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Tamales - Is lard necessary plus...

  • j

I am going to venture and making this tamale recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/beef-tam...

Question is, is 3 cups of lard really necessary? Do you have other healthier alternatives? Also if lard is necessary, where do I get it? Is it only available homemade?

Sorry for the 20 questions, but not really sure where to start.

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  1. Whether 3 C. is too much depends on the amount of masa and how many tamales you are making. Lard is a whole lot healthier than shortening and tastes better too. Tamales made with that plasticky shortening just don't have the depth of flavor.

    Lard is not unhealthy and neither is butter.

    1 Reply
    1. As Candy mentioned lard has none of Crisco's dangerous trans-fat, as well as having LESS saturated fat than butter.

      When I made tamales the other day, I used some of my leaf lard that I use for baking. However, in Mexican cooking it is actually better to use more flavorful lard.

      DO NOT buy the shelf stable hydrogenated lard that is available at the supermarkets. If you do not use lard, I would use butter over crisco. It is traditional in some sweet or fresh corn tamales anyway.

      1 Reply
      1. I made tamales for the 1st time just weeks ago! I used a recipe from "Mexico One Plate at a Time" (by Rick Bayless). His instructions to make lard: (paraphrased) Don't use bacon or ham, the flavor is too strong, just cut fat from pork chops or pork roast. (I used pork chops.) Chop, cook in the oven in a baking dish at 275 degrees for 2 hours, until you've got clear liquid and little browned "cracklings". The liquid cooled and solidified will be your lard.
        I used about 3/4 cups of lard to about 2 cups of masa. I'm sure it added to the dish--Crisco would have been flavorless, I think. My tamales were messy and imperfect but delicious.

        2 Replies
        1. re: blue room

          thanks for all the information! blue room, do you know how much fat you started with to produce about 3/4 cup?

          1. re: JoLi

            It was strips of fat, the pile about as much as I could hold in both hands, probably the same as 2 sticks of butter? That is a very rough guess! I didn't think to measure at the time.

        2. I am not opposed to the use of lard in cooking. However, IMO you do NOT need lard to make good tamales. Several years ago I sampled some excellent chicken tamales at the annual International Tamale Festival in Indio, CA. They were being made on site at the exhibit booth of the Azteca Milling Co. Those tamales, which are very simple to make and use no lard, were the biggest hit of the festival that year and won first prize for a commercial entry. I have since made those tamales many times, although I frequently make other types and varieties also.

          Here is a link to the recipe:

          I substitute corn oil instead of canola oil and use my own chicken stock instead of the canned stuff. I usually also steam them longer than the 40 munutes called for in the recipe.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Sam D.

            I wonder if I can use half half

            1. re: JoLi

              Two years ago, I attended a tamale making party. They used canola oil. I have read, some don't like the taste of canola oil, tamales may have a strong enough flavor to overwhelm the taste some don't like.

              She uses canola oil because she believes it is one of the healthist of the common oils.

              1. re: Alan408

                There is some debate over the health of canola oil - it is highly processed. I don't like the taste of it, myself.

                1. re: sandylc

                  I don't like the taste either, nor the aftertaste and refuse to use or buy anything made with canola oil.

            2. re: Sam D.

              Sam, I tried clicking on your link, but got an error message, did the whole link get copied?

              1. re: Sam D.

                I tried the link it doesn't work. I am very interested in tasting the masa with no lard tho. Do you have the Recipe still. Is there anyway you could post it or email it to me...

              2. I'm a relative neophyte at tamale making (about 4 batches so far) and as such have a habit of asking every Mexican woman I know - and many I just stopped in the aisle in the grocery store! - what the key is to good tamales, and everyone says it's the masa, not the meat. And the masa needs lard, period. (I'm already a believer for lard in pie crust and for frying certain things, so I'm not "afraid" of it anyway.)

                We do use the boxed lard from the grocery store (look for it near the shortening or near the Mexican foods) and don't have any issues.

                6 Replies
                1. re: shanagain

                  If you have a carniceria near you or a Mexican market that sells meat, I would encourage you to try the fresh lard that is often sold in those round, plastic containers with a snap lid. The lard is tan in color, not white. It has a MUCH yummier flavor than the white factory stuff!

                  1. re: sel

                    Is it usually a really BIG bucket? If so, they sell it at my regular grocery store and I always assumed it was the same as the boxed stuff, just bigger.

                    I'm sure "real" lard is definitely so much better, but it honestly never occurred to me to buy it somewhere.

                    Tamales are enough of a project that I sure didn't ever consider rendering lard along with everything else on my "tamale to-do" list. (Might as well kill the pig and make soap too. ;-) But honestly, since I do use lard now and then anyway I bet it would be worth the time.

                    Shan wanders away from the board, muttering that this board will make you crazy sometimes - just when you think you've got a killer recipe or method, you find out you're lacking after all. ;-)

                    1. re: shanagain

                      No, not really big like those 5 gal/30 lb pails but I guess they are usually quart and sometimes pint size. The key is that it is the fresh TAN color stuff. In Mexican markets it is always on or adjacent to the meat counter. When you find it, smell the stuff. The white stuff has a neutral/industrial smell, the fresh tan lard has a MILD porkey odor.

