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Tamales: How to make the best masa dough?

So we're talkin about this as a sub-thread and I want to SPECIFICALLY cover the best materials and ways to make the masa dough component of a tamale.
Since you can fill a tamale with anything I would like to concentrate on ingredients and the process for making and cooking the masa dough to perfection.
I have had rubbery ones and fluffy tender ones. Are there different styles or is everyone aiming for light and delicate? Is one masa better than another? Does anyone grind it fresh, from scratch, using dried posole (hominy)?
I have made tamales several times and I have helped in assembling them. I have always used lard. One said they used butter and chicken broth; others corn oil...
I have some Tequesquite, which I believe is used in tamale masa dough, like baking powder.

Then there's the magical "cold water test": after combining the fat or oil (in whatever form), and leavening agent to the masa, drop a small ball of dough in a glass of cold water. If the ball floats, it's ready for making into tamales. This must have something to do with the leavening agent reacting and making the ball light with gas.
Help by sharing your ingredients and method.

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  1. I use chicken broth with lard, butter, and / or vegetable shortening. I usually spike my chicken broth with ancho, pequin, a litle bit of toasted onion, and garlic powders. I add a little baking powder and salt to the dry ingredients, but you can find a zillion recipes to tell you how much.

    The method is way more important than the ingredients for me, because I prefer light, tender, melt in your mouth masa, as compared to the hard dense, heavy masa.

    The way to get your dough light and tender is to cream the fat. I do it until it triples in size. It takes a good ten minutes with a hand mixer, but this is one of those things that a stand mixer is MADE for.

    The cold water trick is directly related to the whipping of the dough (and really, the fat.) Once the dough is whipped with enough air, the dough will float. BUT, if you cream the fat enough BEFORE you introduce it to the rest of your masa mixture, the dough will float as soon as all the ingredients are mixed together. It is MUCH easier to whip the fat before it's added to everything else than to whip everything once it's all incorporated.

    I use the maseca in the brown packaging. I think it's ground a little finer than the stuff in the white packaging with the green letters.

    My best results for a fat medium have been when I used butter and lard together (hmm. wonder why? - umm because they are delicious!)

    I always do them stove top, and I stand them straight up. I've heard of oven steaming, and some ppl lay them on their sides. I use a tamale pot with is basically a large thin walled stock pot that came with a wire stand at the bottom that will allow the steam to come through it. They sell them in two diferent sizes at Target now.

    For the last few years, whenever I make them now, I make a little extra dough with no spices - water, and fat, and then add dutched cocoa powder and sugar, and some Mexican Vanilla, and vanilla beans. The filling for these is broken dark or milk chocolate - just a little. You want your house to smell like like the best thing ever?
    YUMMMM. Might smell better than choc chip cookes in the oven.

    5 Replies
    1. re: gordeaux

      gordeaux: Love your explanation on masa prep. - will try it next time the tamale craving hits...

      1. re: gordeaux

        I see there are distinct textures for tamales. According to one person tamales from central Mexico are thick and fluffy and are mostly masa. Many US commercial tamales are similar. This is not what I am trying to achieve.
        I want the Northern Mexico style which is also the Texas style. They are thin and not very long. There is a high ratio of filling to masa. I can remember my Mom stopping at street vendors in Waco and Taylor, Texas and getting us tamales back in the fifties.
        This style is what I will attempt on my next tamale buildathon.

        1. re: Scargod

          Scargod, have you seen this site: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/tamales ?

          You should find that his tamales are the right texture you're looking for. And really, in my experience, it's more about application to the husk than the recipe itself.

          1. re: Scargod

            Many people should not even make tamales! If they are not going to make a great tamale, they should not even try it. I have seen tamales made with mostly masa and hardly any pork and tasteless dried chilli on could choke on.
            After wasting my money buying others tamales and being disappointed, I decided to make my own and they were delicious the best I ever had. Mine are the best!
            I received many compliments on them. No brag just fact!
            They must be made with dried red chili peppers roasted until you can first smell the aroma from the oven. Then they are ready to cool and blend with the garlic and cumin and water.
            Make sure the chili sauce is not dry as many make their gross dried choke on it chilli sauce.

