Tamales are a classic Mexican favorite but traditionally you usually just buy them from a restaurant. End that cycle with this delicious and easy-to-follow Hot Tamale Recipe!
Everyone loves eating out at their favorite Mexican restaurant. It’s always a flavorful and exciting experience, but what if you could have those flavors at home? Treat yourself to an unforgettable Mexican meal that rivals any restaurant with this delicious recipe for Hot Tamales.
What You’ll Love About This Hot Tamales Recipe
This recipe is a more complicated cook but every bit of work you put into this delicious cook is worthwhile! These tamales have so much bold and comforting flavor that they will make you forget about your favorite restaurant. Plus, the satisfaction of making tamales from scratch will fill you with pride and connect you with rich Mexican culinary traditions.
Terrific Tamale Taste
If you’ve ever had a great tamale you probably did not forget it. Tamales have such a complex and fulfilling flavor from the medley or meat and masa. The seasoning is rich in garlic, onion, and peppery flavors that will leave you wanting more. This recipe doesn’t just top your favorite restaurant but it makes a batch of tamales that would even please a picky abuela!
If you come from a Hispanic family then you probably have many fond memories of your family cooking tamales when you were young. It’s a time-honored tradition to be in the kitchen making tamales with family. Even if you have not practiced this tradition before, it's a great way to get your family together for some quality time in the kitchen.
For the Filling:
Neutral Cooking Oil
Vegetable, canola, and safflower oils are all great choices for this ingredient.
Boneless Pork Shoulder
This economical cut of meat gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Choose a nice pink cut with even fat marbling throughout.
For these tamales, choose yellow or white onions.
Fresh garlic gives a balanced savory and sweet flavor. Buy fresh garlic or choose a jar of peeled garlic cloves.
Chili powder brings a nice warmth and spiciness to the flavor.
This spice adds color and peppery flavor. Smoked paprika is a great choice for this recipe.
Cumin has an irresistible earthy and warm flavor. To make the most delicious version of this spice, dry toast the cumin seeds and then grind them in a spice grinder.
Garlic powder is a delicious way to build up the rich savory flavor in this recipe.
Oregano brings a tasty herbal flavor with a hint of sweetness. If you prefer, you can substitute dried with fresh at a ratio of 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano to 1 teaspoon dried.
Cayenne has a great peppery depth and smokiness that makes the filling so tasty.
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
These simple seasonings round out the bold flavors in this dish.
Chicken stock adds salt and flavor. To cut the sodium, choose a low-salt variety. You can also substitute chicken stock with vegetable stock, in a pinch.
For the Tamales:
Dried Corn Husks
Dried corn husks are the wrapper that the tamales are cooked in. Look for these in the produce or Latin sections of the grocery store.
For the Masa Dough:
There are so many salty flavors in this dish that unsalted butter is just the right creamy balance. Allow it to come to room temperature before using the butter in the dough.
Baking powder makes the dough airy and soft.
Salt makes everything taste better. Choose a fine-grain kosher salt for this dough.
Masa harina is dried corn dough and it’s essential for so many traditional Mexican dishes. One great brand to look for is Maseca.
Choose your favorite type of cooking stock, chicken, vegetable, or pork.
Mexican crema is a delicious type of sour dairy that brings tangy flavor when served with these tamales. If you prefer, use sour cream instead.
Salsa verde is a wonderful condiment made from tomatillos and peppers. It has an irresistibly tangy heat that shines with these tamales.
If you like things extra spicy, have a few of your favorite hot sauces on hand for serving.
To simmer the pork.
You’ll need a few large bowls to help mix the filling in and soften the corn husks.
The dough can be very tough to mix, so use a stand mixer to make it simple!
How to Make These Tamales
Prepare the Filling:
- Place the Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add a generous drizzle of cooking oil.
- Generously season the pork with salt and pepper and then add it to the hot Dutch oven.
- Sear for about 3-5 minutes per side or until beautifully browned.
- Remove the meat and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the onions. Cook until softened and translucent.
- Add the garlic and spices and cook for about 1 more minute.
- Return the pork to the Dutch oven and pour in enough stock so that it comes up to about ¾ of the way up the pork.
- Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for about 2 to 2 ½ hours or until the meat is tender and shreddable.
- Turn off the heat and set the Dutch oven aside to cool.
- Once the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and any large pieces of fat, and then shred the remaining meat.
- Move the shredded meat to a large bowl.
