Tamales are a popular Mexican dish made by filling a special corn flour dough with shredded and seasoned beef, pork, chicken, seafood or beans/veggies. The filled dough is wrapped in a damp corn husk and steam cooked.
The process of making homemade tamales is time-consuming but authentic tamale lovers worldwide will tell you, a real tamale is worth every minute of preparation!
Our Mexican food expert Chelsie says, "Making tamales is not difficult, but it is a very time-consuming process. It can take a whole day to prepare a large batch of tamales. To save time you can prepare the dough and fillings on one day and wrap and steam them on the next."
If you decide to do the "2-day method" like I sometimes do, make your dough and filling on day one. On day two, first thing, soak your corn husks, then assemble and steam the tamales.
Most authentic tamale recipes call for lard in the dough recipe. Lard adds flavor and texture but packaged lard may be "hydrogenated" which is a very unhealthy fat that contains trans fats. So, read packaged lard labels carefully. If you can't find a high-quality lard, use a vegetable shortening like Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening. It is what I used in this recipe with very good results and it's easy to find at most larger grocery stores in the U.S.
Reminder: Always make sure your work surfaces, utensils, pans and tools are free of gluten. Always read product labels. Manufacturers can change product formulations without notice. When in doubt, do not buy or use a product before contacting the manufacturer for verification that the product is free of gluten.
Note: You have several options when making your filling. For recipe ideas, please check out Tamale Fillings at Mexican Food. The "Mariscos" filling, made with lobster or shrimp is absolutely delicious! You may have leftover filling, depending on how much dough and filling you use in each tamale.
- For the Tamale Dough:
- 3 cups masa haring (gluten-free, Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina Golden Corn Flour is processed and packaged in a gluten-free facility)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (warm, gluten-free, OR warm water PLUS 1-2 more tablespoons if needed to make dough)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chile powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup lard (pure, non-hydrogenated, OR organic Spectrum vegetable shortening)
- For the Tamale Filling:
- 2 pounds meat (grilled or roasted, shredded chicken, beef or pork roast, or filling of your choice)
- 1 14.5 ounces can tomatoes (diced, with jalapenos)
- 2 large fresh jalapenos, seeded and finely diced (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 large cloves garlic (finely diced)
- 1/4 - 1/2 cups cilantro (chopped, or to taste)
- 2 tablespoons chicken brother (gluten-free)v cf
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (sea)
- To Wrap Tamales:
- 1 package corn husks (dry, usually found in Mexican food section at groceries)
Equipment: You will need a large stock pot with a tight fitting lid and a vegetable steamer that fits inside OR any large kitchen steamer you have access to. You will also need kitchen twine to tie the ends of the corn husks after they are wrapped.
Cut about 48 8-inch pieces of twine. You may need more or less depending on how many tamales you make.
Soak Corn Husks in hot water for about 2 hours. Drain and place in a colander.
You can soak the corn husks while you are making the dough and the filling.
Prepare Tamale Dough: Put masa haring in a large bowl and gradually add warm chicken broth (or water). Stir until well combined. Set mixture aside for 20 minutes to let the masa haring soak up the liquid completely. After sitting, the dough should be about the consistency of play dough.
Stir the spices and salt together in a small bowl. Next, use an electric mixer or stand mixer to beat the mixture on low speed.Slowly sprinkle the salt and spices over the dough and beat to thoroughly combine.
In a separate bowl, beat pure lard or organic shortening on high speed until fluffy. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to gradually add the fat to the masa haring dough while beating with the mixer on low speed.
When the mixture is well blended it should hold it's shaped in a spoon. If it is too thin, gradually add more masa haring. If it's too thick, gradually add more warm chicken broth.
If you aren't going to assemble tamales, cover the dough tightly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Prepare the Tamale Filling:
Place filling ingredients in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine but don't over process. Add all to a large skillet and heat on medium for about 5 minutes. Add more olive oil to prevent sticking if necessary. Remove from heat and cool for several minutes before shaping tamales.
Use the largest corn husks to make tamales. If towards the end of the assembly, you are left with smaller husks, you can overlap them to make one larger wrapper if necessary.
Take a husk and place the narrow end closest to you. Place a scant 1/4 cup of dough in the middle of the husk. Use the back of a spoon or your fingers to spread the dough out to about a 4-inch circle. The actual size depends on the size of your corn husk. Don't worry if the size isn't exact.
Leave about a 1 1/2 to 2-inch border around the dough, so when you wrap, it will close properly. 1-2 tablespoons of filling down the center of the dough (vertically).
NOTE: At first, wrapping a tamale may seem awkward but if you think of how you wrap a gift package, this may help. As long as you get the sides and narrow end all wrapped around the dough tightly and the top - open end, tied with twine, your tamale with steam properly.
Bring one of the long sides of the husk over the dough. Next, take the narrow end and fold it over the dough. Roll this portion towards the other long side of the husk. This should create a bundle of sorts with the top end still open. Take a length of twine and wrap it around tightly around the top. Make a knot to seal the top of the tamale closed.
If necessary use twine to hold the husk on the narrow end of the tamale in place. Continue until you have used all of your dough.
When you are about half did wrapping your tamales you can add water to your stock pot. Place the steamer basket inside and close the lid. Heat the water to boiling while finishing your tamales.
Carefully place wrapped tamales in the preheated steamer pan. Replace the lid and keep the heat at medium for and steam for about 1 1/4 hours. Carefully check the pan several times during cooking to make sure there is water in the bottom. If the water boils dry, the pan with beginning to smoke. Add more water to the steamer pan when necessary.
Allow the tamales to cool for about 20 minutes before serving.