            As I said it you're not going to do it right please have mercy and spare the world your tamales.
            Put plenty of pork (meat) in each tamale.
            If the sauce is not dry and the masa is not as thick as the great wall of China and it has plenty of perfectly cooked pork you will have a great tamale.
            Also it is not just the lard, or just the chilli or just the meat, it is all of the tamale done right or find something else to do beside make tamales.
            Do it right or don't do it!

          2. re: gordeaux

            For the best masa (using lard!) I add hot chicken stock to masa harina a bit at a time to make a thick dough. Then beat lard until fluffy and floats (teh whipped lard itself) in water. Gradually add the dough to the lard while still beating. Finally beat in some salt. That's it.

          3. I'm really curious about tequesquite... How to use it? How much to use? How uch would be the equivalent to triple-acting baking powder?
            I found this discussion, which got Harold McGee involved, but didnt seem to put anything to bed: http://www.zarela.com/?tag=tequesquite
            and this description: http://www.uv.mx/popularte/flash/scri...

            Yes, I could buy some tomatillos (and make chili verde!), just so I could have the husks.
            I am not sure whether I must do this: "using teqeusquite as a leavener": bring 10 tomatillo husks and 1 cup of water to a boil with a small piece of tequesquite and cook until this dissolves. Let cool and settle. Strain before using.
            What is a small piece? My teqeusquite is a coarse powder and looks quite "dirty". It is Nicomex brand and doesn't have a quality classification or grade mentioned.
            It is supposed to be a combination of chloride and sodium carbonate but some say it is more complex than just those two ingredients. I could obviously use baking powder, but it seems like it might be like using sea salt rather than plain salt, so I want to use it at least once!

            4 Replies
            1. re: Scargod

              A post here, just for tracking porpoises.

              1. re: Soop

                Ain't no frickin' porpoises in this thread! I said frickin' because somebody complained that I was vulgar. :(
                I now have Maseca, masa harina, a big pork roast, shucks, more dried chiles, fresh anaheims to put in the chile verde. fresh poblanos to stuff for rellenos and mexican cheese for stuffing. I've got chayote and avocado for a salad. I also have the prerequisite, cold beer. I'm sure I will be fluent is Espanol when Monday comes.

                Curmudgeon, and now vulgar, Scargod

                1. re: Scargod

                  Vulgar? Sheeet man we iz just products of the 60's. Far out dude.
                  You, been doing sme wicked good posting.
                  Nothing like a good bearded clam pie.

                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                    Me, too! I love burying my bearded face in a good apizza.

            2. I didn't have time to read all the replies so excuse me if I repeat anything. If you want the best, you need to take the dry corn and perform the nixtamal process which essentially soaks the dry corn in a water/cal--not sure in English what it's called--slaked lime or something like that. Then grind it in a corn grinder. Lard is essential--I've never tried a good tamal that didn't have lard. Check with Rick Bayless--Authentic Mexican for a good recipe.

              1 Reply
              1. re: hankstramm

                I totally agree. If you can't get absolutely fresh-ground masa para tamales from a tortilla factory you must do it yourself as hankstramm described above. You'll need a hand-cranked molino a mano (or something better), and these can be had for about $25, give or take. The slaked lime (cal) should be easy to find, but the proper dried corn (maĆ­z) might not be.


              2. For the best masa (using lard!) I add hot chicken stock to masa harina a bit at a time to make a thick dough. Then beat lard until fluffy and floats (the whipped lard itself) in water. Gradually add the dough to the lard while still beating. Finally beat in some salt. That's it.

                1. Here is a masa dough recipe from a local food guy who recently taught a class to a bunch of Houston CH's:


                  Everyone said they were the best tamales they have had. I wished I could have gone, but missed it. Hopefully he will do it again.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: danhole

                    Thanks, and what a beautiful image on that page! The first thing that came to mind was quail!

                    1. re: danhole

                      I don't have a heavy duty standmixer, so hand beat the lard itself with a hand mixer. When I add dough to the lard, I beat with a wooden paddle. Most of the time, however, I just use corn oil.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Scargod hasn't responded to me since I confessed to corn oil. I don't have a big yuppie mixer either.

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          I cannot and will not be made to acquiesce to corn oil, vegetable shortening or EVOO to make tamales. It is sinful and unnatural! I have had the real deal too many times and can't go back, especially at this late stage of the game!
                          Like trying to get me to stop drinking scotch or thinking dirty thoughts...

