Tamales ~ Holiday Tradition of the Southwest!




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If you live in the Southwest, then you have probably seen at least one Holiday meal, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other day of celebration, with tamales being served.  In fact, here in the Southwest, Tamales are a tradition during the holidtaditional holiday fare. But they are not the easiest, or quickest, meal to make. So  what better time to "tackle" Tamale making than when you have plenty of family around to help in the preparations!
Get the family gathered around and make you an "assembly line" and get to work! You won't regret the outcome!

This recipe makes about 6 dozen tamales.


This will actually look like 3 instructables, but they all add up to one great TAMALE!  So let's get cooking!

STEP 1 will be making the meat - this is made ahead of time, and I like to put it in the slow cooker to cook overnight.  This way the meat is tender and shreds apart easily.

STEP 2 will be making the masa (that dough like surrounding for the meat).

STEP 3 will be assembling the tamales - the part of tamale making where it helps to have lots of helpers to roll them up

STEP 4 will be cooking the tamales, and or course enjoying your reward! 

Step 1: Gather Up the Ingredients (but Don't Be in a Rush, Patience Makes the Best Tamales)

The classic way of making tamales is to roast a pig head and scrape the meat off the skull.  Because I don't like the thought of opening my oven to see a big pig head staring back at me, I use an old recipe for carne asado (roasted meat in a chile sauce). 

You will need:

2 to 3 Tbs. lard or vegetable oil
3- to 3½-lb. boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt, cut into 3-inch chunks and trimmed
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
4 dried bay leaves, toasted 
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, or mild oregano, or 1 Tbs. dried Mexican oregano
about 20 dried red chile stemmed and seeded:  guajillo, New Mexico Big Jim and
Ancho all work well
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Black peppercorns

Soak the red chiles in hot water until they are soft.  Add these to a blender and blend until smooth.  Stir in the garlic, onion, thyme, marjoram, oregano, salt and pepper. 
In a large enough bowl so the meat can be covered, add the cubed pork and smother with the chile mix so that it can marinate for a minimum of 3 hours.

After marinating for a sufficient amount of time, add the meat and the chile mixture to your slow cooker and cook on low overnight. 

Step 2: Shred the Meat....Soak the Hojas and Mix Up the Masa -you Are Getting Closer!

Allow the meat to cool enough to be handled without burning yourself.  In a large bown, shred the meat so it will not be too "chunky" to be the tamale filling.

Soak the hojas: 

You will need a bag of corn husks (found in the ethnic aisle of most supermarkets)

Don't try to seperate the corn husks, they will come apart easily after they have soaked.  Place them in your clean sink, or a large pot with lukewarm water and submerged them completely. 
While you are waiting for the hojas to soak is a good time to put mix your masa up.

You will need: 

3-1/2 cups tamale-grind masa harina
12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) lard (you could also use unsalted butter, vegetable shortening, or a combination, softened)
Kosher salt
2 to 2-1/2 cups pork cooking broth (or other broth as you like)

In another large bowl mix the lard  and salt into the masa harina until it has the consistency of cornmeal.   You can use a pastry cutter, or your hands (well washed of course),
Once you have reached this stage, slowly add the broth until the masa mix holds together when you clinch it in your hand. You do not want it so dry it falls apart, but you do not want a “wet” masa either, as that will make it difficult to cook the tamales thoroughly.

Step 3: Finally It Is Time to Roll Up Some Tamales!

The most time consuming part of tamale making is the rolling.  I have found the easiest way to get these little babies made is to set up an "assembly line". 
On a large table set out stations in a row:

The first step is to lay out a hoja flat.  If the hoja seems to small you can take two and overlap them.
The next step is to spread the masa onto the hoja, covering it up to about 1 inch on each side as in the photo.
Now you add a couple of tablespoons of the meat mixture.
Roll the entire tamale over while pressing it firmly together.  Don't roll it too tight, or all your fillings will come out the ends and you will have a mess that is almost impossible to fix.
When you have rolled the tamale all the way around, fold the bottom up towards the top to seal the bottom.  If you want you can pull small strips of corn husks off and tie it around the tamale.  I have never done this, as mine have seemed to stay together fine while cooking.

While you are rolling the tamales, go ahead and put on a large tamale pot of water to boil.  If you don't have a tamale pot (and I admit I don't), you can use any large pot and a steamer basket.  I use my pasta pot since it keeps the tamales out of the water, but is large enough to cook a couple dozen tamales at one time.  You want the tamales to steam, but not to get into the water.

Step 4: Cook Up Those Tamales!

