This simple recipe and step-by-step instruction will show you how to make tamales. They’re easy to customize (recipes for chicken, beef, pork, and vegetarian fillings are included), made without lard or shortening, freeze well, and taste great! They’re relatively easy to make at home, and they’re much better when served straight from the steamer. They require a significant amount of time to assemble and steam, perhaps two hours.
But in that time, you can make three dozen servings, customize them with just about any meat or vegetarian filling and sauce (either 100% homemade or some quick store-bought shortcuts below), steam them on the stovetop or in the Instant Pot, and enjoy the most delicious homemade tamales made from scratch.
How to Make Tamales?
Dried corn husks: These can be found in the Mexican or produce sections of your grocery store, or you can get them from Amazon if they aren’t. Look for husks that are wide enough to wrap around the entire tamal filling. However, if you come across a bag of husks that are somewhat narrow, Hakuna Matata, you can just overlay two on top of each other.
We’ll shred a few husks into long, slender pieces to tie the tamales together. Ingredients for masa (dough): You’ll need the following ingredients to make the masa dough: Masa harina: Nixtamalized maize flour, finely milled. (The most common brand is Maseca.)
I prefer corn or avocado oil, but any mild-flavored oil will suffice. Stock: Choose from chicken, beef, or veggie stock. Combine baking powder, salt, and ground cumin to season the masa. Filling: As I previously stated, you can practically stuff these tamales with anything! They’re a great way to use leftover taco ingredients, meat, veggies, cheese, etc.
Alternatively, you can make a fresh batch of filling to use in these. This recipe calls for roughly 2-3 cups of filling, so mix and combine whatever seems nice to you. Consider the following suggestions: Chicken: Any shredded cooked chicken will suffice. The quickest and easiest method would be to shred a large rotisserie chicken. You could also make my Baked Chicken Breasts dish (and shred it) or this scrumptious 3-Ingredient Mexican Shredded Chicken in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.
Beef: Any cooked, shredded (or ground) beef will suffice. You may use leftover steak or roast meat or cook some ground beef. Alternatively, you may make a batch of this Barbacoa Beef in the Instant Pot or the slow cooker. Pork: Any cooked, shredded/pulled pork would suffice.
Whether done in the Instant Pot or the slow cooker, this Carnitas dish is one of my favorites. Refried beans: Refried pinto or black beans are a tasty (and quick!) vegetarian alternative that may be served on its own or combined with cheese and roasted vegetables.
Cheese is another excellent vegetarian option that may be used alone or with other ingredients. I suggest Oaxaca cheese (a Mexican mozzarella), but any cheese will suffice. Veggies: Of course, you may use any vegetables alone as a vegetarian alternative or in combination with other ingredients.
The vegetables must be finely diced and cooked ahead of time (– I highly recommend roasting them). Peppers (poblano, bell, or jalapeo peppers), potatoes (Yukon gold or sweet), cauliflower, mushrooms, squash, onions, carrots…the list goes on and on.
- 1 pound corn husks, dry
- 6 cups harina masa
- 2 tsp. salt (kosher)
- Two tablespoons of cumin powder
- One teaspoon of powdered baking soda
- 6 cups stock (chicken or veggie)
- corn oil, 3/4 cup (or avocado oil, olive oil, or any mild-flavored oil)
- 2–3 cup stuffing (see ideas below)
- 1-quart salsa (see ideas below)
- Soak the corn husks in water. Fill a large stockpot or pan halfway with heated water and add the corn husks. Soak for about 30 minutes or until soft.
- Mash the masa together (dough). Meanwhile, stir together masa marina, salt, cumin, and baking powder in a large stand mixer bowl. Mix in the oil on low speed until everything is well combined. Then slowly drizzle in the stock, beating on low speed until mixed.
- Increase the speed to medium and beat for 10 minutes, or until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed once the stock is incorporated. Refrigerate the mixing bowl with a moist paper towel until ready to use.
- Filling preparation: Toss your selected filling(s) and sauce together until well incorporated. You want just enough sauce to cover and taste the filling without making it too runny or watery. Build the tamales: Follow these simple steps to build the tamales (visual given in the blog post above): On a level surface, place the moistened corn husk. A plate or chopping board will suffice.
- Cover the corn husk with masa. It’ll take about 1/4 cup (or a little more). To measure out the masa, I prefer using a big cookie scoop. Spread it with a spoon or your fingers into a large rectangle to hold the filling. (I have a small bowl of water nearby to dip my fingers to keep the masa from adhering to them.)
- Place your filling/sauce in the masa’s center. Tamales require a surprisingly small filling – only a tablespoon or two, and it should go in the middle of your masa.