                          1. re: Scargod

                            That's all I need to hear. Two cups of lard coming up. I'll reconvert, but don't tell my better half. Just finished Hatch red chile enchiladas w/ the youngest & friend home on spring break. Fried the tortillas in rendered pork fat. SShhhh.

                    2. One thing I'm really having a problem with is the amount of baking powder (if I use it instead of the tequesquite). Various recipes go from 3/4 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons for four cups of masa flour. I don't want them getting to tasting metallic, yet I want them fluffy.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Scargod

                        I've never used baking powder. We learned tamales as kids from a great woman cook from Chiapas during the peach harvest. Baking powder - no. Stand mixer - no. The fluff comes from whiping that lard.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Yeah, i agree. Get some really good fresh lard from a mexican carniceria or a high-end butcher (both tend to have it), and whip it until it is light and fluffy, either by hand or with a mixer. Then add masa, fresh or reconstituted with water (or broth). And whip that with a little more water or broth until it is fluffy and passes the float test. Then beat in plenty of salt as it leaches out during steaming. I usually use about 8 oz of lard for 2 lbs of masa.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Oh yeah, i usually do it by hand. It's a much more personal process than a stand mixer and you can actually feel when the texture is right while beating.

                            1. re: kirinraj

                              The same applies to baking cookies. They are ALWAYS much better when the butter is creamed by hand.

                              1. re: kirinraj

                                I don't have a mixer of any kind either, so I'll be hand mixing

                                1. re: Soop

                                  Electric drill? Weedeater? Easy to improvise if you have one. :')

                          2. Ok, The tamales are steaming.

                            I didn't poke the tops down with the dough, and it made 14. I think I did it right. One thing people should mention is the consistency should be like cookie dough (well, mine was anyway). I'm quite pleased it passed the water test (the lard and the masa), but it didn't take very long to beat (with a silicon spatula).

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Soop

                              They're bound to be good, no matter what! I'm doing dozens today.
                              The one thing that amused me was your seasoning of the pork. I'm curious as to the taste, since you said you did not like it with salsa and avocado. If the Concorde were still flying I might pop over for a taste, if I were invited.
                              Usually, if anything you use a strong beer, not coke. And citrus? Unorthodox! What possessed you?
                              Best of luck. Now just wait two hours....

                              1. re: Scargod

                                Tex, funny, I always paid more attention to the filling than the dough; spicy pork. If the dough was dry, drink more beer. I used to do dozens at a time too. Save me some in the freezer for me in April or bring some up in March if ya got studded snow tires.
                                Citrus? We're getting back to the whole "authentic" "Geordian knot" question aren't we. Next thing you know, Soop will be putting kidney beans and hamburger in his chile.

                                1. re: Scargod

                                  The pork actually tasted a bit like lamb. Might have been nicer without the crisping (although that was nice) as it lost a lot of moisture as steam.

                              2. Ok, I do not like tamales. Donna seems to like them, but they taste weird to me.

                                They're fluffy, but they're a little bit beefy and orangy from using the stock from the carnitas. I suppose technically the flavours match, but I don't like the texture or taste.

                                Well, you can't win them all. The pork and broth left over was nice, and we had some of that with the "no knead foccacia" I started drunk last night

                                27 Replies
                                1. re: Soop

                                  Take a trip to the American southwest before deciding.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Hey, take it easy on Soop, he's a Brit. He'll have enough trouble w/ Merican much less Messican.

                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                        Merican, stop messicanin wit de Britain. He be tryin.

                                        1. re: Scargod

                                          well I've tried a few things now; carnitas is obviously a sometimes treat, so I'll put that to the back of my mind. What else have I tried... salsa and guaca, carne asada (I like!) tortillas, and chili (if that even counts).

                                          What else can I try? Hit me with a few suggestions

                                          1. re: Soop

                                            My favorite, stacked enchiladas w/ pork red chile sauce.
                                            It must be difficult trying to make some of these food w/ no background. I'm not sure I could do it.

                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                              I guess that's what makes it fun.

