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Tamales are a tradition of Mexican cuisine
Tamales are often eaten during Mexican holidays.
A Latin American dish familiar to many Americans is the tamale. Wrapped in either corn or plantain leaves, traditional tamales are steamed and made of a corn-based dough known as masa that's filled with beef, pork, or chiles.
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Variations of the tamale actually date back to the time of the Aztecs. Today, there are believed to be roughly 1,000 different types of tamales throughout different Mexican regions!
Although somewhat time-consuming, tamales can be made at home. A key step is to let the meat simmer for hours so that it is very tender. Once it’s ready, it’s seasoned and mixed with other ingredients before being stuffed into the masa and then wrapped into leaves and steamed.
Want to try making your own tamales at home? Check out our tamales recipe!
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Make the Tamales
OK, you gathered the equipment, you went shopping with the My Hot Tamale shopping list, you cooked the meat, and you saved the broth. You are now ready to become part of an elite group of cooks who have the knowledge, the tools, and the talent to make tamales.
Now, for those of you who did not follow the part II instructions which clearly said to save the meat broth (you know who you are). . . your tamales are not going to taste as good as the people who did follow the instructions, and did save the broth. You will see that the instructions were clearly marked In Color to help you remember. Now, I know you are out there, you people who did not save the broth. There is not much I can do for you at this point. OK, if you forgot to save the broth, you can use canned chicken broth in the recipe below, but next time Please Save the Broth! You will be glad you did.
OK, enough of the chit chat. This is where we get down to serious cooking. Today is Tamale Day!
A) Make the Masa Dough Mix:
Start with 2 lbs. of the Masa flour. It comes in a 4 lb bag, use half of it. Now, skim the fat off the broth that you saved from the Pork and Chicken we made earlier. Throw the fat away, and save the broth. Warm the broth from the pork and chicken up. Don't get it hot, just nice and warm.
Now put the 2 lbs. of Masa in a large bowl. Add the following dry spices to the Masa:
3 Tablespoons paprika
3 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
3 Tablespoons Gibhardts Chili Powder
3 Tablespoons garlic powder
Mix the spices above into the Masa until it is completely incorporated. Mix well, as you don't want a clump of spices in a tamale.
to the Masa and Spice mixture. After adding the oil, begin to slowly work in 2 quarts of the warm chicken/pork broth, about a cup at a time. Work the mixture with your hands to make dough. Slowly add the warm broth one cup at a time as you continue to work the mixture with your hands. If it is too dry, add enough warm water to get it right for spreading. It should be about like thick peanut butter. If it is too thin add more Masa, if it is too thick, add more broth or warm water. Thick peanut butter is the consistency you are trying for.
B) Prepare the Corn Shucks
Soak the shucks in a sink full of warm water for about 2 hours. You will need to carefully separate them when they get soft. Try to not tear or damage the corn shucks. It is easier to make the tamales if the shucks are in one piece.
C) Build the Tamales
After the corn shucks are soft, take some of them out of the water, shake the water off, lay them on the counter on a towel. For clarity now, we will present a series of pictures with the instructions so you can see just how the tamale is built (Click on Picture Thumbnails for an enlarged View):
Now, get more shucks and put masa on them the same way. Then roll the meat in them. Keep doing this until all the tamales are built. You will have about 4 dozen or more.
D) Cook the Tamales
Congratulations! You are now part of the few, the proud, the tamale cooks. You will notice that your life will be instantly different. You will be popular. People will invite you over. As you walk up to a crowd of people, you will hear someone say, "Isn't that the Tamale cook?" Yes folks, your simple life will never be the same. You have arrived. Please remember to be kind to the little people.
This site is dedicated to the Loving Memory of Goya Pina, who taught me how to cook tamales, and many other delicious Mexican Food dishes. She died in 1998 at the age of 78.
9 of the oldest food recipes from history still in use todayImage Source: The Great Courses
Food is so much more than just a source of nourishment and subsistence. Its richness colors culture, history, and even literature. Its coalescing prowess brings people together into communities by creating a sense of familiarity and brotherhood. Some might go so far as to say that food is one of the major forces forging a national identity. It gives individuals a feeling of belonging that is at the core of nationalism. It serves as a hobby, a passion, a profession and sometimes even as a refuge.
It is interesting to see how food preparation has evolved through history, from the Paleolithic man’s roast meat cooked over the open fire in shallow pits to the modern art of molecular gastronomy. Some ancient recipes, however, have miraculously stood the test of time and continue to be in wide use even to this day. Below are ten of the oldest food recipes (still surviving in their ‘modern’ entities) known to historians:
Note: The list focuses on the oldest enduring recipes that are more intricate than just bread, rice, meat roasted over the fire or dried in the sun, noodles or for that matter soups. Most of us know that bread was one of the first foods prepared by man, some 30,000 years ago. Although there are many recipes of flatbread, leavened bread and others that are more complicated than just toasting a flattened gruel mixture over the fire, they largely belong to the category of staples much like rice, kebab, and noodles. Here, we are more concerned with specific recipes or at least family of recipes that use spices and herbs to enhance flavor and have slowly evolved over time thanks to advancements in cooking technologies.