Place the tamales into the steamer basket with the open end facing out of the water.  Make sure you have room to cover the the pot so that the steam can cook the masa.  It takes about 30-45 minutes for the tamale masa to cook through. 
Check the tamales after about 30 minutes by unwrapping one so that you can poke a fork into the masa.  If it doesn't stick to the fork then the tamales are done.

Now all you have to do is reap your rewards!!! Bon Appetite!

Runner Up in the
Homemade Holidays Food Contest



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      42 Discussions

      Josehf Murchison

      3 years ago

      I miss Tamales I would buy them every time I went to Texas.

      Can't get Masa or Hojas where I live.


      6 years ago on Step 4

      like this recipe and the picture!!!


      7 years ago on Introduction

      Even tho I am late. I want to say: Gracias por poner the receipy para tamales.
      Tengo mas de 10 years que no como tamales, since my mom passed away.
      Muchas Gracias!
      Mr. Lunna XIII


      My mom's tamales are the best no one can beat her yet!!! Her tamales have a red tint to them when you open them and they aren't dry like the ones I have seen or that other people make!!! Let's just say for the holidays people call her so she can make them some!!! If she had the money or if I did I would so open her a restaurant!!! I'm 28 and I have traveled the around the world and ate at so many mexican places and no one comes close!!! I mean that ask anyone that knows her cooking!!!!


      9 years ago on Step 4

      Yes, tamales and Christmas.  It doesn't get any better.  Just a note, I buy my tamales from an older woman who works at a local meat market and makes all of their burritos, beans and other things they sell frozen or fresh.  She uses paper for her tamales and she gave me a sample of corn husk and paper wrapped and I could not tell any difference in the taste.  She says using paper is much easier.  I live in New Mexico.

      2 replies

      Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

      really? I've had them from banana wrappers and corn husk wrappers and I can taste the difference. I much prefer the corn husk.


      Reply 9 years ago on Step 4

      I have seen that done, using parchment paper in place of the hojas.  It looks like it would be easier and cleaner even.  I have wanted to try doing them that way for a while, but hubby is stuck in the "must be hojas" thing, so I haven't tried it yet.  I do want to make some chocolate tamales, and parchment paper would be much better for those than hojas (at least I think so since looking at a corn husks wrapped around chocolate doesn't sound nearly as good as parchment around chocolate)


      Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

      Goya rules.  I braise a pork shoulder on a bed of celery with their sázon (the coriander and achiote one) as a rub and shred it. 

      Using a bullion to make the broth would be a great idea for when you are making tamales from veggies or if you don't have broth from cooking the meat.  I will have to look for some of this since most of my family eat pork,  even though I don't. 
      Wow, I haven't even thought about the band Foghat in years, I might have to go  pull some old albums now...
      thanks for the comment! and the reminder of some good old heavy metal mania :)


      Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

      Pienso lo mismo! Mi family le gustan tamales para desayono, para senar y cualqier tiempo! 
      And my Spanish is really bad.... but hey, not too bad for a white girl eh? :)


      9 years ago on Introduction

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!  I have searched several times for tamales on Instructables and you are the first to do one!  I love tamales, especially when they are fresh and the masa has not quite set up yet, yum!!  I was afraid to tackle on my own and now i look forward to giving your method a try!  Thanks so much for posting this!

      1 reply

      You are most welcome.  I have had a blast reading some of the other ideas for tamales that have been posted on this instructable.  I am hoping to try some of those ideas as well, especially using a putty knife to spread out the masa. Where I am is supposed to be really cold the rest of the week so maybe it would be good timing to make up a big batch. They freeze great, so I can save them for another day, if I don't give in and eat them! :)


      9 years ago on Introduction

      Tamales are my favorite thing! My mom learned how to make them when we lived in Mexico about 30 years ago (we're just regular gringos) and I grew up with lovely tamales on special occasions. Our favorite filling is shredded turkey with chile sauce (like enchilada sauce) and raisins. I love it so much!  If I'm going to make tamales, I have to start 2 days in advance, since it will be only me, and I don't fancy making the meat, the sauce, and rolling them all in the same day. But spreading it out makes it much easier. I hope more people learn how to do this.

      1 reply

       I don't blame you for wanting to spread them out over a couple of days, I guess that is why I wait for "back-up" in the making them process.  I wonder if the turkey one you are talking about would be similar to a picadillo filling (just substituting the pork for turkey).  
      I hate to see recipes go into the "memories" bin, with no one really knowing how to make them.  There are so many old recipes that have been lost over time, and it is nice when they are rediscovered as "new", but it would be better if they were never lost at all.
      Thanks for the comment! 


      9 years ago on Introduction