                                              I think my first ever post was about Mexican food; I asked (in a somewhat loaded way) if everything was just served in a tortilla. EN set me straight :D

                                              I still fail to see the difference between a fajita and a carne asada taco though :S Or the subtleties between an enchilada or burrito (baked instead of grilled?)

                                              1. re: Soop

                                                Carne asada & fajita? Meat usually diff, I almost always use cor tortillas for tacos and wheat for fajitas (fajitas w/ pepper &onions).
                                                Burritos & enchies? Again size and corn/wheat & filling.
                                                Enchies (I always stack 2 0r 3 corn tortillias) corn tortillas w/ chile onions, & cheese. Burritos; cheese, meat, beans whatever. More of a wheat tortilla dust bin.
                                                We have our 5th snow cancellation day for schools today; another 14"!

                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  yah-I'm watching the snow fall here thinking of mole sauce.... do you have a recipe?

                                                  1. re: Lenox637

                                                    Sure, but what kind? Turkey? Gereen? Give me a hint.
                                                    Going back to bed for a while.
                                                    Just made green chile chicken posole last night for the week's lunches. Be good on a snowy day.

                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                      I'm a glutton, I like them all and am willing to try anything!

                                                      1. re: Lenox637

                                                        If you don't have one in mind in mind, easier to google and see what hits your fancy.

                                                2. re: Soop

                                                  Soop, my man, you may be hopeless! Can't cook dried beans? :)
                                                  I suggest you do some light internet reading, but better, get a good cookbook, like Rick Bayless "Mexican Kitchen" (1996). I have this and there's an area in the front that is essential reading. Diana Kennedy is also highly recommended. You've got to be able to make a good sauce, or mole!
                                                  Mexican food can be very complex, sophisticated and time consuming. Some of it is basic and simple (like refried beans or stacked enchiladas-sorry Pass, couldn't help myself), but developing a mole with good depth or making tamales is not. I judge restaurants by their chile rellenos, enchiladas and salsas.
                                                  May I ask what your experience is in cooking? What do you do well? I have 53 years of cooking experience and I think I'm almost a hack at Mexican (but getting better). For many years I did things out of cans and jars. With this you get mostly blah, or worse, blech results.
                                                  Enchiladas are usually corn tortillas, filled and made into a casserole and baked till hot throughout. Burritos are filling rolled up in a flour tortilla, period. You should be able to pick up a burrito and eat it, but some places make them so big and smother them with sauce, making that no longer possible...

                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                    Well, I'm 29, and a couple of years ago I claimed that I was the best chef in the world to my friend (who didn't believe me). So I just went on a mission to prove him wrong. He seems to thing cooking a buch of stuff in a pan and pouring it on spaggetti somehow makes him a good cook.

                                                    When I cook, I generally come here for inspiration, or go to the store and see what floats my boat, double check with my girl if she's eating it, and then cook.

                                                    Historically, I tend to go for a steak-sized joint, and cook that simply (but well) with vegetables and/or potato (usually spinach and home cut chips), but I do a pretty good lasagne and stuff like that. I'm lucky enough to afford good ingredients, so as long as you don't complicate stuff and take care, you can't go wrong.

                                                    I tend to dislike reading recipes from books, I'll skip around until I find a recipe I like on the 'net.

                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                      Soop, my pard is spot on except,Tex, for 3 points. Stacked enchies are New Mexican because Texans can't count to 3 to stack 'em. Two, I've only been cooking for 52 years and 3, can you come up here and help me shovel snow?

                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                        Will shovel for 10 stacked ench'ys. I still have ten fingers. I can count to that.

                                                      2. re: Scargod

                                                        I second the recommendation that you immerse yourself in a good cookbook. The Bayless book is a good one; Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking is another classic (although if you want more focus on regional variations, The Essential Cuisines of Mexico might also be a good bet).

                                                        Consider mastering the simple things before you take on any more big challenges. Learn to cook frijoles until they're just right; all it takes is a pot, a spoon, and some patience. By tasting periodically, you can get exactly the texture you want. Cook up a few tasty simple sauces (eg, NM style red chile sauce) before you embark on a 100-ingredient mole. Baby steps, and all.

                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                          Triple that, curl up in bed w/ a good cook book (and yo' woman) and sweet dreams. Gives one a depth of info over time.

