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How to make the perfect tamale

  • m

I don't know how. I have a basic recipe, but wondering if anyone has any tips??

I am hosting a tamale making party in a month.

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  1. Melly, I really like the tamales at Tamara's. They have a recipe on their website and I am sure they'd be happy to answer any questions you may have. Here's their basic recipe, including contact info:

    6 Replies
    1. re: sweetTooth

      Hello! I've been making tamales every holiday forever. I make small ones , because i noticed that people like to try diffrent flavors and fillings. So this way they can eat more than one and not be too full. Plus it's great as an appetizer. If you can , make the chile sauce from scratch. I used New Mexican red chile. I find that the ones from the can has a bitter taste. But then it could just be me. This year i'm planning to used blue corn masa. Can't wait!

      1. re: ceciliar

        I hear there is a secret to making good masa-mix...like making good pasta dough. How can you tell if it is good? The feel of it or what?

        1. re: melly

          Masa recipe i use: 5 lbs. fresh masa, 5 tsp. baking powder, 1 3/4 cup canola oil and 2 tbsp. salt. I whip it up in my kitchenaid. I usually steam a little ball to see if it's light enough. If not i just whip it again. Sometimes i need to adjust the recipe, but only a little.

        1. re: melly

          Melly- I have a web-site for your information on tamales. Go to WWW.About.Com
          and it trains people on different things and tamales is one of the million things it
          trains people on. just for your info and maybe you can pick up some tips.I have made tamales before and one tip I can let you know is. get all kinds of help, because when you have a group you have alot more fun.

        2. re: sweetTooth

          I love this cookbood!! But, I don't use lard, I use all unsalted butter, instead and they are really delicious. I do one with goat cheese, tomatillo sauce, fresh roasted poplano chile, marinated artichoke hearts. Delish.

        3. Tips:

          1. Use stock and oil for the masa, not just oil.
          2. Make the sauces, dont' buy.
          3. Blanch the corn husks in boiling water.
          4. Make sure your fillings are not too bulky.

          1. for me, the masa is what makes the tamale. It should be moist and light with deep flavor.

            Aside from what you've seen above... you need lard. Real lard, not the white hydrogenated lard you often see in supermarkets. The flavor and texture of lard just can't be replicated any other way.

            1 Reply
            1. re: adamclyde

              Yes, lard. And the masa needs to be stirred up with your hands and arms in a big scooping motion so it gets nice and fluffy.

            2. I used the recipe and detailed instructions on the following website to make delicious tamales:


              4 Replies
              1. re: Antilope

                I make tamales with butter and wrap them in banana leaves. It's much easier than the corn husks and they are really good. I use masa harina and stock with the butter.It's a recipe out of "The Authentic Cafe" cookbook.

                1. re: Doreen

                  Thanks for ALL of these wonderful tips..and websites.

                2. re: Antilope

                  I've tried that recipe a couple of times and it is absolutely horrible. Dry meat and way too many spices in the masa. Not only that, the author thinks she's Gods gift to tamales lol...

                  1. re: Antilope

                    I've made this recipe a number of times and it always comes out great. Family and friends always ask when I'm going to make tamales again.

                  2. Melly since its your first time... do your self a favor and run out to get one of Dianna Kennedy's books (I think she has one on masa based products exclusively).

                    1. as always with mexican, consult Rick Bayless, and you can't go wrong. He has a ton of books out.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: ashwood

                        Rick is great info... but his recipes usually don't work. I often base my cooking off his Mexican Kitchen.... but you can't cook literally from his recipes... DK is much more trust worthy in that respect.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          I have nearly cooked my way through 4 of his books and have never had a recipe fail. The closest thing I have had to a problem is that some of his rice recipes call for too little water, but that really changes with a million factors.

                          His recipes always turn out incredible for me.

                          1. re: Becca Porter

                            We may not be cooking the same dishes... btw what are you cooking that you have no problem getting ingredients in Florida?

                            Some spectacular failures include the Lamb Barbacoa & the Tres Leches Cake.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Are you asking me about Florida? I live in Louisiana.

                              If you are...I do have to order a lot of stuff online.

                              I haven't made either of those recipes so I cannot comment on them.

                              1. re: Becca Porter

                                No... I noticed you posted on the Florida boards... so what have you prepared that worked well?

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  Yes, well I am finally going to Disney on Sunday so I have been posting there a lot.

