Homemade Tamales


homemade tamales

When I was a little girl, my parents were friends with a family that cooked the most amazing homemade Mexican food.  Tortillas, tacos, enchiladas and of course tamales were items that we would trade for our Italian cooking.  I fondly remember having a Mexican-Italian feast together — one where each family got to take the other’s leftovers.

Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about cooking, but I’ve never ventured into the realm of making tamales from scratch yet.  That is, until I had a bunch of leftover pulled pork from the 4th of July that I needed to use.  I turned that pulled pork into carnitas and made my own tamales.  It was easy, and my two girls got involved with mixing the masa and spreading it on hydrated corn husks.

The finished product was rich and tasty — and now I have ideas for new flavor combinations like chicken and green chile, beans with jalapeno and cheese, and a sweetcorn tamale with sugar and cinnamon.  I can’t wait to try these out.

Making these tamales was not as difficult as I thought it would be.  Of course, I only made a small batch of about 20 tamales.  I know some cooks make this a family affair at holiday parties because it can be such a lengthy process when you are making 100 or more tamales, but 20 will do us just right for a while.  The best part — these are 100% gluten free too!

My measurements for ingredients are estimates — you may need more or less.  I just kind of dumped ingredients into a bowl until I thought it looked right, but there is a method to my madness.

homemade tamales

What you’ll need to make about 20 pork tamales:

about 4 Cups of finely shredded pork shoulder or pork butt

1 tsp of cumin

1 tsp chile powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp coriander

a few dashes of hot sauce

25 corn husks, soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes before filling

4-5 Cups of instant masa

2 Cups warm chicken stock

2 Cups warm water

1 Cup vegetable oil

1 Tbs salt

1 Tbs chile powder

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs smoked paprika


Mix your shredded pork together with the first 5 ingredients thoroughly and set aside.

Mix your masa with the other spices (salt, chile powder, garlic and paprika) until everything is evenly incorporated.  Add your oil to the masa and mix together with your hands until your oil is evenly incorporated.  Slowly add your chicken stock, mixing into the masa with your hands.  Keep adding water until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.

I hear there is a test you can do to see if your masa is ready.  Take a small amount of masa and put it in some water.  If it floats, your masa mixture is light enough.  If it sinks, you need to add more water and/or oil until it is light enough to float.  I never got my masa to completely “float”, but I could tell by the feel of it that it was ready.

Once your masa mixture is ready, set up an assembly line (husks — masa — meat — container to put assembled tamales).

Start by putting a good-sized ball of masa onto your husk on the fatter end of the husk.  Try to cover the top 2/3 of the husk and 2/3 of the side.  See photo below:

homemade tamales

You should spread your masa to about 1/4 of an inch thickness.  I found it easier to use an extra husk to flatten the masa out because it would stick to my hands.

Add about 2 tablespoons of meat down the middle of your masa:

homemade tamalesYou don’t want to add too much meat, or it will spill out the sides and top, but you want enough to have a good amount of meat in each bite.

Start to roll up the husk, starting at the end that has masa at the edge.

homemade tamales

Once you have it rolled up, take the skinny end and fold it up over the tamale and set it aside to make the rest.

When you are finished filling your tamales, get a large stock pot set up with a steamer basket in the bottom.  Add water just to under the steamer basket — you don’t want your tamales touching the water.

homemade tamales

Line your tamales around in the pot and allow to steam with the lid on for at least 2 hours, adding more water if needed.  After two hours, test a tamale to see if the masa is cooked through.  They will continue to cook a bit after you remove them from the steamer.

Serve with some lime sour cream and some hot sauce — just don’t forget to remove the husk before eating.

I froze a bunch of them and will just reheat them in the microwave (husk on) for about 1 minute each.  You could also wrap them in foil and reheat them in the oven.


homemade tamales



One thought on “Homemade Tamales

  1. Ang, this really sounds good…..and I remember those dinners with the Perez family too!

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