                                        2. re: Soop

                                          Soop, I can't let you go out like this. I'm gonna try to post a serious recipe for tamales for you. Masa and filling. I can't believe for one second that your dough came out decent if you wrote this:
                                          "but it didn't take very long to beat (with a silicon spatula)."

                                          Also, if you are not sure of the differences between an enchilada and a burrito, then you've got some learning to do. I'm not saying you are a bad person, or anything even REMOTELY like that, in fact, I absolutely commend you for trying despite the fact that you are obviously in an area devoid of decent Mexican eats. It's not your fault, I understand - you have nothing to really go off of since there is nothing around. Gimme a few days. These will be chicken in green sauce, or pollos verdes. Can you get boneless skinless thighs, or legs where you are? If not, that's ok. You'll just have to pick the meat off the bone after cooking the meat for the filling. If you only eat chicken breast, then I won't help you with chicken tamales.

                                          Carne asada is grilled steak - usually skirt (my preference is outer)
                                          Fajitas is meat PLUS grilled onion, and bell peppers.

                                          A taco is served in TWO warmed on the grill CORN tortillas stacked one on top of the other. The filling is placed in the middle of one of the tortillas, and then it's folded over - both ends open.

                                          A Fajita is served in one flour tortilla that's been warmed on the grill. The filling is placed in the middle of one of the tortillas, and then it's folded over - both ends open.

                                          A burrito is a giant flour tortilla. The filling is placed in the middle, and the ends are folded in. The whole thing is rolled and sealed.

                                          Enchiladas are made with single corn tortillas. Rolled like a burrito without the ends folded in, and then baked in a sauce. Stacked enchiladas are made like little round sandwiches, again, cooked in sauce.

                                          Then there are sopes, gorditas, huaraches, quesadillas, flautas, tortas. They are different. Same-ish masa, but chewier depending on thickness. Once you've had a GOOD huarache, then you understand what the difference in the dough is. Once you've had GOOD corn tortillas, you'll understand why many ppl prefer them to those gummy, thin flour tortillas that are sold everywhere. I personally can't do a lot of foods in a flour tortilla. They only work with a couple of things, and even then, there is really only one brand that I can stomach.

                                          1. re: gordeaux

                                            Well thanks GordX! Hijack my thread to save some poor Brit from himself... Go ahead. God knows I've tried. Just don't have the patience if he won't read. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make 'em read! (Visualize kindly, well-meaning old man with smiley face)
                                            Hey, I might even learn something! Win-win.
                                            Don't forget to teach him about crisp tacos. I think a Texas Jack-in-the-Box invention.

                                            1. re: Scargod

                                              I've already written what needs to be written about crisp tacos. :-)

                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                You kin lead a horse to water, but yuh kaint git 'em to enjoy the view!

                                              2. re: gordeaux

                                                Well done Gordito. Pretty sad when a bunch of Yanks are telling a Brit to read. Report him to the British Council!

                                                The Empire Strikes Back

                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  Thanks for all your help guys, you're kind of right about my frame of reference. I might not cook until the weekend, so we have plenty of time to think. Also, I haven't had a roast chicken dinner for a while...

                                                  Oh and Gordeaux, yeah I like "grey meat"

                                                  1. re: Soop

                                                    cook books are great inspirational reading; relaxing too. and the photos are great food porn.

                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                      cookbooks in the bathroom..... recipes and such are just the right length

                                                      1. re: Lenox637

                                                        Lol - I keep them in the bathroom too!

                                            2. For what it's worth, my frijoles were fail too. I soaked the beans for 24 hours, but they just don't have the same consistency of canned beans.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: Soop

                                                Over cooked? I on't like the consistancy of canned beans; too hard. Need to be a little mushy.

                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  Other way round!

                                                  Just went to the canteen: Burritos, chili and enchiladas! lol, well their own idea of that anyway. And guaca too.

                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                    Soop said he soaked them (24 hours), but didn't say he cooked them (giggle).

                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                      I did! For about 45 minutes, adding water and using a potato masher!

                                                      1. re: Soop

                                                        This is not a bad article on cooking beans: http://www.culinate.com/columns/front...
                                                        You have to read it, though. Like books, you can't just look at the pretty pictures and eat the pages!
                                                        You may have purchased OLD beans! Were a lot shriveled and discolored, like old people? They should not have wrinkles or be rusting. The beans also need to stay covered with water. They soak up a huge amount initially and then usually need more as they cook. Pintos or black?