1) Stew, circa 6000 BC –
Much like curry, the stew is a beautiful mess of vegetables, meat, poultry and a myriad of other ingredients, cooked slowly over gentle heat. The resultant food concoction is a riot of color, flavors, and aromas that are much more sophisticated than the plain old soup. Although water is the most common stew-cooking liquid used, some recipes call for wine and even beer. While curry focuses more on building a depth of flavor by adding different spices, stew recipes are generally simple and rely on only basic seasoning. The practice of simmering meat in liquids over the fire until tender dates back 7,000 to 8,000 years – which makes it one of the world’s oldest food recipes. Archaeological findings indicate that many Amazonian tribes used the hard exterior shells of large mollusks as utensils for making stew in. To prepare a similar Scythian dish (approx. 8 th to 4 th centuries BC), wrote ancient Greek philosopher Herodotus, one has to:
… put the flesh into an animal’s paunch, mix water with it, and boil it like that over the bone fire. The bones burn very well, and the paunch easily contains all the meat once it has been stripped off. In this way an ox, or any other sacrificial beast, is ingeniously made to boil itself.
The Old Testament is rich with references to this type of food preparation. In Genesis, for instance, Esau and his brother Jacob paid off the dowry that Isaac incurred when he married Rebecca by offering a pot of meat stew. There are also several mentions of lentil and grain-based stews. Apicius: De Re Coquinaria, the extant 4 th century BC Roman cookbook, contains a number of detailed recipes about fish as well as lamb stews. The earliest mention of ragout, a French stew, lies in the 14th-century book by chef Taillevent called Le Viandier.
In the 16th century, the Aztecs partook in a gruesome practice of preparing stews with actual human meat and chillis, also known as tlacatlaolli – though if the concoction was actually consumed is up for debate. An important written record of this practice can be seen in a 1629 treatise by Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón. Pottage, sometimes referred to as a thick stew made with a variety of things like vegetables, meats, grains, and fish, has been continuously consumed all over Europe from the Neolithic Age. It was widely known as the poor man’s food, thanks to the easy availability of its ingredients.
2) Tamales, circa 5000 BC –
Soft parcels made from masa (a type of dough) and filled with fruits, meats, vegetables among other things, tamales are a popular Mesoamerican dish that has a long, enduring history. First prepared somewhere between circa 8,000 and 5,000 BC – thus boasting their legacy as one of the oldest food items, tamales were later widely consumed by Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs and later Mayas. Steamed gently inside corn husks or banana leaves, they were commonly used as portable edibles by travelers and soldiers back when preserving food for long duration was difficult.
Historically, the dough-based food was served at festivals and feasts, and usually contained a variety of fillings, including minced rabbit, turkey, frog, fish, flamingo, eggs, fruits, beans and so on. Many pottery fragments dating back to circa 200 – 1000 AD have been discovered in the region bearing the Classic Maya hieroglyph for tamales. Today, tamales are eaten all across Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the United States and the even Philippines.
3) Pancakes, circa 3300 BC –
Around the world, pancakes are a quintessential breakfast food, often consumed with fruits, chocolate, syrup and a variety of other toppings. It refers to any flat, thin cake made from a starchy batter and cooked in a frying pan or griddle. Depending on the place of origin, pancakes can be very thin and crêpe-like (as in France, South Africa, Belgium among others), made from banana or plantain (like kabalagala in Uganda) and even fermented rice (such as dosa in South India). Tracing the history of pancakes, however, leads us back to Otzi the Iceman, who was alive sometime during circa 3,300 BC. His naturally-mummified corpse, the oldest in all of Europe, was discovered in 1991 in the Italian Alps.
Analysis of the body, according to historians, has uncovered a wealth of information about the Neolithic diet. At the 7 th meeting of the World Congress on Mummy Studies, researchers revealed that Otzi’s last meal likely consisted of alpine ibex and red deer meat, along with einkorn wheat pancakes. They argued that the traces of charcoal found in the 5,300-year-old man’s stomach, in turn, suggest that the food was cooked over open fire. In essence, the seemingly ubiquitous pancakes are one of the oldest food items known to us.
Pancakes were widely consumed by ancient Greeks, who called them tagenias or teganites derived from the word tagenon (meaning ‘frying pan’). They were cooked on clay griddle over the open fire. In works of 5th-century BC poets Magnes and Cratinus, we find the earliest mention of these pancakes, which were made using wheat flour and olive oil and served with curdled milk or honey. Much like the modern version, tagenites were commonly eaten for breakfast.
