You may be intimidated by the thought of making tamales if you’ve never cooked them before, but the process is not difficult. Homemade tamales taste so nice, especially when freshly steamed. Preparing them will definitely take some time, but the procedure is straightforward and ultimately rewarding.
Here, we address all the steps involved in cooking tamales and the right things to do for the best results. It is highly recommended that you take note of all our instructions and timing tips, as these will bring you closer to being a pro at making tamales.
Tamales Nutrition Facts
Cooking Time for Tamales
Follow these timing guidelines below when cooking tamales:
|Cooking procedure||Cooking time|
|Cooking the pork||1 to 1½ hour|
|Cooking the tomatillos||8 to 12 minutes|
|Cooking the tamales||35 minutes|
The filling ingredients
- 1 pound of boneless pork shoulder
- ½ large white onion
- 2 cloves of garlic, divided
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound of tomatillos
- 4 serrano peppers
- 1 tablespoon of canola oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt; include extra for seasoning
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon of Mexican oregano
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper, freshly ground; add a little extra for seasoning
The dough ingredients
- One 1-pound package of dried corn husks
- 2 pounds of fresh masa for tamales (buy this from a tortillería; not masa preparada), or 3 cups of masa harina for tamales
- ½ to 3 cups of salted chicken broth (not the reduced-sodium kind)
- 1¼ cups of canola oil
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
- 1½ teaspoons of baking powder
- Fill a big pot or bowl with enough boiling tap water to cover 1 package of corn husks. Weigh down the husks with a couple of coffee mugs to ensure they are completely buried under the water.
- Next, 1 pound of pork shoulder should be cut into 2-inch slices. Season the pork slices with black pepper and kosher salt. In a large saucepan, put the pork slices in and then combine all of the following ingredients: half a large white onion, cut into two pieces, one of which should be added to the pan; 1 garlic clove, 1 bay leaf, and 2½ cups water. For the next 7 minutes, cook this mixture over high heat.
- Bring down the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the pork is fork-tender and falls apart easily, about 1 to 1½ hours in total. Make sure to stir every 20 minutes to keep the bottom of the pot from burning. Start preparing the chili sauce in the meantime.
- The tomatillos should be husked and rinsed, then put in a medium saucepan. Cover with the tomatillos with one inch of cold water after adding the remaining onion piece, the remaining garlic clove, and 4 serrano peppers.
- Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a medium-low level. Simmer this mixture, making sure to stir periodically. Keep cooking for 8 minutes for the tomatillos and peppers and 12 minutes for the onion and garlic, until all the ingredients have softened.
- As soon as the ingredients get soft, move them to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Allow them to cool slightly before finely chopping the peppers, onion, and garlic (removing any tough stems).
- When the pork is done, move it to a bowl using a slotted spoon. ¼ cup of broth should be set aside for the sauce. Allow the pork to cool slightly before attempting to shred with two forks or your fingertips.
- In a blender, puree the tomatillos, chopped chiles, onion, garlic, and ¼ cup of broth until smooth.
- In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over high heat until it shimmers. Pour in the sauce all at once. Add the shredded pork and mix well.
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of crushed cumin, and 1 teaspoon of Mexican oregano can now be added to the contents of the saucepan.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to low heat for 3 to 4 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. In order for it to shine out inside the tamales, the filling should taste salty—it needs to be a tad saltier than you might expect. Take the pan off the heat and set it aside.
- If you’re making your tamale dough with masa harina, combine 3 cups of masa harina with 2¼ cups of chicken broth in a deep mixing basin. Hand-knead the dough until it is wet and supple. If you’re using fresh masa instead, use your hands to knead ½ cup of chicken stock into 2 pounds of masa until you have a firm dough.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, pour 1¼ cup of canola oil. (Alternatively, you could use a big mixing bowl and an electric hand mixer.) Add the masa in golf-ball-sized bits one at a time to the mixer on low speed (and watch your clothes because it will splatter). The dough may appear lumpy and unappealing at this point, but it will ultimately change.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1½ teaspoon of baking powder. Add an extra ½ cup of chicken broth if using masa harina. Mix on high speed for another 10 minutes, or until the dough is very light and fluffy.
- 1 corn husk should be removed from the water and any excess water should be wiped away with a towel. Spread ¼ to ½ cup of dough in a large rectangle with a rubber spatula (the amount you use should depend on the size of the corn husk). Leave approximately 3 inches of space at the narrower end of the leaf so you can fold it, and a few inches of space at the top so the dough doesn’t explode when it’s cooking.
- Make a line along the center of the tamal with a tiny amount of the pork filling (approximately 2 teaspoons). If you use too much, it will leak out of the husk while you fold it.
- To close the tamale, fold one side toward the other, as if it were an empanada or a taco, and softly push to seal. Then, in a tube shape, tuck the husk leaves over each other. Fold up toward the broader end after pressing down on the smaller end to close it. Fold the tamales in half and place them folded side down on a plate. Repeat this process with the remaining tamales.
- Fill a steamer pot with water and fill the insert with corn husks. (This helps lock the steam in while also adding flavor.) Boil the water. Place the tamales in the steamer vertically, open-side up, but not too tightly, or they won’t be able to expand. Extra corn husks might be used to cover the dish. Cover and steam for 35 minutes, or until the corn husk easily peels away from the tamal.
- Do not consume the tamales right away after removing them from the pot, at this point, they will still be too soft. Allow the tamales to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving; they will firm up during this time and be ready to eat.
The cooking process is a lengthy one but produces rewarding results. If you’d like to see more recipe ideas, check out this video recipe.