Saturday, January 1, 2011

Too Many Tamales

One of my favorite things about Christmas and the week leading up to New Year's Day is the crazy amount of cooking that gets done. When I moved to Ohio from California and was preparing to celebrate my first Ohio Christmas, I had a shocking realization that one special food would be missing from our holiday dinner: tamales. Growing up, my grandma on my dad's side made tamales for Christmas every year. Having only sons, the family was never really involved in her holiday cooking (I did offer once but she said she didn't need help). On my mother's side, despite there being 4 sisters, after my grandmother passed away in 1992, the tamale tradition went with her. Since I desperately wanted tamales I did the only thing I could think to do: Google a recipe. Along with my Googled recipe I talked with my parents and my grandma trying to figure out what the best way to go about everything would be. They turned out surprisingly well that first year and better each year since (this is my fourth tamale year!). 

Rainy day = dark pictures

Tamale assembly is quite the process, especially when you're going at it alone (and I only made 4 dozen). Then the steaming where you have to make sure you don't boil the pot dry. I started at around nine thirty this morning and finally, at three thirty this afternoon, the tamales were cooked and ready for consumption. I should mention that I cook the meat overnight in the slow cooker in order to save some time.  As I like to tell Adam, I'm trying to preserve our heritage. Tomorrow I'll be learning to make ravioli with his grandma in the same way she learned from her mother-in-law who immigrated from Italy. Yum!  

I did utilize the steaming time to get some knitting in. I'm a bit more than halfway done with the back of Adam's sweater which I will definitely finish and block tonight. That will leave me with the sleeves and seaming left. Not too shabby. 

Happy New Year! 

Andrea's Tamale Recipe or Tamales de Andrea
Just FYI: I cook the meat overnight, soak husks before making filling, make filling, make the masa, then assemble and cook.
Corn Husks (hojas)
1 bag corn husks (I buy these at the Mexican food store)
  • Before you begin to make the meat filling, fill your sink with warm water and soak your husks. You will need approximately 48 large husks. If you find you have a lot of smaller husks, soak more. You can always soak more as you need but they will need to soak in the water at least a half hour to an hour.

Beef Filling
2-2.5lb beef roast 
  • Cook meat on low overnight in slow cooker (approximately 8-9 hours). Cool in bowl. Remove excess fat and save meat broth. Shred with fingers.

1/2 c. corn oil
4-6T chili powder
2-3T garlic powder
1-3T cumin
1T black pepper
2T salt.
  • Mix all dry ingredients together in small bowl. Warm oil in microwave. Mix both oil and seasoning (a bit at a time) into shredded meat with hands until all is evenly distributed.
Tamale Masa (dough)
~2lbs. MASECA (this is like a corn flour. I found it at my local grocery store in the ethnic food isle. 1 bag is over 4lbs so this is about half a bag)
3T paprika
1T cumin
3T chili powder
3T garlic powder
2c. corn oil
2 quarts warm water
leftover meat broth

  • Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl (I use a whisk to make sure spices are evenly distributed). Slowly mix in oil and meat broth using your hands (a spoon just doesn't cut it. Sorry). Add water, mixing until it is about the consistency of thick peanut butter (You probably won't use all the water. It should be thick but sticky enough to spread)

This is where things can get tricky. Use a dish towel to dry your husks. I set mine in a strainer for a bit then dry about a dozen at a time. Using a pastry spreader (I don't know what it's really called but it's about 2 inches wide and you might use it to scrape the bowl while your making a batter or something) you will spread a small scoop of masa onto the dried corn husk (it won't stick if it's wet). You will know that your masa is moist enough if it spreads easily and does not break apart. I spread masa over the widest half of the husk only two thirds across. The two thirds covered in masa will be folded in half and the plain third will be wrapped around the others. Make sense? Here is a helpful link:

South of the South: Making Tamales: an excellent resource! This is the website I used the first time.

I use about 1 tablespoon of meat filling in each tamale. Wrap them up so the meat is enclosed in the masa, stack them and set aside. This takes some time! 

I use a regular large pot with a steamer tray and a electric steamer that has a basket insert. Stack the tamales standing upright in steaming basket. You don't want them to get wet while they cook or when your put more water in. Cover the tamales with any leftover corn husks or a cotton dish towel. Make sure you will be able to add water throughout the cooking process. Steam the tamales for approximately 1.5-2 hours. I check mine about every 20 minutes adding water as needed. At about 1.5 hours, take one out and let it cool for 5 minutes. Unwrap.  If the masa is solid and comes away from the husk easily, they're ready! I cooked mine for about two hours.

Yields about 4 dozen

Good luck! Feel free to email me if you ever try this and have any questions.


  1. I could relate to this post for 2 reasons: 1) I moved from Texas to Ohio so I miss the tamales for Christmas too & 2) I'm of Cajun heritage and while a few recipes have been preserved, I've taught myself to make jambalaya by combining tv and book recipes.

  2. those look yummy! tamales aren't part of our christmas cooking, but they look like they should be! (and congrats on the knitting progress...can't wait to see pics!)

  3. Have you read "Too Many Tamales"? It's a children's picture book, funny in parts...I think it's by Gary Soto, but I didn't look it up and my copy is packed away in my storage bin.....

  4. Would you be willing to share how you make tamales? I love them, but don't know how to make them.

  5. Memories = Food. Food = Memories. Your Grandma would be so proud! I'd love to have the recipe or is it "Top Secret?

  6. Andrea, those look delicious!!! I SO wanted to come over today. We had our traditional family new year, and it was nice. But those tamales look nicer :)

  7. Like YarninMama, I can also relate - I moved to Florida from California. Although I get to eat yummy Puerto Rican pasteles from my hubby's side of the family, we also started making our own batches of tamales (mostly because I miss them!) but also so our kids retain some of their Mexican heritage as well. By the way, your tamales look deelish!!

  8. Oh yum! There is a nearby hispanic coalition in my neck of the woods (the deep south) that does a tamale sale every year as a fundraiser.

  9. i love that you learned how to carry on a family tradition. happy new year!

  10. Yummy tamales! I love keeping tradition alive too. I try to do the same during Christmas, but it's easier for me as I am the immigrant so I didn't have to learn from someone else. Can't wait to see your raviolis! Hope you post pics. :)

  11. tamales, i am SO impressed! that's a hella lotta work. but they're worth it. you made my mouth water with this post. :) happy new year andrea!

  12. Mmm, tamales. Yum. I'm glad you're getting some knitting time on the sweater. I can't wait to see your progress!

  13. Very nifty, thank you for posting the recipe! I am going to try to make them this weekend!

  14. Mmmmm... yum. I make tamales for Christmas too. Thanks for sharing your recipe, I love to see how everyone makes theirs.


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