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Nov 28, 2006 09:01 PM

Tamales - Is lard necessary plus...

I am going to venture and making this tamale recipe:

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.

          8 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...

                1. re: persistence

                  OK, this is a late response but here is another link for the same recipe:


              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.

                14 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

                        I get rendered lard from pastured pigs at our farmer's market. Good stuff, and not at all "processed" tasting. I also get it at Cermak, a market up the street that caters largely to Latinos. Totally different flavor. Mexican-style lard is rendered at a higher temperature and takes on a darker tan color and a slightly piggy flavor. I'd use either one. (Save the leaf lard for pastry.) However, rendering your own lard needn't be a big project. There are plenty of YouTube videos on rendering lard, and it can be done easily in a crock pot. Or, if you braise a fatty cut or pork, like pork shoulder, save the fat from the chilled juices. In any case, rendered lard is even healthier than butter, as recent research has shown. (See Gary Taubes" "Why we get fat and what to do about it." I started using it and my cholesterol panel normalized in recent blood tests.)

                    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.

                      2. re: shanagain

                        While I agree the white lard is not as tasty as the tan, and lard is mandatory and irreplaceable, the greater source for the flavor you seek is in the additional liquid you use in the masa, whether prepared or dry when you start; you must begin with a fatty roast and boil it to make the broth you will use to loosen and flavor the masa.

                        1. re: DavidS_1955

                          Sounds like you have made many dozens of tamales, wish I could taste them. I have never made any myself. The whole process seems pretty easy, but when it comes to spreading the masa on the corn shuck, it becomes a total failure.

                          I have watched videos & it looks easy...ha ha.

                          Am enjoying this thread tremendously.

                          1. re: cstout

                            It's not hard at all, just time consuming, as you'd imagine. Spreading the masa is best accomplished with your hand, I've decided. A spatula or dough knife/scraper isn't bad, but it's easiest to just grab s handful of masa. That way you can tell if your masa is drying out at all and needs a little more broth, and also lets you adjust the thickness more accurately.

                            And it's definitely, ideally, not a one person job. If you're going to make them, make a LOT of them - they'll never go to waste.

                            1. re: shanagain

                              A plastic putty knife from the hardware store works wonders for masa spreading, I can make many more in the same amount of time with one.

                              1. re: shanagain

                                Right. Not hard just Tedious. Been a while since I've made them

                              2. re: cstout

                                Just a wee bit of experimentation with two factors, the second being of greater difficulty. First, simply dry the husk when you remove it from soaking immediately before applying masa. I keep paper towels handy and use quite a few. The masa, when the consistency is correct, will not adhere to a wet husk. Second, remove a small amount of masa from the greater batch and play with the looseness; add broth to loosen or masa to thicken in order to achieve a viscosity that will best adhere. Once you've achieved this, learn to recognize that consistency and maintain it throughout assembly. My assumption is that you already know making tamales is indeed tedious labor and takes time. Well, time will cause that viscosity to change through both evaporation and absorbstion; therefore, adjustments must be made throughout the procedure. Albeit, after a few thousand tamales, you will have adapted to this and give it no more thought than you do breathing.

                                1. re: DavidS_1955

                                  Well, I now see why so many family members & friends get together to do this. The manufacturing of a tamale is quite a production.

                                  With many hands, each having their own task, the whole operation goes faster & fewer adjustments & tweaks to the masa to keep it the proper consistency is needed. Even little hands can dry the shucks & play an important role that will create memories & traditions.

                                  Key here is to have one or more people that know what they are doing. I could get several people together but I assure not one of us has made a tamale. I can just see us all gathered around youtube trying to follow the steps being shown.

                                  Could you or someone else break this procedure down into steps sorta like the following? I don't think it would be too many steps involved, although I found an article on making tamales & I actually fell asleep while reading it.

                                  Also, it would be great to have a "small batch" recipe so non tamale makers could do a trial run before the big production day.

                                  Day one - Soak corn husks. Boil meat. Gather utensils, pots & whatever.

                                  Day two - Make masa. Chill the beer, make cocoa for the kids.

                                  Day three - let's roll.

                                  Sorry if I got off post, I will just go back to my corner & try to figure this all out.