depending on thickness and size. They are done when you pull one out and the Masa does not stick to the corn husk. It should be almost rubbery. Let them cool a minute or two before checking them, because even hot Masa will stick some even when fully cooked. For all purpose cooking, you can use a pot with a simple steamer basket in it. Now, the steaming method I use is even simpler. I have a pasta pot with a built in basket, so when you cook pasta, you pull the basket out, rinse the pasta off and serve. The hot water stays in the pot.

This works great, because I can fill the basket up while the water comes to a boil and drop it in later. Only drawback is that the pot is a bit small, so batches run about thirty to forty tamales. Which is why I have two pasta pots. LOL. The water should not touch the bottom of the tamales though, at least not for these. There is a recipe for wet tamales that basically boils them, but this isn't it. And be sure you don't run out of water, that's almost worse. As I said, very labor intensive, but well worth it.

One further note, you can add spices into your Masa too. I use the liquid from cooking the meat, which has some spice in it still, but you can always add more. Try a first batch and see whether it's enough spice for you. I keep them on the mild side since everyone in the house doesn't have a liking for the hot stuff like I do. I hope you enjoy and be sure to let me know if you try these out, how they turn out.

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4 responses to “Tamale Recipe

  1. It's never a good sign to realize that the dinner you just had has not put a dent in your hunger.
    It's a worse sign to then stumble upon a recipe as delicious as this one.
    People say you eat because you're stressed, depressed, worried, angry…how about if you're just plain hungry?

  2. I think I will copy this out for the manservant …. looks like something he could dedicate some time to on a Saturday night.

  3. Thank you for this…I was thinking Fajitas tonight and saw this. Nothing is yummier than making the tamales from scratch! I made wraps once from scratch and I could have eaten them on their own even. YUM! Delicioso!

  4. Up to the corn husk part, I know I could do this. Then I suddenly grow very tired, reading the rest.

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