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How To Make Homemade Tamales

By Molly Durham in Food on Mar 20, 2012 4:00PM

Tamales can be a mystery. What is that dough? How are they cooked? We used to have a lot of questions and now we have a lot of answers, because we think we successfully made them with our own hands.

It seems like a daunting task when you hear about entire families of five or more getting together and spending entire days crafting this Mexican dish. But two people and about three hours is really all you need.

Oh, and a steaming basket, since we didn't figure out a good way around using one to steam them, but you can find a good one for about $7. The two other items that might be a little harder to find are the corn husks and masa flour. We found husks at Whole Foods, but surely there are Mexican grocers who sell them as well. Masa flour, however, should be the easiest of the three to find; most large grocers carry it.

With some patience, these aren't difficult to make. More than one person is necessary though, unless you magically are someone with all the time in the world.

Tamales Recipe (makes about 20), adapted from Food Network and Epicurious


4 cups masa(corn) flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 ¼ cup chicken broth
1 cup lard

½ of a rotisserie chicken
1 cup chihuahua cheese or queso fresco (or a mix, this is what we did)
4 poblano peppers


To begin:
Place husks in large pot or large bowl; add water to cover. Place heavy plate on husks to keep submerged. Let stand until husks soften, at least three hours and up to a day.

For filling:
Pull chicken from bone and shred. Set aside in a large bowl. Remove stem and seeds from peppers, then slice into long strips about 1/4 inch thick. Cook in a pan over medium heat with one Tablespoon olive oil until slightly charred and very soft, about 12-13 minutes. After cooked, slice into as small of pieces as you like. Cube cheese, then toss chicken, cheese and peppers in a large bowl and set aside or in fridge until needed.

For dough:
Whisk lard with a fork in large bowl until fluffy. Add in baking powder and salt, still whisking. Add the masa flour 1/2 cup at a time, using your hands to combine or a fork or spatula if mixture is too sticky. Once all combined, add in broth slowly, stopping when the dough becomes a slightly sticky dough that can hold together and be formed into a ball.

Fill bottom of pot with steamer insert with enough water (about two inches) to reach bottom of the steaming basket. Line bottom of insert with some softened corn husks. Tear three large husks into 1/4-inch-wide strips to use as ties and set aside. Open a husk on a surface and spread 1/4 cup dough in a square in the center of each, leaving about at least an inch of border around the top and sides, leaving plenty of room at the narrow end. Spoon a spoonful of filling in a strip down center of each dough square.

Fold the sides of of the husk together like you're folding a taco. Except keep going and make sure a cylinder forms around the filling. Fold up the narrow end of husk. Tie the tamale with a strip of husk to secure, leaving wide end of tamale open. Stand tamales in the steamer basket, open side up. Repeat until all the filling has been used. If necessary to keep tamales upright in steamer, insert pieces of crumpled foil between them.

Bring the water in the pot to boil. You'll know you have it hot enough when you see billowing steam coming to the surface, or into the air if you open the lid. Cover pot and steam tamales until dough is firm to touch and separates easily from husk, adding more water to pot as necessary, about one hour. Serve immediately or let cool and then freeze until you want to enjoy. We recommend not even bothering with making a sauce, but just using lots and lots of Sriracha. Chow down with your further appreciation for the Tamale Man.