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hot tamales!

Recipe: tamales, new mexico style

There is a certain class of food that makes its way across cultures. It involves taking some sort of starch and wrapping it around another ingredient or ingredients, cooking it, and passing into bliss as you eat it. These foods are best when homemade and I have made it one of my many small missions in life to learn to make each of these before I die.

So far, I have managed Chinese potstickers, Argentine empanadas, and as of today, tamales. Others on the todo list include, but are not limited to: samosas, ravioli, tsa-tsao bao (Chinese bbq pork buns), tsong-tse (think Chinese rice tamales). If you can think of other delicious homemade delicacies that I’m overlooking, be sure to let me know!

My whole motivation for making carne adovada a few days ago was to ultimately try my hand at homemade tamales. On our road trip back home from New Mexico a few weeks back, I procured some corn husks along with those beloved dried New Mexican reds. I’m sure I could have found them locally in Colorado if I had looked, but that’s the thing about where I live – you have to LOOK pretty hard to find certain ethnic foods and it makes me insane. I hate shopping. I like cooking.

corn husks, to lovingly wrap that tamale goodness

I soaked the corn husks in hot water for 30 minutes. The ones on top floated above waterline, so I weighed them down with a pot lid to ensure they were all softened. Per the instructions on the recipe, I rinsed the husks after they soaked because there was some silk and dirt that still clung to them. I prepped my masa while the husks were soaking. Totally easy, really. Just remember to give it a quick manual mix before turning on the Kitchenaid paddle or else you’ll get a big blop of oil, water, and masa jumping the work bowl like I did.

stir to a soft cookie dough consistency

I made my carne adovada earlier so I wouldn’t make myself insane trying to cook everything in one day. I thank myself from a few days back for this flash of consideration.

oh nellie, i love me some shredded pork

It took me a couple of hours to make 2 dozen tamales. I’m probably much faster now that I know what I’m doing! The whole point is to have a layer of masa and encase it around some of the filling, and wrap it nicely in the husks and secure the husks shut so they don’t fall apart when you cook them. Sounds easy enough.

smoothing out the masa

set some filling down

The folding was the trickiest part. There are several ways to fold a tamale. Consider the husk, which is wide at the top and tapers down to a point at the bottom. You can fold the sides in and the skinny end up and tie around the middle, or you can fold the sides in and pull the skinny end up so it’s even with the top and tie it off at the top, or you can do what I did – the tootsie roll style where you tie it off on both ends. String or twine is good for tying off. I used strips of corn husk which looks nice and authentic, but will make you swear like a sailor when they break (a lot). I’m not a very delicate individual, so perhaps that was my problem (among others).

when you fold the sides, you want at least an inch of overlap

tying the ends securely

The husks can be pretty sturdy, as in, they don’t bunch together nicely on the wide end. I found pinching the cinch point in helped a lot while I was trying to tie the ends off. Now the recipe I used called for 1 1/2 pounds of pork for the filling, but I wound up using about 3 pounds of my carne adovada which matched the dough recipe they provide. I think their math is just a tad off, but I’ll discuss that in the recipe below.

now they are ready for steaming

I steamed the tamales for an hour. You need to cook them until the masa holds together firmly and pulls away from the husk easily. Meanwhile, kids were beginning to come by the house for their Halloween looting festival. I love Halloween – what other holiday do people actively go out in hordes to buy candy for the sole purpose of giving it away to all of the children who come by their house?! Love it.

I would have shot the tamales last night, except we were stuffing our faces and manning the door for trick-or-treaters. Mmmm, homemade is GOOD. The resident native-son-of-New-Mexico gave it the thumbs up, and he says it wasn’t just because we are married…

serve hot with some red or green sauce

even better in cross section

Carne Adovada Tamales
[print recipe]
adapted from The Border Cookbook’s Red Chile Pork Tamales, Nuevo Mexico Style

3 lbs. of carne adovada, shredded
approximately 6 oz. or 24 dried corn husks
red or green chile sauce (optional)

6 cups masa harina
1 2/3 cups vegetable oil
5 cups water
2 tsps salt

Cover the husks with boiling hot water in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the dough. In a large bowl, combine all dough ingredients and mix by hand or use paddle attachment on stand mixer and stir until smooth. Should resemble a moist cookie dough. Separate the husks and rinse them off as needed to remove any grit or brown silks. Keep them covered with water until you are ready to use each one.

