Mexican-Style Tamales

If there is one thing I can say about tamales, it is that no matter what time of year it is, anytime I prepare them, it takes me right back home to that small kitchen table with a bathtub filled with fresh masa, tired from the repetitive job at hand, but making memories that would last a lifetime. For many years my parents would prepare Mexican-style tamales. It was a process, one that I never understood until now. It requires planning and a lot of time.

Besides cooking for a family of 10, my parents owned a small restaurant for a few years and we helped them prepare thousands of tamales in those few years.  The typical Mexican tamale is prepared with freshly ground corn masa and filled with pork, chicken or beef braised in a sauce, most commonly prepared from dried chiles, tomatoes, garlic, onions and spices. For this recipe, I will use masa harina flour to prepare the the tamales, since fresh masa is not available where I live. Over the years the tamale has gained popularity throughout the United States. These days, tamales are prepared in a variety of sweet and savory versions.

Today, I will share with you a very basic recipe for Mexican tamales. Every Hispanic family has their own cherished family recipe for tamales. If you have not already prepared tamales for your family, this holiday season is a great time to start this special tradition. This is my version of my family’s tamales. I would really love to hear about your favorite family recipe for tamales.Go to the end of the post to see my four favorite tamal recipes.

Serves up to 12 people

Basic Masa For Tamales:

4 cups masa harina (precooked cornmeal such as Maseca or PAN)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons chile ancho powder
4 cups warm chicken broth
1¼ cups pork lard or vegetable shortening, melted

You Will Also Need:

60 corn husks for tamales
4½ cups meat filling (cooked and cooled)
A large steamer pot or tamalera pot


1.  Combine masa harina, baking powder, salt and chile ancho powder in a large bowl. Gradually add the warm chicken broth and using your hand, work into a soft dough. In another glass bowl, melt the shortening or lard. Gradually add to the masa and work with hands until the masa has a smooth and spreadable texture. If the masa seems too thick, add a little more chicken broth. Keep the masa covered with a damp paper towel or cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Let the masa set for 1 hour.

2. Transfer the corn husk to a large pot and cover with very hot water. Weigh down the husk with a couple of heavy bowls to keep them submerged under the hot water. Soak for at least 1 hour.


3. Take a few of the husks at a time, shake off water, if they are more than 4 inches wide, just tear off the side a little. Place the corn husk lengthwise in the palm of your hand with the wide side closest to you. Spread about 3 to 4 tablespoons of masa all over the bottom half of husk. Place 2 tablespoons of filling lengthwise down the center of the tamale. Fold one side in first, then the other side (it should overlap a little on the first fold). Fold down the empty top section down and lay tamale seam-side down until ready to cook.


4. Fill a large steamer or tamalera pot with about 6 cups of water. Add steamer insert and arrange the tamales, open-side up, tightly so they stand straight up. Cover the tamales with a wet kitchen towel and the remaining corn husk. Heat on high until the tamales start to steam, reduce heat to medium and continue steaming for 1 hour and 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, add another 2 cups of hot water. Continue cooking for another 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes before serving. This recipe will make up to 48 small tamales. Serves up to 12 people.

¡Buen Provecho!



Click onto picture to see full recipe on site.

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