- Strain the cooking liquid and discard any solids. Ladle some of the strained liquid over the meat to make it juicy but not runny.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
Prepare the Corn Husks:
- Fill an extra large or clean and stoppered kitchen sink with hot water.
- Add the husks to the bowl and place a weight or heavy pot on top of them to keep them submerged.
- Soak until they are soft and flexible, for at least 1 hour.
- Rinse the husk and place them in a large bowl covered with a damp tea towel.
Make the Dough:
- Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter. Cream on medium-high for 2 minutes or until light and airy.
- Reduce the mixer speed and add the baking powder and salt.
- Slowly add the masa harina little by little, and alternate each masa addition by adding about ¼ cup of stock for every 1 cup of masa.
- Pause the mixer to test the texture. It should be grains, airy, and sticky. Adjust the ingredient until the right texture is achieved.
- Increase the mixer speed to high and beat for about 2 more minutes.
- Test the dough by dropping a pea-sized ball into a cup of cold water. If it floats, the dough is done. If it sinks, add a little stock and test again before beating more air into the dough.
Assemble the Tamales:
- Carefully remove a single corn husk from the water and pat dry.
- Flatten the husk with the rough side down on a clean work surface.
- Use an ice cream scoop to drop scoops onto the wide end of the husk.
- Using your fingers or spatula, flatten the dough into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Be sure to leave a ½ inch border of husk around the dough.
- Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of pork onto the center of the dough in a straight line.
- Carefully roll the husk away from yourself so the dough rectangle seals at the top and bottom edges.
- Press the seam to seal. Use an extra bit of dough to glue the edges, if needed.
- Once sealed, roll the husk into a tight cylinder, tuck the bottom end under, and tie the middle with kitchen twine to hold it together.
- Stack the tamales on a sheet pan until all the dough and meat are used.
- Stack the tamales on a sheet pan and repeat until all dough and filling are used.
Steam the Tamales:
- Fit a pot with a steamer basket and enough water to reach just below the basket.
- Place on the stovetop and bring the water to boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the water at a simmer and cover the basket holes with a couple extra corn husks.
- Arrange the tamales standing up in the pot with the open end at the top.
- Add enough tamales to firmly pack but do not overcrowd the pot because they will expand slightly when cooked.
- Cover the tamales with additional husks and cover the pot.
- Steam the tamales, do not let the water go dry. Continue to steam for about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- To check for doneness, remove a single tamale and let it rest for 5 minutes. If the dough is firm and the husk is easy to peel off, they are done.
- Let tamales rest in the pot for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Optionally, reserve a few cups of cooking liquid for serving.
- Serve tamales warm in their husks. Serve with cooking liquid (for drizzling) Mexican crema, salsa verde, and hot sauce.
- Start simmering the pork early. It takes a couple hours to cook, plus time to cool so it can be made in advance if needed.
- Use two forks to shred the pork.
- You can soak the husks in cool water overnight if you prefer.
- Be careful sealing the tamales because gaps in the seam can lead to filling leaking during the steaming process.
- Assembling the tamales is a great family project. Have one person dry the husk, another spreads the dough, and one person folds.
- Place a few pennies in the water of the steamer basket, if they rattle the water is getting low.
- For firmer tamales, remove them from the pot and cover them with a dish towel for about 10 minutes before serving.
- For softer tamales, take the pot off the heat and remove the lid and extra corn husks. Allow them to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
How to Store Tamales
Allow the tamales to cool and then wrap them in extra corn husks or plastic wrap. Place the wrapped tamales in an airtight container and store them in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Can the Tamale Filling be Made in Advance?
Yes, it can. To keep the filling juicy and rich add a drizzle of canola oil to the meat after bringing it to room temperature. This adds a little liquid fat to replace the pork fat you removed and keeps the filling nice and juicy!Print
Hot Tamales Recipe
- Yield: 45 tamales 1x
For The Filling
- Neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower
- 8 to 10 pounds boneless pork shoulder
- 2 onions, peeled and cut into thick slices
- 5 to 6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- ¼ cup chili powder
- ¼ cup paprika
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 to 3 cups chicken stock
For the Tamales
- 16 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 5 cups masa harina
- chicken, pork, or vegetable stock, as needed
- Mexican crema or sour cream
- Salsa verde
- Assorted hot sauces
To prepare the filling, first heat a few tablespoons cooking oil in a large Dutch over medium-high to high heat. Pat the pork dry and season generously with salt and pepper. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork (cut in half and working in two batches if necessary to fit in your pan) and sear until crisp and golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove the meat and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and spices and cook for another 30 to 60 seconds.