                                                        1. re: Scargod

                                                          pintos, they were fresh enough. I soaked them in a saucepan, just cold tapwater. They came out like peanuts.

                                                        2. re: Soop

                                                          45 mins is not enough time to cook refried beans. The pintos need to be very soft and absorb most of the cooking liquid. To refry, you need lard, bacon grease, shortening or a combination. Heat a good amount of the lard, add a scoop of the cooked beans with a bit of the liquid, mash and fry. As the liquid is absorbed, add more beans and continue to mash and fry. The frying will help dry out the mashed bean mixture. To finish, you want to add some whole beans and only partially mash. Then at the end a small bit of whole beans to give texture.

                                                    2. re: Soop

                                                      I had a bean fail. I wanted soupy beans and ended up with salt paste! Could have been the hugh hunk of salt pork I simmered with them :) Atleast it was only a $2 fail.

                                                    3. This is for scargod and soop - since you seem to be all about cooking mexican food, and I'm not talking the eat-nopal kind of food, but more along the tex mex kind, I have some links for recipes and blogs that you may be interested in.

                                                      One is The Homesick Texan. There are some great recipes on there for tex-mex and other texas food, as well as many others. http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/

                                                      Also google Robb Walsh. He has written a few cookbooks that include the history of the food, and his tex mex cookbook was praised by Rick Bayless. If you are intrigued I can give you some links for some of his recipes on the internet for barbacoa, truckstop chili, enchiladas, and other things.

                                                      13 Replies
                                                      1. re: danhole

                                                        I wish eat nopal would come back because I want to go beyond the "tex-mex" thing. Nothing wrong with it, but my new years resolution is to try new things, and I've had enchiladas and fajitas before. Some things I really like like carne asada, I'll go back to and try and improve, or toy with, but until I get a tamale I like, I'll not mess with it further :)

                                                        EN has said before that moles are a huge part of Mexican cooking, but short of guaca I don't know any!

                                                        But thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

                                                        1. re: Soop

                                                          The reason I posted this was because of your statement: "I still fail to see the difference between a fajita and a carne asada taco though :S Or the subtleties between an enchilada or burrito (baked instead of grilled?)" Thought this might help clear things up for you. I don't think barbacoa is tex mex, though. EN had a tremendous thread with tons of authentic recipes probably more than a year ago. Did you see that?

                                                          Here is the link for the barbacoa. Check it out and see what you think:


                                                          1. re: danhole

                                                            Yeah, that was one of the first things that happened when I got here, and I checked over his thread again recently. Really good stuff, just wish there was more!

                                                          2. re: Soop

                                                            With all due respect to you Soop (and for trying new things) you really can't expect to make an authentic tamale when you are new to Mexican cuisine and have never had a tamale.

                                                            I live and grew up in So Calif and have many Hispanic friends. When their families make tamales, it is a 2-day processes dedicated to the finished product. They would no more use left-over carnitas than they would use bologna!!

                                                            It takes multiple generations and an assembly line to create the delicasies. Usually, the abuela is the one to handle the masa based on her years of experience. It's like making bread. You have to have the experience and the touch to know when the consistency is right and how it should be mixed. The only time abuela will give up her right to the masa is when she's in her grave!!

                                                            And, don't forget the tia's the hermanas and of course Mama all contributing to the process.

                                                            The different fillings are prepared especially for the tamale. The meat has to be fine in texture and moist in consistency. Based on my experience, the meat mixture is usually a mix of pork and chicken. There are savory tamales and sweet tamales.

                                                            The family will have special steaming pots to cook the tamales and will create dozens (not 14!!) of the treats to give to family and friends.

                                                            So, congratulations to your endeavour, but I don't think you've really tasted a true tamale.

                                                            1. re: janetms383

                                                              You're right its a 2 day process.The first day dedicated to preparations. The chili's cooked into a tender broth. The ingredients, pots, bowls, and so on collected and arranged .. the kitchen prepared for the coming process.