                                  I have made a ton from the books. I cooked Mexican 3-4 times a week for a year or two. All out of his books.

                                  I really loved his antojitos. The sopes, quesodillas, and gorditas. I made almost all of his taco, tamale, and beef recipes. I made a couple moles.

                                  One favorite was a bacon black bean filled corn tortilla, rolled and fried, and served on a bed of apple cider dressed romaine. It was perfect and simple.

                                  I swooned over the sopes that had potato in the dough. they were fried and topped with a spicy homemade salsa, goat cheese, and arugula.

                                  His tamale directions were great. Being from here I had to settle for masa harina, but they were wonderful. I did order some leaf lard for them.

                                  I made a lot of his pork and beef dishes. I loved his salad dressing recipes in Everyday Mexican, and all his rice and beans. I still make his white rice all the time.

                                  I could get into more detail if you'd like.


                      2. It's important to add broth to your masa, otherwise it tastes like wallpaper paste. I make pork tamales, from a recipe found in Sunset magazine 20 years ago. In addition to the cooked pork in sauce, you sprinkle on diced green chilis, sliced olives, a thin slice of potato and a piece of jack cheese before you fold the tamale. Que bueno! My Mexican friends say my tamales are awesome, especially for a gringa! I've been making tamales for twenty years, and I tell people that the reason I had five kids was to help me at tamale time! Unfortunately, I feel like the little red hen, because while everyone wants to eat the tamales and give them to their friends and boyfriends, no one wants to help make them! I usually make the filling a day in advance. And, don't groan, you can't replicate the flavor and texture you derive from using lard. The texture of properly prepared masa is soft and easily spreadable. Have fun!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: mothrpoet

                          I'll let you know how it goes. I do have one Rick Bayless cookbook..but I will invest in a Kennedy one.

                          1. re: mothrpoet

                            Not true... it depends on the qualith of the masa. Fresh masa interacting with limestone... emits this floral, seductive almost womanly characteristic that con spark quite a hunger - and definitely does not require any broth.

                            1. re: mothrpoet

                              OMG. I have been looking for that recipe for over a year. I had that magazine and have carried along with me for most of my 60 years. My tamales aren't as good..to me.. as they were and I would love to have that recipe. Can you post the recipe or send to my email? Or if you'll just tell me the month/year of the magazine, maybe I can get on ebay and find it. That magazine rocked. If you can help, I would appreciate it SO much . vickisaddlemire@texashealth.org

                              1. re: vsaddlemire

                                Here's a Sunset article for Lupe's Pork Tamales. It's from about 15 years ago and uses potatoes as one of the ingredients. This might be the article you are looking for.

                                "Christmas means tamales - includes recipe"
                                Sunset, Dec, 1995 by Elaine Johnson

                            2. Melly,

                              IMHO, two things make all the difference: the masa and the lard. (And yes, it has to be lard.) Both should be fresh. It may possible to make good tamales from dried masa harina and the preservative-laden shelf-stable manteca that comes in a brick or a tub, but great tamales require fresh-ground corn and fresh-rendered fat.

                              Fortunately, your profile indicates you live in Sacramento, so you're in luck. Roseville Tortilla Factory (on Riverside just south of Vernon) grinds their own masa fresh every day and renders lard when they fry chicharrones. Call 'em first, and show up hungry; they make tasty tacos, too.

                              8 Replies
                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  At La Palma on 24th Street in San Francisco, you can get the masa by the pound either with or without lard added. I've made them both ways and MUCH prefer using all butter instead of lard. I like the taste, texture and do think it's healthier. I put chicken broth, use the recipe in Tamara's tamale cookbook.

                                  1. re: walker

                                    Lard is better for you than butter. Lower in saturated fats.

                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                    Not necessarily... in many indigenous communities they still make Tamales without Lard (just fat from ground pumpkin seeds & nuts) and they are typically spectacular. However... the secret is the Tequisquintl

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Its a type of rock that is ground down, when added to tamales makes them fluffy without the use of lard (I may have mispelled it).

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Is that the white rocks (refered to as lime as far as I know) someone gave me from Oaxaca to clean my clay comal?
                                          Or should I say, is there a difference between slaked lime and tequisquintl?

                                          1. re: pitu

                                            They are different.... however the Tequisquintl is also used to season the comal.