*Now the recipe says to use 2 tablespoons of filling and 2 tablespoons of masa to make a 4 ounce tamale. Unfortunately that doesn’t add up to 4 ounces AND it’s an incredibly tiny tamale. So I suggest you do what I did…

To assemble: Place corn husk on work surface and spoon two heaping spoonfuls (something like 6 tablespoons or more) of the dough onto the husk. Some husks will be too small, so you can overlap two smaller ones and treat it as one. Spread dough evenly over the husk, but not to the edges. If you choose to tie both ends, leave about 2 inches of margin at the top and bottom. Line some filling in the center. I put more at the wide end of the husk and less at the narrower end. Then fold the husk’s sides in so that the dough meets. Here is where I press the dough together with the husk sides and use my fingers to press the dough on the ends so they encase the filling completely. I’m sure the pros don’t do it this way, but I’m OCD. Fold the husk’s sides so one overlaps the other and then tie off the ends with string or strips of rejected corn husks. Repeat ad nauseum.

Place the tamales in a steamer, packing loosely in crisscross direction or standing them on end. Allow enough space between them for the steam to rise effectively. Cover the pot and cook over simmering water for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes until masa is firm and no longer sticks to the husk. Serve warm (remove the husks before eating).

28 nibbles at “hot tamales!”

  1. Kate says:

    Hi! I just stumbled across your blog while searching for candied orange sticks, and I must say, your blog is beautiful! The photos are beautiful, and the recipes ridiculously easy to follow! Thank you so much for making cooking easier.

  2. melch says:

    I never thought about it in that way, but I can’t think of any starch-wrapped other ingredient(s) in any culture that I don’t like! Top of my list to add to yours would be pierogis. Then just about anything you can find in a dim sum place fits the bill, siu mai (wikipedia has a bunch of alternate spellings ) being one of my favorites from when I still ate meat. I’m really hungry now and those tamales look fantastic!

  3. Ma-li says:

    Sure looks yummy! Traditional Chinese/Nonyas Ang-Ku-Kueh (Glutinous Rice Flour Dough Wrap ~ with peanuts, coconut or mung bean fillings), Ondeh-Ondeh ~ sweet potatoes wrap with coconut fillings. Does Lotus-Leaf wrapped rice 荷叶饭 counts??

  4. Maninas: Food Matters says:

    amazing! :)

  5. Amy says:

    Mm yum, I love that shredded pork! But I’m partial to Chinese dumplings. :)

  6. peabody says:

    When we left Phoenix I left my tamale supplier…one of my students mom’s. I can’t have spicy foods so she was always great about making me some gringa versions.

  7. Barbara says:

    Just discovered your blog and love it! These tamales made my stomach growl. I may have to give the recipe a try.

  8. johanna says:

    your tamales look beautiful – when i lived in mexico, i could never hold back when they were served. further south, where I stayed, the savoury tamales are actually steamed in banana leaves, only the sweet ones get the corn husk treatment. i still have some at home and will try my favourites soon: pecan nuts and pineapple, with a dish of brown sugar. absolutely divine. i hope i can make them as good as my “auntie” in oaxaca!

  9. Lisa says:

    I LOVE tamales! I’ve always been too intimidated to try and make them myself, but your directions don’t seem as difficult as I imagined. I just might have to give them a try!

  10. jenyu says:

    Kate – thank you, glad you could stop by.

    Melch – I’d like to try those some day – I’ve never had them.

    Ma-li – yes, I think lotus leaf-wrapped glutinous rice counts.

    Maninas -thanks :)

    Amy – I love them all to be honest ;)

    Peabody – It shouldn’t be too hard to fill these with a milder filling – use less or no chiles?

