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Traditional Tamales

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Tamales are more about the fun in making them, and eating them is just the perk!


3 1/2 c. dried masa harina for tamales

1 tbsp. kosher salt

2 1/4 c. hot water

1 1/4 c. 1 1/4 c. shortening, preferably organic, or 1 1/4 cup lard, or a combination of both

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 to 1 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

24 8"-x-8" parchment squares (or 24 corn husks, soaked 1 hour in warm water)


Make the masa mixture: In a large bowl, add the masa harina. Dissolve the salt in the hot water and add to the masa harina. Mix well until there are no dry patches. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes. (You also buy prepared masa, in which case you will need 2 pounds and can skip this step.)

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening and/or lard and baking powder on medium speed. Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the prepared masa mixture in several additions, breaking off golf-ball sized pieces, and adding them to the mixer while it is running.

Once all of the masa has been incorporated, reduce the speed to medium low, and add the chicken or vegetable broth in a stream until fully incorporated. (The resulting batter should be like fluffy cake batter, not pourable pancake batter, so add slowly.) You may not need all of the broth. You want a spatula dragged through the batter to leave a divot that does not close back up on itself.

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, and put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours.'

Return the bowl to the mixer and beat on medium high until it gets extra fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Form the Tamales: Place a parchment square on the countertop (or put your corn husk with the pointy end towards you), and place about a golf-ball sized portion of dough in the center. (A 2-ounce cookie scoop works well here.) Spread the dough into a rectangle, leaving about 2 inches on the bottom, 1 inch on the sides, and about a half inch on the top.

Place about a 1 tablespoon strip of your chosen filling down the middle of the masa, leaving a half inch on top and bottom. Pull the 2 sides of the parchment square together, allowing the dough to envelope the filling. Roll the doubled parchment around the tamale. Fold the bottom of the parchment up over the tamale, and pinch to keep it folded. You want the folded bottom to be secure, but not too tight as they will expand when cooked. Leave the top open.

Fill a medium or large pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Set up a steamer basket with the tamales stacked standing upright, with the open ends up. If you do not have enough tamales to completely fill your steamer basket, fill in the extra space with some balled-up aluminum foil. Steam for 1 hour. They should be fully cooked in about 60 to 75 minutes. Remove from parchment or husks and serve.

Tamales can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days. To reheat, steam them for 15 to 20 minutes. They can also be cooked and then frozen. To reheat frozen tamales, microwave them for about 60 to 90 seconds.

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