I won’t say it’s quick or easy to make tamales from scratch. But they are delicious, and not terribly difficult if you have a heavy-duty mixer and the patience to give them a try.
Like homemade raviolis, making tamales requires some time and planning. Unless you are making them with someone who knows what each part should look and feel like, it’s best to faithfully follow these steps and measurements.
The first step is to season and cook the pork. A 7-pound pork roast will take a while to cook, so plan to cook it the day before in a slow cooker or crock pot for 12-14 hours. I made a half-recipe (30 tamales); I’ll make another batch before the heat of summer sets in. The smaller pork roast still took about 8 hours to fully cook. The following recipe is for a half-batch.
3 1/2 pound pork roast
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups water
Dredge pork in flour and sear in hot skillet or Dutch oven until browned on all sides. (Note the mesh around this roast and be sure to remove any nylon mesh before searing.) Mix together remaining ingredients and sprinkle over roast in crock pot or Dutch oven. Pour water over roast and allow to cook on low (or 325 in oven) for several hours – up to 12-14 hours in a crock pot; cooking time will be shorter in a Dutch oven. Cool and shred. Use a fat separator, or refrigerate the broth, and skim the hardened fat off the top. Pour enough broth over the shredded meat to coat; toss well. Refrigerate unless you are making the tamales immediately.
Masa Dough Ingredients:
Directions for masa dough:
Soak the corn husks for at least two hours before making the tamales. Drain and place on tea towel and press out all excess moisture – they should be damp and pliable but not wet.
Beat lard or shortening in large bowl with a heavy-duty mixer until fluffy – approximately 5 minutes. Begin alternating masa with chicken broth, mixing at medium speed. If at any time the mixture begins to separate or appears watery, stop and refrigerate it for a few minutes, then add more masa. When the masa and broth have been incorporated, the last step is to quickly mix in the baking powder and salt. The mixture should be firm and creamy to handle, and mold easily into a small ball without falling apart or dripping. (If making a full recipe, you may need to make two batches of tamales; my 6-quart Kitchen-Aid bowl will only handle this half-recipe at one time.)
Begin assembling tamales as follows.
1. Take a fist-size ball of masa dough and place on an open corn husk.
3. Place a generous tablespoon of shredded pork on tamale and bring the two edges together to create a continuous wrapping of masa dough around the fillling.
6. As you finish each tamale, place it in a steamer basket laid on its edge; making sure the folded end of each tamale faces the bottom of the basket so they will stand upright in the basket.
I made a batch of chili verde (green chili) to serve with some of my fresh-made tamales, then froze the rest (6 to a quart-size bag) for later meals.
To reheat, it’s best to allow them to defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then steam them until they are hot through. But in a pinch, you can wrap a single tamale in a paper towel and microwave until hot and steaming, or microwave on defrost them, then steam a meal’s worth of tamales. Serve smothered with chili or your choice of sauces.
A big thank-you to my mom for sharing her recipes and her handwritten notes in the margin, and for patiently showing me how to make tamales! And to Mrs. Bea Cisneros, who worked for our family for many years, and whose legendary tamales were featured in my old hometown newspaper many years ago. My photocopied newsclipping with her recipe is tucked in a protective plastic sleeve for safe keeping.