                                  3. Hi Melly - I think everyone here is absolutely right about the masa/lard handling. If you follow those guides you'll be in heaven. Just also pay attention to your filling - not too shredded, otherwise you end up with a wet newspaper-style center. Simplest is always better, IMO, and if you use pork, keep it in some chunks. You'll get the best flavor and texture that way. And totally agree with Cecliar on keeping them on the smaller side. No need for cookbooks - this is trial and error cooking and your best tamale will come from a couple of attempts.

                                    1. I am no expert, but I have made pork tamales every Christmas for the past ten years, and every year they are different. That's why I am no expert !!! But there are a couple of things that remain the same.

                                      First is lard. If you want authentic, it's the only way to go. Making tamales isn't something one does all the time, so every so often a little lard won't kill you, and it IS true as I read above that it is better for you than nutritionists want to believe! I happen to live in a heavily hispanic area and can buy fresh lard at the Mexican market. The best I ever had was when I lived near a store which made chicharrones (deep fried pork fat). I was able to get the fresh liquid lard right out of the fryer. It was absolutely heaven, never better.

                                      I agree with adding pork broth to the masa, as it makes it fluffier. I have a large Kitchenaid and I use it for whipping the masa, making several batches and combining them in a huge bowl. It takes a good 15 to 20 minutes per batch to really get it fluffy. Baking powder helps in that process as well.

                                      I also am blessed in that I can buy prepared masa, wet in a bag, from the same place. It has a rougher texture, and reminds me of Rick Bayless' pictures of women grinding corn to make the masa from the lime-soaked corn.

                                      So, my biggest tip is to look in the hispanic stores for the authentic ingredients if at ALL possible. The place I go (La Mejor del Valle in Farmersville, CA) used to ship their products, but not sure if masa preparada would make the trip.

                                      This last Christmas, I tried something new: Chile Relleno tortillas. Simple...just a strip of both cheddar and jack cheeses and half of a whole Ortega pepper. Served with ranchero sauce...dynOmite !!!!

                                      Thanks for letting me rant...

                                      1. The best tips are do not spare the meat. Do not make dry choke on it chilli. Do not spread the masa thick. Use lard; and dried red chilli peppers for roasting.
                                        I have tasted some gross tamales and people who make gross tamales should spare the rest of us and find something else to do beside make tamales.
                                        They are either too dry or the masa is too thickly spread on or there is no meat in there or they use chilli powder instead of the red peppers.

                                        1. Old thread, but thought it would be fun to revisit as I have an awesome tamale tip. Last I made them, a month ago, I bought a small plastic trowel for a buck at the hardware store. I used this to spread the masa onto the husk, and I was able to spread them fast, thin and super easy. Amazing technique.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: DallasDude

                                            I never thought of a plastic trowel, good idea. I use a plastic bag to spread the masa. Just take a quart size bag, slip your hand inside and use the side of your hand like a blade to spread the masa. Easy and fast and you can go very thin with them using this method.

                                            1. re: redbeccaz

                                              I've made tamales quite a few times and it is a long process.
                                              I wonder if you could make it like a casserole and avoid all of the individual wrapping? A layer of masa, a layer of filling and a layer of masa on top. Maybe bake in a water bath?

                                              1. re: Antilope

                                                It's called a tamal en cazuela (tamale casserole). Good stuff, but not the same...

                                                1. re: Antilope

                                                  Check out this recipe by local Dallas chef Stephan Pyles. It is for a tamale tart that he has famously made over the years. Greatness.


                                                  1. re: Antilope

                                                    Try Muc Bil. According to Rick Bayllis, it is a street food found in southern parts of Mexico. Clean up some banana leaves (I buy min pre frozen at Ranch 99 Asian Market). Blanch the leaves or use presoaked tamale leaves. The banana leaves add a slightly vegetable flavor. Line a large baking dish with leaves. Spread prepared masa all over the bottom and up the sides. Add your filling. Spread more masa on a layer of leaves then turn it over to cover the top of your dish. This makes more sense than trying to spread masa over your prepared filling. Cover the entire dish tightly with foil and bake at about 375 for about 1hour and fifteen minutes.
                                                    Carefully check the pan but watch out for the steam as you lift off the top banana leaves. You will know it’s finished when the masa stays in the pan and no longer sticks to the leaves. I served this to a large party of 30 as a side dish. The filling was Bayliss’ recipe for calabacitas. IT's zuccini with a little cream, corn and tomatoes. It was pretty darn delicious.