                                                              However this is the first time I've heard of any sort of generation requirement being involved in the process with dedicated tasks to each. That sounds more like a family rather than an in general tradition. In many cases the person making the tamales keeps her secrets to her or himself. The tia's battling among themselves for top standing because in many cases their tamales are also for sale. Family members and friends ordering any number of dozens of tamales from each round. The best getting the most orders. Orders totaling a couple hundred dozen tamales not unusual around the holidays.

                                                              While my MIL was born an America she was the first in her family to have been. I remember all the tia's trying to find a place in the kitchen to learn her secrets only to be chased out again. The only reason I was eventually allowed in during her 2 tamale making days was she eventually lived with us and we had become so very close. The mother of 3 boys , I became the daughter she never had.

                                                              Just before she passed away she shared with me the last secret to the flavor of both her pork and mango fillings. It was so simple yet I'd spent years trying to get the same effect. Funny in hindsight but your right about keeping secrets until they know their time is coming.

                                                              So Soop, you keep trying. There is no more authentic than another tamale. Tamales vary in Mexico region to region as does the process, ingredients and tools used.. almost as much as they do family to family.

                                                              And make whatever amount suits you. If you don't plan to make for more than yourself or a small collection of people, making a dozen or two is no different from making many dozens. Tamale making is a labor of love. A good tamale is a matter of taste and preference. Try different fillings. There is no nono. The thought that traditional only means pork and chicken, solo or combined is nonsense. Having travelled Mexico during the various seasons I found that the fillings are also very seasonal. The pork fillings and pork mix fillings I found more plentiful around the holidays. A higher chicken to pork ratio or chicken filling more everyday. Fruit and bean fillings are also a common everyday fare. Don't limit yourself on what you fill them with or you'll lose much of the authentic creative element accorded tamales.

                                                              Work on making a masa dough that has the texture you like. The key words there are "you like". And run from there.

                                                              I've even had fruit tamales that had cinnamon and sugar added to the masa that were out of this world!

                                                            2. re: Soop

                                                              Just to allay any more confusion, guacamole and moles have nothing to do with each other. The moles Eat Nopal referred to are sauces, often with complex flavors, made from various ingredients including chiles, nuts, seeds, and herbs - which of these depends on the variety.

                                                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                                  Well, slap me silly! I wondered what soop was talking about when he referenced guaca to moles. I didn't make the connection. Glad you did!

                                                                    1. re: danhole

                                                                      I thought I said that, but looks like my bleepin post was atomized by do-gooders.
                                                                      So to reiterate," There ain't no bleepin mole in "guacamole"!

                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                        of course there is mole in gualcamole

                                                                        mole is the same root as milled, ie mushed, mashed, ground - like in windmill (think moulin rouge)


                                                                2. re: danhole

                                                                  I am not of the Tex-Mex ilk. God knows I've eaten my share and I do not disdain it, but I am aiming for a purer and more authentic Mexican food with some sophistication. I wish I could be like Veggo, eating seafood in Mexico. I'll have to settle for doing it in my hacienda, however. I am a long-time follower of Mark Miller and Rick Bayless. One dish I like is Yucatan Lime soup or chicken-tortilla soup. So simple and basic. I am also intrigued by the variations in different areas of Mexico, just like the difference in Tex-Mex and New-Mex. I am very fond of New Mexico's style of food.

                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                    Sounds like you like to go upriver with your cooking, same here..... after I had my first real paella, i went on a long Spanish odyssey.......yum!

                                                                3. Everybody is trying to help Soop and I'm not getting any answers about Tequesquite. :(
                                                                  Should I dissolve it in water and how much should I use??
                                                                  Help... Please?

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                    Geez, I feel bad, but I don't have a clue what to tell you. This is all I could find about it.

                                                                    You need a real mexican cook here!

                                                                    Did you at least look at that barbacoa recipe? Not made with a cows head, but still looks really good.

                                                                  2. A world of beans.... for decades I have experienced inconsistent results with dry beans. When they cooked to perfection I was thrilled. But often, regardless of the soaking and identical cooking process, they would be mealy, or crumbly, or tough skinned or just not very good. I think what you can buy out there is an inconsistent product - hard to tell if it was last years harvest or 5 yrs ago, or grown with care or agri-farmed on poor soil. Then I tried the heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo (Napa, CA) and the beans are just incredibly good. The beans become the stars, not just a background texture.

