In The Mood For Tamales

mood-for-tamalesFor some reason, I got a serious craving for tamales – those magical folded packets of steamed meat and dough that are wrapped up in dried corn husks.

I’ve eaten a lot of tamales in my time. They’re like an addictive drug for me – I can’t just take one hit. I consume them to excess.   Guilty as charged!

Anyways, I had never made them before, and decided to take a swing at it. I bought the masa harina (the special corn flour needed for tamales) and the dried corn husks to wrap them up. I read the instructions on the bag of masa and saw that I also needed to pick up some lard. I was just going to use some Crisco, but my wife said that pure pork lard is the way to go.

The biggest issue with tamales is the perception that they take a long time. This CAN be true. This is all dependent on what you’re going to be stuffing in the centers. If you go with a traditional shredded beef, pork or chicken tamale, from start to eating will be about 6 hours.

If you’re going to stuff them with leftovers, cheese, mild chiles or go for sweet ones with raisins, they will take about 3 hours. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to prepare and cook a meal of a marinated beef roast or brined roasted chicken.  As with those dishes, the vast majority of the time you’re not doing any work. They’re steaming or meat is boiling. They are great, “set it and forget it” meals.

Being a good BoomerPrepper, I used previously home canned beef and chicken for the filling.  Gotta keep that storage stock rotating!

First off, I put 3 bundles of dried corn husks into one of those casserole dishes – something like 9×11 inches. I filled it with warm water and put a plate on top of the husks to keep them submerged.

I then took the meat, broke it up a bit and put it in two separate bowls.   I added an ad hoc blend of cumin, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano and garlic powder.  I stopped adding stuff as soon as it tasted good to me (sorry!).

DO NOT THROW OUT THE REMAINING LIQUIDS IN THE CANNING JARS! I strained them both into a large measuring cup and put that in the fridge.

Every recipe I read online said that you needed to “fluff” the lard. Huh? The bag of masa said the same thing. So, I took the room-temperature lard, put it in a bowl and just whipped it up with a whisk. It really did fluff up!

In a separate bowl, I put in 2 cups of the masa flour, baking powder and salt. I added 2 cups of the reserved canning liquid and worked it into a very soft, moist dough. According to the bag, this amount of dough will turn out 20 tamales.

The instructions said you want to then mix the fluffy lard with the masa and make a spongy dough. My wife had told me that this is the most difficult part. She explained that this was why her grandmother was such a tough old broad!

I turned to technology. I whipped out my Kitchenaid mixer, and let it go to it. In a couple of minutes, I had this awesome, spongy dough!

All of the recipes I found online said that you take a corn husk, smear the wide half of the husk with dough and plop about a tablespoon of filling in the middle. None of them said how thick to make the dough. Hmmm.

I spread it about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick. I didn’t know if this stuff would “proof” or contract. I was flying blind! Here’s what mine looked like –

Yeah, I went over the tablespoon of filling. Sue me.

You fold one side to the center, then have the other side overlap the first. The masa acts as a glue to hold it closed. You then fold the un-doughed bottom up over the crease and fill up the steamer.


I found that each of the bundles of dried corn husks had 6 husks in it. I made a dozen tamales – half of them beef, half of them chicken. I used a pasta steamer that sits 2 inches above the bottom of the pot. Everything I read said to make sure you don’t have the tamales sitting in water, or they won’t cook up right.

They take about 2 1/2 hours to cook. I checked the water level every 30 minutes and added more as needed.


While the tamales were steaming, I made up a Tomatillo/Green Chile salsa. The recipe was for a canned salsa recipe from New Mexico State University. It was a water bath recipe that took no time at all.

Tomatillo Green Salsa

Yield: 5 pints

5 cups chopped tomatillos
1 1/2 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles
1/2 cup seeded finely chopped jalapeños
4 cups chopped onions
1 cup bottled lemon juice
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
3 Tbsp oregano leaves
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until mixture begins to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner 15 minutes at 0-1,000 feet altitude; 20 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet; 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.

You may use green tomatoes in this recipe instead of tomatillos.

If you’re going to make this recipe, DO NOT substitute vinegar for the lemon juice. It will negatively affect the acidity of the recipe, maybe making you very sick.

Oh, and it only made 4 pints (plus a little bit more) instead of the 5 pints. It is superb! Not too hot, but with enough punch to get ya there. This would be great chilled and eaten with tortilla chips.


The picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s a nice green color with fantastic flavor. It went wonderfully with the tamales –

What I learned:

Use one of those silicon spatulas for spreading the masa on the corn husks. It goes much more quickly than when using the back of a spoon.

If you mess up and throw out the meat boiling liquid, use a bullion cube to make up some broth. You really want to have that extra flavor in the masa once it is cooked.

Pull the steamer cage out of the pot and let them cool for a half hour or so before eating them. Aside from being cool enough to stuff into your face, the masa firms up a bit, making them easier to peel from the husks.

I’ve got at least half of the meat left, so I’ll be steaming up a batch of these bad boys for lunch or an afternoon snack.


Comments are closed.