Chilly Today, Hot Tamale

Tamales are by far one of the most labor intensive Mexican foods out there. With all the varieties available, who can resist?

Pork, beef, chicken, bean, cream cheese, jelly, maple syrup, there are no limits on how to flavor them.

I used to buy them from a family who went door to door selling a dozen for $3..those were the days. I have paid as much as $12 a dozen since then.

This recipe will be for pork, which is the more traditional tamale.

Let’s face it; pork, by itself does not have much flavor. The same with pork tamales, and one must add a significant amount of varied peppers and spices to give them flavor. Bland tamales are a crime.

Serrano peppers, jalepeno peppers, ancho peppers, guajillo peppers, onion, garlic cloves, bay leaves, cumin, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper, of varied amounts all contribute to the savory taste.

There are as many recipes and techniques out there, as there are abuelitas (Spanish for grandmother). Mine is not etched in stone; it is a guide.

Making tamales can be divided up into 4 stages:

1. preparing your meat

2. preparing your sauce

3. preparing your masa

4. assembling and steaming

You will need about 4 lbs of pork. Pork butt, shoulder are the most commonly available at reasonable prices. A roast is probably the best price at around .99 cents a pound, will give you plenty of meat for several dozen tamales.

You may use a crock pot for the entire roast, or a Dutch oven, if it will hold the entire roast; mine didn’t so I use a crock pot for the roast.

You can get the roasts bone-in, or boneless. It will save you some time if you use boneless. The bone-in will give a little more flavor from the bone.

A crock pot on high will cook your roast in about 4 hours.

If you go boneless, you can cut up your meat into chunks, and just boil it.

Whichever method you choose, you must also add some things to your roast while it cooks.

Be sure you use enough water to cover your meat, and it’s very much recommended to use more water than needed, as you will use a lot of the broth later.

If you are using a whole roast, I rub the roast with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, even some chili powder, then sear all sides in a hot cast iron skillet, before placing it in my crock pot. Fill the pot with water so it comes at least halfway up the roast; more is better.

To your water as it heats up, add your peppers:

3-4 serrano peppers, split…I leave the seeds in as I like the spicy flavor it adds. This many won’t make it hot…if you put in 10 serranos, you’re looking at a 2-alarm fire. whole jalepenos with stems removed are fine too.

dried pepper pods: ancho, guajillo, or anaheim or other dried pods; about 10 will do; a few of each is fine.

On the dried peppers, removed the stem, cut open a side and knock out the seeds.

A whole onion, cut in half

drop in a whole head of garlic, or several peeled cloves 5-10; smash ’em if you like, you will save these for later after the meat is cooked.

a few bay leaves; 4-6

Cover and walk way for 4-5 hours.

When it’s done, the meat will fall off the bone. Remove the meat from the bone, and shred it. Here, I saved the shredded meat in a ziploc bag.

Reserve your juices and peppers and onion.

Push the garlic cloves out of the head into your blender as well, if you used the whole head.

Drain the juice.

Run everything else through a food processor or blender, using some broth.

Then strain it through a sieve or food mill to remove the pepper skins.

Now you have a nice red sauce. Cover, refrigerate until needed.

Note, you can make your sauce separately by soaking your de-seeded peppers in a saucepan with hot water for 30-45 minutes. Process them in blender with the onion, garlic, and hot peppers. Use your sieve to strain out skins. A food mill is best, but who of us has those?

You may now add some sauce to your shredded pork in a pot. Not too much broth, as you don’t want it runny. Add some salt a pepper now. Cook until heated through. Set aside, or refrigerate until assembly time.


6 C of Maseca

1 1/2 baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 T ground cumin

1 tsp Mexican oregano (if you have it; not mandatory)

1 C melted lard; not Crisco, not butter, Lard

1 C red sauce, more if needed

1 C broth, more if needed

Add these slowly to your stand mixer, and mix for 30 minutes; yes. You want the lard well incorporated to add air into the mix, making it fluffy.

Your masa when ready should look and spread like creamy peanut butter; easily spreadable, but not watery.

If you are assembling, then you must prepare the husks by soaking them in hot tap water for at least an hour, so they soften. Do this while you are making your masa.

Above pics show husks soaking, and masa in mixing bowl. You must drain your husks just before assembly as the masa will not stick to the husk. Also, the husk has a smooth side, and a textured side; spread you masa on the smooth side, or it will stick to the husk when cooked.


Dry your husks. You can stand them up in a bowl, and dry them, or use paper towels (a lot) or dish towels…regardless, they must be dry when spreading.

Spread masa on your husk edge to edge, about half way down the husk, but leave about half an inch at the top. Use the back of a spoon to spread.

The masa, meat, and husk ready to assemble

Put about a tablespoon of filling into the center of masa, bring one side just over filling, tighten the roll a little, then bring other side over, and fold up bottom.

I have tied mine with a strip of husk; it is not necessary.

It’s best to place them standing up, folded side down in your steamer. I did not know this when I made these, but could have used an upside down bowl in center, and/or leaned them against the side of steamer. This is a 32 qt steamer; much bigger than I needed. I have since obtained a 16 qt.

the finished product. I steamed these for 2 hours.

Bring your water to a boil then down to simmer.

Cover your tamales with a wet dish towel, or unused husks to keep the steam in.

Don’t fill the steamer so full of water that it touches your tamales.

How long it takes, will depend on how many are cooking. An hour to and hour and a half is a good general steam time to check on them. I

If the masa comes off the husk, then it’s done.

This is a very good video that may help


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