Each family has different ways to make tamales. While my family is Mexican-American, even different Mexican-Americans will make tamales differently. There isn’t necessarily a “right” way to do it–just different ways. This is the base recipe my family uses, but if you use a different way, I’m sure it’s fine! The most important thing is that the tamales taste good to you.
– Corn Husks
– Fillings (whatever you want, veggies, meat, cheese, etc.)
– Corn Masa
– Whatever the corn masa bag tells you you need (a lot of vegetable oil, salt, water, etc.)
– Patience & time
– Family members and/or friends
1. Soak the corn husks for at least two hours. You’ll need to separate them individually when putting them in the water and only use bigger ones. If they’re too small, you can’t use them well. Save those small ones for the “ties” though. It’s best to get a big bowl or we often use those big disposable aluminum containers. Put plates or a pot lid on top of the husks to hold them down in the water. Soak for at least 2 hours. Longer is fine. When they’re ready, take them out & let them dry a bit, but only so water isn’t dripping off of them. You just want to make sure they’re still flexible when you start putting the masa on them. While these are soaking, you can be making the masa/fillings.
2. Make the fillings. I personally like cooked spicy peppers with cheese, but those who eat meat will typically use shredded meat. Really, whatever you want is fine. Different families have different traditions about what goes inside. Whatever you’re putting inside, now is a good time to cook it while the corn husks are soaking.
3. Make the masa. If you just buy corn masa, there will be instructions on the back. Add water/masa to get a good consistency. It should be a bit moister than like bread dough, but it shouldn’t really stick to your fingers. You’re welcome to make the masa completely from scratch… but you’ll need to find another recipe for that.
4. Flatten masa on the corn husk. Leave space at the bottom so you can wrap them up still. You’ll want it pretty thin or the tamale will be all masa.
5. Put your filling in. Put it on top of the masa that you had spread out on the corn husk. You want it to close, but again, don’t want too much corn masa. This part may take some practice. At the end of the day though, even just okay tamales are still pretty good
6. Wrap. You’ll kinda want to “connect” the two sides of the masa so when you unwrap the tamale later, it stays together (like a burrito). If you’re making different types of tamales, make sure you find a way to indicate which is which. Ex: We normally only put the corn husk “tie” around veggie ones and leave meat ones without a tie.
7. Steam for about two hours. Tamales go in the steamer with the open part standing up. If you put them on their side, you’ll be sad when everything falls apart. You can put wet rags/cloth in the side if you don’t have enough for a full batch. Also, it’s best to get a wet rag/cloth and lay it over top (helps them steam better) and THEN put the lid on. But, this next part is probably the most important part. You steam them for about two hours. SOMEONE MUST BE IN THE KITCHEN THE ENTIRE TIME. Bring a book, hang out, drink some beer. I don’t care. But you must NEVER leave the Tamales alone during ANY part of this process. Read here why. If you’re making multiple batches, this is still true.
8. Check the Tamales. After about two hours, take one out & let it cool for a minute or two. Taste it & see if they’re cooked all the way. Generally, you know it’s ready if it rolls easily out of the husk and isn’t “doughy” anymore. This isn’t an exact science though. So, they sometimes need more time. There’s about a 30-45 minute margin of error. It’s more likely that they will be undercooked than overcooked by accident.
9. Enjoy! Tip: If someone you’re making tamales with has never had tamales, they get to eat the first tamale–pretend it’s tradition. See if they make the same rookie mistake as President Gerald Ford (you don’t eat the corn husk–you unwrap it). Tamales freeze really well too. As you can see, they can be a lot of work. So, make a bunch & freeze them. There’s a reason we typically only do this once a year.
What more visuals? Here’s a video I found that does a pretty good job explaining the process! Of course, you don’t need to use beef but it’s just one example and her channel has other examples too.