How to Make Tamales

Tamales aren't difficult to prepare, and the filling is limited only by your imagination and preference.

How to Make Traditional Tamales

Photo: Lee Harrelson

Traditional Tamales

Traditionally, tamales are cooked in a tamalera, a metal pot with a steamer tray that can cook up to 6 dozen tamales. We found that you can achieve similar results with an oven method that doesn't require special equipment. Place up to 2 dozen tamales on a broiler rack lined with a damp towel, cover tamales with another damp towel, and place rack in a broiler pan filled with hot water to a depth of about 1/2 inch. (Use old towels if possible because they may discolor.)

View Recipe: Pork and Ancho Chile Tamales with Mexican Red Sauce

Tamale Ingredients

Tamale Ingredients

Look for specific ingredients at local supermarkets and Latin markets.

  • Masa harina: This flour is made from sun-dried corn kernels cooked in limewater, and then ground.
  • Lard: You'll find lard, made from rendered pork fat, in refrigerated cases or the frozen foods section of some specialty markets. Our recipe for Basic Masa Dough uses just a touch of lard to bind and flavor the dough. If you can't find lard, you can use an equal amount of vegetable shortening.
  • Dried corn husks: Used to wrap tamales and keep them moist while cooking, corn husks are not eaten. Other traditional wrappers include banana and plantain leaves.

Make Tamales: Weigh Corn Husks Down

Step 1

Weigh corn husks down; cover with water. Soak them at least 30 minutes.

Make Tamales: Shape Basic Masa Dough

Step 2

Shape about 3 tablespoons Basic Masa Dough into a rectangle, and spoon filling on top.

Make Tamales: Fold Corn Husk

Step 3

Fold corn husk over, covering filling with dough.

Make Tamales: Fold Husk Again

Step 4

Fold husk over again.

Make Tamales: Fold Bottom End of Husk

Step 5

Fold bottom end of husk up and over tamale.

Make Tamales: Place Tamales on Broiler Pan

Step 6

Place tamales, seam sides down, on the rack of a broiler pan lined with a damp towel; cover. Cook as directed in recipe below.

View Recipe: Pork and Ancho Chile Tamales with Mexican Red Sauce

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