- Vertically fold the corn husk in half. Fold the corn husk in half very carefully so that the masa surrounds the filling, pinching it together with your fingers if necessary.
- Make a small tortilla out of the corn husk. Continue to fold the corn husk entirely to one side, forming a burrito/cylinder shape.
- To surround one end of the tamale, fold the top (thin) end down. This is best seen in the image above. The tamale will have one end exposed and the other folded over. (I like to fold my tamales to hide the seam.)
- Make a knot in the tamale. To tie the tamales together, I shred a few corn husks into long skinny strips (this is an excellent use for the husks that are too skinny!). However, the baking string can also be used.
- Tamale steaming: Fill a stockpot or Instant Pot halfway with water. Then add a steamer basket, fill it with your tamales, and steam for 30 minutes on the stovetop or 20 minutes (high pressure, natural release) in the Instant Pot, until the tamales are hot and cooked through masa, separate easily from the corn husks.
- Remove the tamales from the steamer and serve them right away. Refrigerate for up to 3 days in a tightly sealed ziplock bag, or freeze for three months.
Are Tamales Hard to Make?
Tamales are not challenging to make, but they take a long time. Preparing a large batch of tamales from start to finish might take an entire day, so mark your calendar accordingly. While making tamales is a process (made even more enjoyable by having numerous people help pack and wrap them! ), it’s pretty simple. The dough and the filling are the only two main components, and the “masa” dough is smeared on the corn husk.
On a cooktop, tamales should take around 30 to 40 minutes to steam. However, various factors may influence how long they take to steam, and Tamales will be unique in each batch. The masa is usually made using lard, which is pig fat that has been rendered and is a source of saturated fat, which can raise “bad” cholesterol and lipid levels. Pork butt, which is heavy in saturated fat and cholesterol, is commonly used in traditional tamales.
Is it Possible to Bake Tamales Instead of Steaming Them?
The traditional method of cooking this dish is to combine your favorite tamales components and steam them in a corn husk. You can, however, bake them. The corn husk casing will provide consistent cooking and prevent dryness whether you bake, microwave, or steam your tamales. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit for baking. Remove the tamales from the bag and wrap them in foil before placing them on a sheet pan. If thawed, bake for 15-20 minutes; if frozen, bake for 20-25 minutes.
Make a hole in the bag for the microwave. Wrap your tamales in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until heated. You can make a makeshift steamer by placing a plate atop bunched-up aluminum if you don’t have a steamer basket. You could also use a pressure cooker or Instant Pot to steam the tamales. These techniques work well no matter how many tamales you’re making.
For Tamales, how Long do you Soak Corn Husks?
To keep the husks immersed for 1 hour, place a heavy object (such as a bowl or ceramic casserole) on top of them. Take the husks out of the water and pat them dry. To keep them from drying out, place them in a covered dish or a large plastic bag. For the tamales, only use the more significant and medium-sized husks. To use dried corn husks, soak them in warm water for about 10 minutes to make them supple, preventing tearing and making them more flexible for folding around the masa.
Usually, start soaking them as soon as I start making tamales, and they’ve done when I’m ready to form them. Fill a big bowl or sink halfway with warm water and add the husks. To keep the husks immersed for 1 hour, place a heavy object (such as a bowl or ceramic casserole) on top of them.
Can you Make Tamales with Butter Instead of Lard?
Butter is the best lard substitute available. Unless the recipe states otherwise, you should be able to substitute unsalted butter for lard in most recipes. Butter may be the most straightforward lard alternative. Butter can help keep the taste and texture of your finished product if you make a few tiny changes to your recipe. This makes butter an excellent choice for pie crusts, tortillas, and tamale dough, among other things.
It’s not an issue if you want to make your tamale masa with oil instead of shortening. Instead of the 1 cup of shortening in my recipe, use vegetable oil and 3/4 to 1 cup. There’s no need to use any fat; lard-free tamales are tasty. Because the Spaniards brought pigs after they came in the 16th century, lard-free tamales are the most historically appropriate to Mexico. I’d always figured they’d be dense bricks, which they are if the husk is overloaded with masa.
Cooking tamales is half the pleasure, and this recipe makes a large batch with plenty of leftovers! So, unless you’re having a big tamales party the day you bake, you’ll probably have a lot of leftovers to freeze. That’s great news for you. Tamales can be frozen for up to 3 months or kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Ensure your storage container has as little air as possible before storing them. As a result, placing a few in a ziplock bag and pressing any excess air out works well. If you want them to keep as fresh as possible, wrap them separately in plastic wrap.