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 a real tamale is worth every minute of preparation. It's an all-day process, or you can break it up into two days. If you decide to do the two-day method, 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" and contain unhealthy trans fats. Read packaged lard labels carefully. If you can't find high-quality lard, use a vegetable shortening like Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening. It has no hydrogenated fats and zero trans fats per serving. It gives good results and it's easy to find at most larger grocery stores in the U.S.
Gluten-free masa harina is essential. Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina Golden Corn Flour is processed and packaged in a gluten-free facility.
For equipment, you will need a large stockpot 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.
- For the Dough:
- 3 cups masa harina (gluten-free)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (gluten-free)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup pure non-hydrogenated lard (or organic Spectrum vegetable shortening)
- For the Filling:
- 2 pounds meat (cooked and shredded)
- 1 (14.5 ounces) can tomatoes ( diced, with jalapenos)
- 2 large fresh jalapenos (seeded and finely diced)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 large cloves garlic (finely diced)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cups cilantro (chopped)
- 2 tablespoons chicken broth (gluten-free)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- For the Wrapper:
- 1 package corn husks
Soak the 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.
For the tamale dough, put masa harina 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 harina soak up the liquid completely. After sitting, the dough should be about the consistency of playdough.
Stir the spices and salt together in a small bowl. Next, use an electric mixer or stand mixer to beat the mixture at 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 harina. If it's too thick, gradually add more warm chicken broth.
If you aren't going to assemble the tamales now, cover the dough tightly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
To prepare the tamale filling, cook the meat (ground or shredded chicken, beef, pork roast, or filling of your choice). Place the filling ingredients in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine but don't over process.
Add the filling mix 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.
To assemble the tamales, 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. Use the largest corn husks first. If towards the end of the assembly, you are left with smaller husks, you can overlap them to make one larger wrapper.
Leave about a 1 1/2 to 2-inch border around the dough so it can close properly when you wrap. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling down the center of the dough (vertically).
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.
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.
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.
To steam, the tamales, carefully place wrapped tamales in the preheated steamer pan. Replace the lid and keep the heat on 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 from beginning to smoke. Add more water to the steamer pan when necessary.
Allow the tamales to cool for about 20 minutes before serving.
You have several options when making your tamale filling. A 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.
If you are sensitive to gluten, always make sure your work surfaces, utensils, pans and tools are free of gluten. Always read product labels as 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.