The 3rd-century philosopher Athenaeus talked in his book Deipnosophistae of a similar food (known as statitites), featuring spelled flour and adorned with sesame, cheese or just honey. Ancient Romans enjoyed similar creations, which they called alia dulcia (meaning “other sweets” in Latin). Interestingly, the 4th-century Roman cookbook Apicius actually contains a detailed recipe for a pancake-like griddle cake, prepared from a mixture of egg, flour, and milk and drizzled with honey. The first use of the English word “pancake” quite possibly took place sometime during the 15th century.
4) Curry, circa 2600 – 2200 BC –
Image Source: Shahid Hussain Raja
Nothing is more quintessentially Indian than curry. Originating in the Indian subcontinent, this aromatic food is a medley of colors, spices, and herbs. Spices commonly used in curry include cumin, turmeric, pepper, coriander, garam masala and so on. Interestingly, curry powder is primarily a product of the West, first prepared in the 18 th century for officials of the British colonial government in India. They can be vegetarian (using lentils, rice or vegetables) or fish, poultry or meat-based. Ever since the recipe was brought to the United Kingdom some 200 years ago, curry has become one of the most recognized icons of British culture. According to the National Curry Week, such is the popularity of this dish that it is consumed regularly by over 23 million people across the globe.
Etymologists believe that “curry” originally came from kari, a word in Tamil that means sauce or gravy. The history of this preparation goes back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization, where people often used stone mortar and pestle to finely grind spices such as fennel, mustard, cumin and others. In fact, excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro have unearthed pottery fragments with traces of turmeric and ginger, belonging to the period between 2600 – 2200 BC, thus making curry (or at least the predecessor to curry) one of the oldest food items in the world. As pointed out by historians, the curry was often eaten with rice, which was already being cultivated in the area.
Sumerian tablets that have survived also talk of a similar food recipe for meat in some kind of spicy gravy and served with bread, as early as 1700 BC. The Apicius cookbook of the 4 th century AD contains many meat recipes that were cooked in a similar fashion, with the use of ingredients like coriander, vinegar, mint, cumin and so on. Authored in the 1390s, The Forme of Cury is significant for possessing the earliest reference to the word “cury”, though it was taken from the French term “cuire” for cooking. With the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa in the 15th century as well as the Mughals in India in the early 16th century, the curry recipe underwent multiple revisions.
In a way, the dish’s evolution represents the many cultural influences that have colored the history of the Indian subcontinent. In case you are wondering, the oldest surviving curry recipe in English can be found in the 1747 book by Hannah Glasse called The Art of Cookery.
5) Cheesecake, circa 2000 BC –
Dessert lovers like us often find themselves dreaming about the rich and decadent cheesecake. This creamy and delicious food recipe usually features a thick, luscious layer of sweetened cheese and a buttery biscuit base or crust. While the all too famous American version requires cream cheese, which was invented only in 1872 by dairyman William Lawrence, cheesecakes were originally the brainchild of ancient Greeks, who used a simple mixture of honey, flour, and soft cheese to make a light, subtly-flavored cake often served at weddings and other festivities.
Archaeological excavations in the last century have uncovered broken pieces of cheese molds dating as far back as 2000 BC, thus making cheesecake one of the oldest food recipes. Some historians believe that the very first “cheesecakes” might have been prepared in the Samos, a Greek island that has been continuously inhabited for more than 5,000 years. In fact, the dessert was offered to the athletes participating in the first Olympic games of 776 BC. The earliest written mention of this recipe can be found in a 230 AD book by the ancient Greek author Athenaeus.
Following the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC the cheesecake recipe was adopted by the Romans and, turned into something even more delectable by the addition of eggs as well as crushed cheese. The baked food item, called savillum, was often flavored with lemon or orange zest, something that continues to be done even to this day. Historical records show that the oldest extant cheesecake recipe can be found in the pages of Marcus Cato’s De Agri Cultura. Later on, it made its way to Europe and, is rumored to have been one of Henry VIII’s favorite desserts.
6) Pilaf, circa 1000 – 500 BC –
Although the bread was one of the oldest food items man prepared nearly 30,000 years ago, the more complicated varieties like stuffed bread or pastry started appearing much later. By comparison, rice has a long history of being used in rich, flavorsome and more intricate preparations. Pilaf, for instance, is an ancient food recipe made by cooking rice, vegetables, and meat in a broth seasoned with a number of different spices and herbs. Common ingredients include chicken, pork, lamb, fish, seafood, carrots and so on. Called by different names, depending on the country of origin, pilaf is widely consumed across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, the Indian subcontinent, East Africa, the Balkans and so on.
