Hot Tamales!

Since I’ve been talking about the tamales we made last Sunday (yep, the ones we ate all week long)… I thought I would post a rather unhelpful overview of the tamale creation process, not because I want to be unhelpful, but because I still don’t know what goes into half the stuff. 😉 I’m still just a fake Mexican, (even if it is only by marriage).

It takes a brave soul (or having a husband whose favorite food is tamales) to tackle tamales… of course, you can always do what I did, and invite your sisters over to ‘learn,’ which speeds things up considerably. 🙂

Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales

Love at first bite: cheese and jalapeno tamales! My new favorites

You already heard about these marvelous  (if quite spicy) Muenster cheese and jalapeño tamales, if you saw my Jalapeño Chicken post.  I made them again in this batch (first time being at our friends’).

Pork tamales with mole

Pork tamales with mole – my husband’s favorite

I also made some pork and mole (MOH-lay, not the subterranean creature creating bumps in the lawn) tamales.  When my husband told his mother I was going to make tamales, she sent over some magical mole mix (dark red and crumbly – mix it with water and presto!  Mole!).  I still don’t know what’s in mole, other than “spices,” (so says my husband) — I read something the other day that makes me think it’s red chile sauce, but I’m not 100% sure that’s the same thing 😛  Anyway, apparently, you can buy a similar magical mole mix at a Mexican store.

Tamales toasting on comal

Tamales toasting on the comal

My husband doesn’t like tamales fresh from the steamer.  He prefers to let them go cold (or wait a day), then he toasts them (I call it burning, since they’re ‘not toasted’ until they’re black 😉 ).  That was our dinner four nights last week. Tamales, anybody?


Prep time: A couple hours, or more (depending how many helpers you have — it goes faster with an assembly line… or at least more than one person spreading masa on husks)

Cook time: 40-80 minutes


For our amount:

  • Dried corn husks, 1/2 package (see your local Mexican store for these — at ours, they are $4.99 for a bag, which, if you’re not a big or Mexican family, will last you… a while.)
  • Masa, about 5 lbs (also sold pre-made at the Mexican store)
    • If you prefer, my friend made the masa herself, using…
      • 32oz bag of Instant Corn Masa
      • 1/2 – 1 tub of lard
      • Knead lard and instant masa together. Add a couple pinches of salt and sprinkles of chili powder (sorry, like I said… unhelpful 😉 ). Add water, as needed, to thin it.  She told me that if you drop a little piece of the masa [dough] in a glass of water and it floats, you have enough lard.  The masa should end up spreadable (she likened it to peanut butter, but my mother-in-law’s masa is definitely not that thin).
  • Filling of your choice:
    • Pork, 2-3 lb pork roast
    • Mole (I used about 1 1/2 C of the dry mix, to make 2-3 C mole) — you can prepare it however you’d like, with more or less water.  My husband said it was good when it was about the consistency of pizza sauce (my own observation, so I could remember 😉 )


  • Muenster cheese, 1 lb, sliced 1/4″ thick, or so — about the size you’d use with crackers (It must be Muenster, for best flavor — my friend and I tried mozzarella, pepper jack and Muenster.  Muenster was the best, far and away.)
  • Sliced jalapeños, 2 cans, drained (I got them at Dollar Tree: La Costeña, sliced lengthwise and pickled with onion and carrot)


  1. Cook your pork (if using).  I just put mine in the slow cooker with some water and cooked it up the night before, so it was ready.  I didn’t use any seasoning, because 1) I didn’t know what I was supposed to use, and 2) the mole gives it flavor in the tamale. I figured it might overpower any seasoning I put, anyway.
  2. Rehydrate your mole to about the consistency of pizza sauce. 🙂
  3. Soak your corn husks in water for about 20 minutes, to soften them.  You can use an extra-large bowl, or fill your *clean* sink.
  4. If you have the pre-made masa, put it in a large bowl, and knead it (you may need to add some warm water), until it’s a spreadable consistency.
  5. When your husks are soft and pliable (you should be able to easily fold them in half without them breaking 🙂 ), drain the water (or not — I’ve done it both ways).  Take a husk and feel both sides: one side is smoother, the other has bigger ridges.  You want to spread the masa on the smooth(er) side.
  6. Take a tablespoon, scoop some masa with the back of the spoon and smash/spread it on the (smooth side of the) husk.  (For this part, you can hold the husk in your hand, or lay it on some wax paper on the table, however it’s easier.  You want to cover the husk, leaving up to a couple inches (depending on the size of the husk) on the narrow end  bare; the empty space just makes it easier to fold later.  You don’t need a super thick layer of masa, but you don’t want it paper thin or full of holes, either.
  7. Now, place a chunk of pork and small spoonful of mole (keep in mind you need to be able to fold it closed), –or– a slice of Muenster and a slice of jalapeno in the middle of the ‘masa-fied’ husk.
  8. With the wide end of the husk away from you, fold one side of the husk over the filling, and fold the other side overlapping the first.  Fold the bottom (narrow end) up, to hold things in place.  You can lay it folded side down to keep it from unfolding itself until you’re ready to cook.
  9. Ta-da!  That’s it!  Now you just have to spread and fill another hundred or so! 😉  I told you it works better if you have helpers.

To cook:

  1. Place your filled, folded tamales (keeping the bottom/narrow/folded end folded and pointing down, so the filling doesn’t fall out) in a steamer basket over boiling water (er, just to be clear, fill the basket with tamales before putting it over boiling water 😉 ).
  2. Cover and cook about 40-60 minutes.
  3. They are done when the masa solidifies, and the husk pulls easily away (you may need to pull one tamale out with tongs to test this: if you can peel it easily, and the masa is also holding together, that’s good — if you’re still not quite sure, let it sit, and check it a bit later.  Sometimes it’s easier to tell when they’re cool. 🙂 ).

Don’t forget to remove the corn husk before eating the delicious filling.

Right, so let’s recap: brave soul, tamale learning experience, peanut butter, pizza sauce, smooth side of the husk, folded end down, steam until masa solidifies, unwrap and enjoy!

To reheat, you can grill them on a cast iron skillet, or microwave, if you prefer.  Real Mexicans enjoy their pork tamales with Valentina (Mexican Hot Sauce) — it’s not that hot, but go easy, in case you disagree.  It does lend a nice flavor.

2 thoughts on “Hot Tamales!

  1. Pingback: Southwest Tacos | It was the best of tines...

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