Return the pork to the skillet and add enough stock to come approximately three quarters up the sides of the meat. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until the meat is very tender and falls apart easily when pulled with a fork, 2 to 2 ½ hours. Turn off heat and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove and discard any skin and large chunks of fat. Shred the remaining meat and transfer to a large bowl.
Strain the cooking liquid, discarding the solids. Ladle enough remaining liquid over the meat to make it juicy but not runny. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If making the filling in advance I like to add a drizzle of canola oil to the meat after bringing to room temperature, as fat in the filling ensures the cooked tamale stays rich and moist.)
To prepare the dried corn husks for the tamales, fill a very large bowl — I use my large tamale pot — or kitchen sink with hot water. Add the husks, placing a heavy pot or weight on them to keep submerged. Soak until they are soft and pliable, a minimum of one hour; alternately you can soak them in cool water overnight. Rinse the husks to remove any dust and hold them in a large mixing bowl covered with a clean, damp towel. (Husks can be re-soaked if necessary.)
To make the dough, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add the baking powder and salt. Start adding the masa harina to the butter mixture, adding a few glugs of stock (about ¼ cup) after every cup or so of masa. Stop the mixer occasionally to feel the texture of the dough — it should feel light, airy, and slightly sticky, almost like grainy mashed potatoes; adjust ingredients as necessary until this texture is reached. Turn the mixer to high and continue beating for 1 to 2 minutes, then test the dough for doneness. Drop a couple pea-sized balls into a cup of cold tap water. If it is ready the balls will float to the top. If they sink, add a splash of stock and continue beating to incorporate more air into the mixture. Test dough again before moving forward. (The dough can be refrigerated at this point. Return to stand mixer and beat for a few minutes before using.)
To assemble the tamales, carefully remove a single corn husk from the water and pat quite dry. Flatten the husk, rough side down, on a clean work surface so that it runs horizontal to the counter. Using a spring-form ice cream scoop or measuring cup (for consistency when measuring), drop the dough onto the lower portion of the wide end of the husk. Use your fingers or an offset spatula to press the dough into an even rectangle about a ¼-inch thick and leaving a ½-inch border at the wide edge. (If the dough feels too moist, dip your fingers in a bowl of masa to prevent sticking.)
Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture in a fairly thin line down the center of the dough. Carefully roll the husk away from yourself so the bottom edge of dough meets the top edge of dough. Gently press the seam to seal, using a pinch of additional dough as "glue" if necessary. (Any gaps in the seam can allow filling, i.e. moisture, to escape while steaming.) Once sealed, roll the husk sushi-style to form a tight cylinder. Tuck the thin bottom end under and tie the folded end with kitchen twine if desired. Stack the tamales on a sheet pan and repeat until all dough and filling is used. (If multiple people are making tamales it can be more efficient to work assembly line-style, i.e. one person dries husk, one spreads dough, one fills, one ties, and so on.)
To steam the tamales, fill a large tamale pot or stock pot fitted with a steamer basket with enough water to reach just below the insert and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low heat so that the water is gently simmering but not boiling. Cover the holes in the insert with a few extra corn husks to help concentrate the heat. Arrange the tamales upright in the pot (like skyscrapers) with the open end pointing up, folded side towards the water. Continue arranging until the tamales are firmly packed but not overcrowding the pot, allowing some room for the dough to expand. Cover the tamales with additional husks and place a lid on the pot.
Steam the tamales, monitoring the heat to ensure the water simmering and the pot has not gone dry. (You can place a few pennies in the water of the steamer basket — if you start hearing them rattle, the water is getting low.) Cook the tamales for 1 to 1 ½ hours; to check for doneness, remove a tamale and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to rest. If the dough firms up and the husk easily peels away from the masa it is done. For firmer tamales, remove from the pot, cover with a dish towel, and rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. For softer tamales, take the pot off the heat. Remove the lid and discard the extra corn husks draped over the tamales and covering the holes in the insert (just stick tongs down towards the bottom to pull them out). Let tamales rest in the pot for 5 to 10 minutes before removing to serve. After removing tamales, reserve a few cups of cooking liquid and set aside.
Serve tamales warm in their husks, discarding husks before eating. For moister tamales, drizzle a few teaspoons of reserved cooking liquid over the top. Serve with Mexican creme, salsa verde, and hot sauce.