                      1. re: sel

                        I should have said that you've both convinced me - thanks Pitu and Sel!

                  2. re: shanagain

                    The problem with the boxed lard - the one in my grocery by Hormel anyway - is that it contains hydrogenated lard. Transfat issue -- it's just really bad for you in a way that regular lard is not. You can buy "homemade" lard at a butcher store usually.

                    1. re: pitu

                      You've convinced me. I'll keep my eye out and start asking around.

                  3. I just posted this link in another thread:


                    It's more than a recipe, it's an allout primer in tamale making, and I follow his recipe fairly closely, though I do use lard instead of corn oil, and usually buy "boneless country ribs" where he buys roasts.

                    1. The ratio of lard to masa is about right. I have had very good tamales in Mexico made with:

                      > Good Lard
                      > Butter (Uchepo style... fresh Corn instead of Masa)
                      > No added fat
                      > Nut Butter
                      > Olive Oil

                      Each was good in their own way. For that flavoring of tamale... you will be better off with lard.

                      In terms of nutritional considerations... most Tamales in Central & Southern Mexico (where they were invented & the source for the best, most sophisticated versions) start with very sparse masa & have a much higher filling ratio than what you typically find in the states (where Tamales are a cut-throat very tight profit margin affair... that leads most vendors to maximize relatively cheap masa... to be able to hit ridiculous price points).

                      The real key to making an excellent tamale... is to get it to fluff up, there are a couple of tricks:

                      > thin masa layer
                      > tamale should be rolled into a very roundish ship... not flat
                      > finally the big secret in central Mexico is the Tequesquite http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/equivale...

                      1. I do prefer lard, but I have used organic shortening for tamales and other masa products when serving to people who don't eat pork. The shortening is made from palm and/or coconut oil, I think, and is solid at room temperature but doesn't have any trans-fat like regular shortening. I prefer it to regular liquid oils, which I had been using before I was introduced to organic shortening.

                        Another option is to just buy freshly prepared masa. We've been discussing that quite a bit in the "Mexico One Plate at a Time" threads. It's already got the lard, salt, and anything else you need. If you've got a Mexican deli or tortilla maker nearby, just ask for "Masa Preparada." I think about 5 pounds should equal what you have in your recipe.


                        1. I never made a tamale in my life, but I have eaten a lot. Lard isn't necessary but as mentioned elsewhere the flavor changes depending on what you use.

                          If you use lard, go with the suggestions here and get the tan stuff from a Mexican market.

                          I just had an amazing tamale made with olive oil. I think the type of olive oil matters as I've had miserable olive oil-based tamamles (I've had some miserable lard-based tamales too).

                          If you get a copy of the book Tamales 101 by Alice Guadalupe Tapp she has different masa recipes using different fats. She even has fat-free masa using yams or mashed potatoes with chicken of vegetable stock mixed in the masa. Can't speak as to how this tastes as I only bought the book to learn more about what I was eating and not to actually make tamales.

                          1. i made some tamales from this book: http://www.amazon.com/Tamales-Mark-Mi...

                            it was roasted red pepper masa with tuna and olives inside with a roasted tomato and jalapeno salsa. absolutely delicious and definately did not contain lard in the masa (i can't remember if i used olive oil or canola). i think the masa has the same texture as tamales made with lard, and the flavor was good although that might have been the red peppers.

                            really fun book, I reccomend it for fancy fusion tamales.

                            1. I've had success using Coconut Oil that I found in my grocers Health Food section. The kids loved it. Cio!

                              1. I'ts all about the lard. Granted, 2:1 ratio of lard to shortening will promote a lighter more airy tamale, but the real deal is all lard. Grandma -- we called her grandma but she was actually my uncle's wife's grandmother -- from Mexico passed my recipe down and lard is mandatory. Nothing else serves to draw that perfect depth and complexity from such a simple recipe of so few ingredients. Moreover, the additional liquid for the dough must be broth--also containing lard--from the pork roast used in making the filling. In a tamale, there is simply no such thing as too much lard and certainly no substitute.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: DavidS_1955

                                  DavidS, would you please share your recipe. My mouth is watering.

                                2. Perhaps this would be a good place to ask a question. Years ago I came across a small batch tamale recipe that you could make up but did not have to use the corn shucks & steam & all the steps that follow. This was not a tamale pie recipe, but tasted just like tamales sans the shucks.

                                  Does anyone have a recipe like that?

                                  1. I used soft salted butter. Chicken broth for the liquid. I made Cuban Ropa Vieja for dinner last night and used the left over meat in my tamales. This is not traditional but if you need a lard substitution without sacrificing taste, this is a great alternative.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Papillonlover

                                      That's what I usually do. It tastes great.

                                      1. re: Papillonlover

                                        You do realize that butter is higher in cholesterol and considerably higher in saturated fat than lard? If you consider lard unhealthful, subbing butter is going in the wrong direction.

                                        1. re: Soul Vole

                                          Soul Vole is right. Lard is better choice than butter. I use butter because I have it on hand.