    Barbara – let me know how it goes!

    Johanna – I’ve had savory tamales wrapped in banana leaves. I think they were Guatamalan? Delicious. I hope you’ll post those on your blog (which I have on my google/reader feed)!!

    Lisa – Oh don’t be intimidated at all. I have never made them before and look how they came out on my first try! I’m sure you’ll love them (they are delicious fresh).

  11. Coffee & Vanilla says:

    They look beautiful! And I love your photography! Will visit again soon.

  12. jenyu says:

    Margot – thanks :)

  13. Bella says:

    I guess you should try arepas, they are Venezuelan food. They are like Mexican gorditas, but we use a different kind of corn flour. We also have hallacas, they are just to die for… arepas are easier than hallacas but rich in flavor. hope you make them some day. If you need some help just let me know.

  14. jenyu says:

    Bella – I have heard of them before and I’m really curious to try them. Something to add to my list of recipes to try! :) Thanks!

  15. Bella says:

    Good!! I’ll keep you page on my fav

  16. kristen says:

    I think you should try making Japanese mochi, those little and wonderful ice cream balls wrapped in a sticky yet not too sweet layer. I recently found your blog and love the precision in your recipes, really great pictures!


  17. jenyu says:

    Kristen – thanks. Actually, traditional mochi are filled with sweet pastes like red bean or lotus bean or black sesame. I’m not there yet… too many recipes on my list :)

  18. Amy says:

    I am trying this recipe this weekend. The only recipe of yours I’ve tried before was the candied orange peels, which turned out too hard (I think because you’re so high and I’m below sea level). Anyways, I was just reading though, and you said you’d like to try BBQ steamed buns. I did a couple weeks ago, they came out good, but messy. I look forward to reading your experience with them someday!

  19. jenyu says:

    Amy – well, my instructions are for sea-level and the high altitude instructions are in parentheses (and labeled as such). Most folks at sea-level or below have met with success, but I think it’s important to monitor the peels while they are cooking and testing them during the cooking process. Candy-making is a *very* finicky process in general :( Good luck with the tamales, they are definitely more forgiving!

  20. danny says:

    danny says yummmy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:) ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

  21. danny says:

    i love hot tamales

  22. jenyu says:

    Danny – that’s great.

  23. Nate says:

    The link said Tamales made with real butter. Where is the butter?

  24. Denise says:

    WELL I WAS LOOKING FOR A GOOD RECIPE>>>>Thank you….im waiting for the tamales to be ready…..hopefuly there going to be fantastic….my siter is comming over for dinner ;)

  25. Jenny says:

    Beautiful photos! I’m having a tamale party next week. The recipe looks great!

  26. Homemade strawberry tamales and Día de la Candelaria « The Mija Chronicles says:

    […] *If you don’t have a steamer pot: How to Steam Tamales Without A Steamer Basket *On folding: There are several ways to do it, and you don’t have to tie them closed necessarily. I like Use Real Butter’s photo pictorial here. […]

  27. Rosa says:

    Just when I almost gave up. Beautiful and humorous presentation.

  28. micah mcdaniel says:

    Tamale’s are definitely a challenge! My first batch took 2 days also. And my kids, sons, who were 20 and 24 at the time said something like, “Gee Mom, I think they might be just a little spicy.”
    I should have slapped one of them up side the head.
    I’ve never worked that hard on any food item in my life. It was like constructing an entry into a a fine arts contest at the last minute and having a little know- it- all judge who never made anything in her life in my area of art tell me that she didn’t think I put enough effort or time into my project and that I could have done better if I had just started earlier and chosen different materials to work with.
    After I see equal effort from the one who is so generous with the critiques and suggestions, I will be more inclined to listen with a sweeter ear.
    I am proud of you for trying and I think your recipe is pretty darned good. What I am especially grateful for and want to say a big THANK YOU” for is the Empinada recipe. I looked and looked forever and made some of the sorriest empinadas in the world trying to find the right recipe. THANK YOU!!!!!!!! You had the right one. Just like the ones at Quick Trip!! I love them!!!!!


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