Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tamale Time!

As promised, I am giving you the recipe for tamales. The masa or dough is my basic and most favorite masa, made with fresh corn. I also rendered my own lard. You can see step by step instructions for rendering lard here. The fillings and wrappings can vary greatly in style as well as ingredients. I used dried corn husks that had been soaked for a few hours in hot water. You can also use fresh or frozen banana leaves or Ti leaves but they will need to be softened briefly on a grill so that they will bend but not break. I used lengths of cotton cooking string and strips of the corn husks to tie the tamales, but there are versions that are made folded and not tied at all.

A variety of condiments or sauces can be served with tamales. In this case I opted for a New Mexico style chile sauce which is extremely simple to make. All you have to do is take dried New Mexico Chiles or California Chiles (these are the Anaheim or simular varieties, mild in flavor). Remove the stems, then the seeds and toast slightly on a griddle. Soak in boiling water for 1 hour. Remove from the water and place in a blender with just about 1/4 cup of the liquid or chicken stock and puree completely. Then strain with a food mill or sieve. This sauce will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator and also freezes well.

For this session of tamale making, I wanted finger food, so I made the tamales as small as I could. That is not an easy task if you are using a filling. Some tamales such as Cuban tamales are made with all the ingredients included in the masa, therefore they would be much easier to make small.

Basic Fresh Corn Masa

  • Fresh corn cut from 10 ears of corn or good quality frozen corn either way you need about 4 cups of corn. 
  • 4 cups of Masa para Tamales this is a dry masa available in the flour section of most any grocery store. Do not get masa para tortillas, which is an instant tortilla masa. 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups of fresh rendered lard. If you do not want to make your own lard, you may be able to find it at the butcher counter of most Hispanic markets ask for manteca. DO NOT buy packaged hydrogenated lard in the baking section. We don't have Hispanic markets in Hawaii, so making our own is pretty much the only option. Read the article on rendering lard for more information about lard vs shortening. For those of you that are lard-phobic or on very restricted diets, there are other options of course butter being the next best and after that any vegetable shortening that has not been hydrogenated. Do not use oil as it will change the texture completely. 
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of chicken stock. I made stock when I cooked the chicken thighs for the filling. But if you don't make stock, boxed stock is fine, just look for organic lower sodium stock. 
*I also added some chile powder to one of my masa recipes just to add some variety in color. 

  • Place the corn kernels in a food processor w/steel blade and pulse till it is roughly chopped up. This should only take 4-5 pulses. Add the masa, the baking soda, salt and sugar and just pulse a few more times to mix. 
  • In a mixing bowl or a clean food processor bowl beat the lard till it is light and fluffy. 
  • Mix both batches of ingredients together in a large bowl. If your food processor is large enough, that is fine, otherwise stir very well until the masa is well incorporated. Add as much stock as it takes to make a very moist but firm dough. You should be able to roll it into a soft ball. Make it as moist as you can while still being able to roll into a ball, This is crucial for having moist tamales. Cover and let rest at least 30 minutes before using.
  • The masa can be made ahead and refrigerated, but allow it to come back to room temperature before using. 


I made two filings and there are endless combinations. 

Queso Blanco and Green Chile Filling
  • Roast 6 large green chiles (poblano or anaheim) on a grill, place in plastic bag to steam for 15 minutes and then remove the skin, stems and seeds. Cut into 2-3 inch slices about 1/2 inch wide. If you cannot find fresh chiles, you can use canned chiles (not jalapenos) .
  • Queso Blanco or Jack cheese cut into small fingers 2-3 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide
Chicken and Cheddar with Caramelized Onions Filling
  • About 1-2 cups of cooked chicken
  • Caramelized Onions: 2 whole onions rough chopped cooked down in olive oil till caramelized 
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese cut into 2-3 inch fingers 
  • Take about 2 tablespoons of masa and put into the center of a wet corn husk. Using wet hands (the dough will not stick) pat it down about 1/4 of an inch thick, making a rectangle at least 3 inches wide and about 5 inches tall. Put the filling in the center. 
  • Using the side of the corn husk nearest you pull the husk up and over the filling to the edge of where the filling ends and pull in as you would do in making sushi maki, to complete the roll. The dough should not be sticking to the corn husk.and it should be covering the filling. You can then roll or fold the corn husk around the tamal and secure with string or husk ties.  


In a steamer or large pot with a folding steam basket, add enough water to cover the bottom but not too much so that the tamales are not sitting in water. Add tamales and cover. Heat water to a gentle boil and maintain the boil (and water level) for about an hour. I use about two or three layers of tamales, small batches are best. Since this is a labor intensive endeavor, I tend to make extra tamales and freeze them. Just pop them from the freezer to the microwave  or thaw and steam later. 
If you liked this post, you might also like these recent posts on Mexican Cooking in Hawaii: 


Gem said...

I've never tried tamales.

Love that last photo...beautiful backdrop!

Susan said...

Love the post and especially the pictures! Since living in Arizona for over 27 years before we moved to HPP in 2007, tamales were always a treat. Although I have yet to make them myself, many women at work would sell them during special holidays and they all stated how much work went into them! A labor of love...

You may have inspired me to try! mahalo - Susan


Cloudia said...


Aloha, Friend

Comfort Spiral

Liz said...

Let me assure everyone, these were just as delicious as they look in these photos! I was one of the lucky ones who got to partake of Devany's wonderful tamales on Superbowl Sunday - lucky, lucky me!

Good job Devany - and mahalo nui,

chow and chatter said...

looks fantastic and what a beautiful place to eat them

Yummy! said...

Love this blog!

louis luzzo said...

Will be making these as part of Gourmet Girl Magazine's One New Recipe a Day.....Looks delicious...now to make them.


louis luzzo said...

Will be making these as part of Gourmet Girl Magazine's One New Recipe a Day.....Looks delicious...now to make them.


Liana said...

i have to try this during Christmas break. First step,I suppose, will be lard rendering. KTA here I come.