Usually around here, we make tamales before Christmas, but this time, it got put off until New Years eve and then it didn’t make it here until now. But, I’m a firm believer if you’re willing to put in the work for tamales, they’re good any time! I will make a whole bunch of them then freeze them for later or give them away to family and friends though, I will admit, I hoard most of them for myself!
Ingredients for Filling
Bone-in Pork Butt (Mine was around 6-7 pounds)
Garlic Powder or Fresh Minced Garlic
1 10 oz bag Red Chili Pods (I use mild, but you can use a mix of mild and medium or mild and hot depending on your level of heat you want)
Tools and Extras You Need
1 package of corn husks
Large tamale pot with steaming tray in bottom
Spoon or masa spreader
What I do is put my pork roast in the crock pot the day before I want to make tamales so that the meat is cooked and cooled by the time I’m ready to roll it up.
So I take my pork roast and I make a rub with the chili powder, salt and pepper and I rub it into the meat generously. In order for your rub to stick, make sure that you dab the roast dry with paper towels before putting your rub on. After that, I put it in the crock pot, on low and I cook it for 6-8 hours or until the roast is peeling away from the bone.
If you are ready to make your tamales, you’re going to need to soak your corn husks to soften them up. I have a large tupperware container I lay the husks in and fill it with water. Let them soak for about an hour, so make sure that you schedule all your steps in accordance. We’ll leave them in the water until we actually ready to fill the husks.
Once the pork roast is cooked, I let it cool and then I go in and shred it, making sure to get all the bones. You would think that big bones are all you’ll find, but in fact, I did find a couple smaller pieces which might have broken off or been shaved off when the butcher cut it, so just be thorough and careful.
Soaked Corn Husks
In a medium sized pot, combine 5 cups of water (or until pods are just covered) and then add 3/4 of the bag chili pods of your choosing (be they all mild or a mixture of mild and hot to get that extra spice.) I use mild because my stomach can’t handle spicy food even if I crave it! We’re going to bring the water to a low boil and we’re going to cook the chili pods until they’re nice and soft. I find that my cooking time varies depending on the chili’s. Once they start boiling, I would say it takes about 20-25 minutes respectfully and I stir my pods and turn them over just to make sure they’re cooking evenly.
I would like to make mention that there are so many ways to make tamales that you will see variations all over the place. If you don’t want to use powdered garlic and powdered onion, simply add 2 tbsp of minced garlic to your water and one whole onion, cut up, to cook with your chili’s.
Chili Stems Removed
Once your chili’s are cooked, we’re going to remove them from the heat and fish them out to put on a plate to cool some. The reason for this is because I then pull the stems off the chili’s. Some people just blend it all up but I don’t. And if you try to pull the stems off when they’re fresh out of the water, you’re going to burn your fingers.
Now, if you have a blender that you can put hot liquids into, we’re going to put our cooked chili pods into the blender and then pour about 3 cups of the chili water into the blender. Some people just pour out the chili water, but its got great flavor and I hate to waste it. If you’re not comfortable with working with hot liquid, just wait until it’s cool, and if your blender isn’t going to hold all the water and the chili’s, please don’t overfill it or it WILL spew out of the lid and you’ll be burned or covered in red chili sauce. Simply do it in batches.
We’re going to puree it until it’s all nice and smooth, or as smooth as it’s going to get. Set half a cup of the red chili puree aside for your masa then pour the rest of the red chili sauce into the shredded pork meat and then mix it in together until well incorporated. Now it’s ready to be used for our tamale stuffing so it’s time to prepare our masa Dough.
Ingredients for Masa Dough
2 pounds lard
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
5 pounds masa flour
2-3 cups chicken broth
If you have a stand mixer, I encourage you to use it, but if you don’t, just mix it by hand, which is what I do, even though I have a stand mixer. Weird, I know! But I like the handy work that goes in to making tamales.
Snow Cap Lard
Add 1 pound of lard to your mixer and mix it until it’s soft and fluffy. If you’re working by hand, just get a little down and dirty with a good heavy spoon and work your lard with it.
Next, add 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp of salt to your lard and mix them together.
Add 2.5 pounds of masa (half the bag)and mix it well with your lard. If doing it by hand, just do it like you would a bread dough, though let me warn you, our masa is going to be STICKY so you’ll have it all between your fingers.
Add 1 cup of chicken broth and 1/4 cup of the red chili sauce to the masa mix. If it’s dry and not the consistency of peanut butter, add a little more chicken broth (up to 1/2 a cup), until its the consistency we want.
Mixing Masa Dough
So now we have our masa dough and our filling ready, and our corn husks have soaked, it’s time to take some husks out and rinse them off, pulling off the little corn silk bits that might be left. We’ll then get some of the extra water off by letting them drain in a colander.
Now we’re going to lay out our work station with our masa, our filling, our corn husks, and a cookie sheet to lay our our finished tamales.
You’ll notice your corn husks are triangular in shape. Take a husk and place the wide end of it on the palm of your hand as that’s where the masa will go. Spread a couple tablespoonfuls of masa over the middle of the corn husk in your palm, but don’t take the masa all the way to the bottom of the husk or the edges as it’ll make a mess. Once your masa is spread, leaving a thin layer (just how I like to spread my peanut butter on toast), we’re going to take a
couple tablespoons of our filling and put it down the center of our masa layer. We then fold both sides of the husk towards the middle, then bring the pointed end up against the seam. Voila! You have your first tamale. Now just repeat these steps until you’re done!
I lay my tamales on the cookie sheet, folded side down to hold it shut until I’m ready to load my tamale steamer.
So we’re going to fill our steamer with water to the fill line which is where it’s just below the steaming rack. Also, as a nice little trick, put a penny in the water so that when your water is getting low, the sound of the penny bouncing around will let you know that you need to add more water. To add water, I usually pour it down the side wall of the pot, as long as the water isn’t going directly into a tamale. Basically, you just find a gap to add water so we don’t burn our pot dry while cooking.
Tamale Pot Steamer
Next, we’re going to place our tamales in, folded side down, with our seams against the side of the pot. As you load in more tamales, put your seams against the other tamales already in the pot which will keep them from unfolding.
Tamales in the Pot
Once your pot is loaded, cover it with the lid and bring the water to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn it down to a simmer and let steam for 2.5 – 3 hours. To test if the tamales are done, take one out with your tongs and lay it on a plate. Peel off the corn husk (carefully since its hot), and if it peels away clean from your masa, they’re done! If not, let them steam a little longer.
As you might have noticed in our featured picture, the tamales are actually tied shut with a little bit of corn husk. I did this because my other half can’t eat chili’s so I tied them shut to mark them as just being shredded pork and cheese.
*I just wanted to mention that the masa recipe we used is enough for two batches as there isn’t an exact science as to how much dough you’ll need or how much pork will be left over. You can mix both batches instead of just one masa batch, put the leftover masa in an airtight freezer bag and freeze it to use later.