                                                                    1. ok, i've read most of these posts and haven't found what i'm looking for. i do appreciate all the info, though! my mother-in-law is from new mexico and hers are the only tamales i've ever cared for. i have never tried to make them before, but this year is the first they haven't had a tamalada in the 23 years i've been in the family. so, i thought i'd try and make some of my own. she gets a box of dried nm chile every year (we live in south tx) and boils, then peels it. she freezes these in bags, and uses as needed. for her tamales, she purees the chile and adds some of that to the masa...(the masa has a reddish tinge) i've been searching, but can't find a recipe as a guideline for making the masa. i'm sure there's a recipe out there, but don't know where to look. (i'm one of those cooks that needs an outline!)
                                                                      making tamales is really scary!!!! i would appreciate any input! thanks in advance.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: rmyjn1

                                                                        I haven't read this entire thread and don't know how you've searched, but a quick look gave me this:

                                                                      2. My MIL made the most amazing tamales. I can't ever remember her kitchen not being a mini tamale factory the demand was so enormous.

                                                                        She did several things that made hers standout from the usual tamale. Her dough was tender, light.. melt in your mouth.

                                                                        She soaked the dired red chilis in hot water, added cumin, roasted garlic (mashed) and salt. Put it all into a blender and blended until it was liquified. This she added to her meat with a couple other family secret additions.
                                                                        She used lard in her masa. The standard comes in a blue box found on your local grocer's shelves kind and mixed by hand. Whipped using a hand mixer until it was light and fluffy. Her liquid was the red chili liquid added to the chicken stock. Note *stock*, not broth. There is a big difference between the two. We made the stock the day before, a chicken in a ouch of cheesecloth along with an onion, celery, and carrot). The chicken was always used for making chicken tacos or burritos or whatever chicken concoction she decided was the call of the day while we all waited anxiously for her tamales.
                                                                        To her masa she added Gebharts chili powder, baking powder and mixed by hand, adding salt as needed.
                                                                        We bought her a stand mixer for Christmas to make the task easier. She tried it several times however abandoned the mixer and went back to her hand mixing technique claiming using the stand mixer made her dough tougher. I have to agree, it did. There was something lost in the texture of the dough in the batches she made using the mixture.
                                                                        She's gone now and I miss her and her tamales terribly. Mostly her though, we became very close over the years. She shared the secrets of her tamales with me and mine, while never quite as good as hers, are raved about by the same people who ordered tamales by the dozens from my MIL. They comment their just like hers although I can taste the difference. She had the "touch for the dough" which was only equaled by her "touch for life".
                                                                        Her dough was blended, by hand, until it was light and fluffy taking 5 minute breaks in the mixing process to allow the dough to rest before returning for another round. I remember her telling me being gentle with the dough was the key. "Treat it like you would your child, gentle and kind" was her reminder as I mixed mine.

                                                                        I'm a tamale addict of sorts and traveled most of the US trying variations along the way. None have compared to hers. No skimping on the filling hers were long and slender but flavorful meat packed gems wrapped in husks and steamed upright, nestled on layers of crumpled foil to keep them out of the water, covered in a moist towel as they simmered in covered soup pots.

                                                                        The message here I guess is it doesn't take fancy tools to make tamales. It doesn't take hard to find ingredients. It takes patience, lots of taste testing, a gentle hand and a dash of love at each stage along the way.

                                                                        To note: she always made extra dough to be used for bean and cheese filled tamales the grandkids were so fond of and for the mango filled tamales she made only enough of to keep them a special treat.

                                                                        1. I read a lot on here about creaming the lard to make a good masa. But just wanted to add that in my family (grandmother born and raised in Guadalajara, and my mother was raised in Sacapo, Michoacan) use a different method and still get good tamales. They get masa harina (or you can treat your own dry hominy with an alkaline solution, process it, etc) anyways if done with masa harina they mix into it water or stock along with salt to taste, and some baking powder (diluted in a portion of the liquid) into the masa until they get a dough the consistency of peanut butter, then melt the lard and work it into the dough. They work the masa until everything feels really incorporated and it makes a cracking sound (idk they say "tronar" which translates to cracking) but yeah don't have the exact measurements but just wanted to throw it out there for ideas.