Hot Tamale!


One thing I look forward to whenever I make visits back home to Phoenix is the kitchen experiment my parents have undoubtedly concocted.  Whether it’s canning fruit or sundried tomatoes, mashing applesauce, or mixing salsa, there’s always something new and delicious in the making.

I realized immediately what this year’s holiday creation would be as soon as I walked into the kitchen and saw bags and bags of corn husks…tamales!  Now, a quick disclaimer before I get into the tamale-making details: they’re far from healthy but delicious enough that they’re worth ignoring that New Year’s resolution for just one tamale.

Though I’ll admit they’re time consuming to prepare, tamales are pretty simple to make and they keep well in the fridge or freezer for long-lasting enjoyment.  They’re based on the premise of steaming corn meal (masa) in an all-natural encasing (a banana leaf or corn husk) and adding some meat and spices to give it a unique flavor.  Every tamale you eat will be different because the most important part is that there are no rules to what you include – some use chicken, some use beef, some use pork and some are even sweet.  Plus, the seasoning is completely up to you!

(recipe from Maseca Instant Corn Masa Mix package)

Tamale Dough
2 cups Maseca (or any brand masa mix) for tamales
2 cups lukewarm broth or water
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup lard or shortening

1. Combine Maseca, baking powder and salt in a bowl, work broth or water with your fingers to make a soft moist dough.

2. In a small bowl, beat lard or shortening until fluffy, add masa and beat until dough has a spongy texture.

3. Set aside. Makes enough dough for about 16 tamales.


1 1/4 lbs. boneless pork loin or shoulder (or substitute chicken or beef)
1 1/2 oz. chile pasilla or California pods
1/8 cup cooking oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 Tbsp. salt
16 corn husks
Prepared masa (see above dough recipe)

1. Cover meat with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours, until very tender.*

2. Lightly saute clean chile pods (stems and seeds removed) in cooking oil. Place in blender, add water and blend until smooth.**

3. Cut meat into small pieces and cook in cooking oil until browned.

4. Add chile mixture and salt to meat; cook for approximately 7 minutes.

5. Soak corn husks in water for a few minutes, rinse well, and pat dry.

6. Spread masa evenly over corn husks, place a tablespoon of meat mixture in the center. Fold all sides to the center, place in steamer.

7. Cover with a wet cloth and steam, approx. 1 hour. (We like to take strips of roasted Anaheim chiles and lay them over the meat mixture before we roll the tamale. Again – no rules!)

*Preparing the meat filling can be time consuming, so any shortcuts are welcome.  For example, you can buy good pre-cooked pork “carnitas” at Costco, ready to be shredded and cooked up with spices for the meat filling.  If you prefer chicken, you could buy a roasted chicken at your local grocery store and shred that.

**For an easy-to-make chile seasoning mixture, we used a ground mix of cumin and coriander seeds and dried oregano that works really well with this meat mixture.

Intimidated? Don’t be! The basic tamale recipe is as follows:

Encasing (corn husk or banana leaf) + masa dough spread evenly + filling (meat, sweet, whatever you want).  Fold encasing, leaving one end open.  Set in steamer with open end up.  Steam about an hour. Done!

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Jenna | Jan 21, 2010 at 9:56 am

    I’ve always wanted to make tamales! Definitely going to try this.

  • Maria | Jan 21, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I’ve always wanted to make tamales from scratch, too. You’ve inspired me to try!

  • donamasita | Jan 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Dear Cecily, it’s great to start from scratch! The filling can be anything you imagine! I leave you a link to my website: http://www.donamasita.com/en/ There you can find more tamale recipes and more stuff to make with the Maseca bag you have.

    Congratulations on those tamales, they look perfect!

    Doña Masita