Etymologically, “pilaf” comes from the Persian polow, while the term pulao (Indian version) has its roots in the Sanskrit word pulaka (meaning “ball of rice”). While the rice was first domesticated in China over 13,000 years ago and later in India, people of ancient Persia started cultivating it as a crop between 1,000 and 500 BC. This paved the way for the first pilaf recipe, which soon spread over other parts of the Middle East as well as Central Asia. In 328 BC, when Alexander the Great conquered the Sogdian city of Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), he actually feasted on pilaf. Soon, the recipe was taken over to Macedonia and then to different parts of Europe.
Around the same time, a similar rice preparation called pulao sprung in India. In fact, some of the earliest mentions of this dish can be traced back to the epic text of Mahabharata (as early as 400 BC) as well as certain ancient Sanskrit scriptures like Yajnavalkya Smriti (3rd to 5th century AD). The arrival of Muslims in India (as early as 7th century AD) further enriched one of the world’s oldest food recipe, with the addition of saffron and other aromatic spices. This is basically what is called biryani, a type of Mughlai preparation in which the rice, meat, and vegetables form distinct layers. The Spanish paella is believed to have descended from the original pilaf recipe, as well.
7) Kheer, circa 400 BC –
For the uninitiated, kheer is a wonderfully rich and creamy milk-based dessert belonging to the Indian cuisine. Often served at festivals, wedding ceremonies and even temples, it is believed to be the predecessor of European rice pudding. In the Indian subcontinent, it is known by many names, including payasam, payesh, phirni, and fereni among others. In fact, payasam actually comes from payasa meaning milk. Similarly, the word “kheer” is a modified form of the Sanskrit word ksheer for milk or kshirika (meaning a dish prepared with milk). Coming to its recipe, kheer is prepared by cooking rice, vermicelli or broken wheat in sweetened milk enriched with ghee and aromatic spices like cardamom and sometimes even saffron. For special occasions, it is sometimes garnished with cashews, almonds, and pistachios.
Some historians believe that kheer is one the world’s oldest food items, and was possibly one of the concoctions of ancient Ayurveda. The earliest mentions of this food recipe date as far back as 400 BC in the epic texts of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Firni (or fereni) is a close variant of kheer that was created by the people of ancient Persia. Unlike kheer, firni is made from roughly ground rice, which is then boiled in milk until completely mushy. Served cold, this dish is usually infused with cardamom, saffron, and rosewater. In fact, the Persians were the first to add rosewater into rice pudding something that was later adopted by Indians. In the 1999 book Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson writes:
The Persian version of the food, sheer birinj, according to Kekmat…was originally the food of angels, first made in heaven when the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the 7th floor of Heaven to meet God and he was served this dish.
During the reign of the Cholas in Southern India (between 300 BC and 1279 AD), kheer was commonly offered as food to the gods at any kind of religious ceremony. Historical records show that payas, a version of kheer first made in the Indian state of Orissa has been a popular sweet dish in the city of Puri for the last 2,000 years or so. According to some experts, the Bengali payesh is an equally old recipe. In fact, it is believed that spiritual leader Chaitanya actually took with him a pot of gurer payesh (jaggery-sweetened payesh) on his trip to Puri in the 16th century.
Shola (or sholleh) is a similar rice pudding that first appeared in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran, and was later taken to Persia by Mongolians in approximately the 13 th century AD. Although rice as a grain was known to Greeks as well as Romans and was often imported from Egypt, western Asia, and other places, the birth of modern-day rice pudding occurred only after rice was introduced as a cultivable crop in Europe sometime between the 8 th and the 10 th centuries. Baked rice pudding, flavored with nutmeg, was first made in the 16 th century and quickly began a popular sweet treat. The 1596 book The Good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson features one of the oldest food recipes of baked rice pudding and it goes as follows:
To make a Tart of Ryse… boil your rice, and put in the yolks of two or three Egges into the Rice, and when it is boiled put it into a dish and season it with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, butter, and the juice of two or three Oranges, and set it on the fire again.
8) Garum, circa 4th century BC –
Fish sauce is synonymous with East and Southeast Asian cuisines, especially places like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Korea and even Japan. As its name suggests, fish sauce is prepared by fermenting fresh or dried fish with large amounts of sea salt. Anchovies are one of the most common types of fish used to makes Asian fish sauces. There is a multitude of regional varieties, each featuring different sets of ingredients as well as distinctly-unique tastes. In addition to being used as a condiment, fish sauce is often mixed with herbs and spices and turned into dipping sauces. In fact, written records confirm that sauces made from fermented fish have been in use in certain parts of China for the last 2,000 years or so.
One thing that has long puzzled historians is that the origins of fish sauce took root not in Asia, but actually in Europe. Between the 3 rd and 4 th century BC, ancient Greeks started to make a fish sauce preparation known as garum, which was later adopted by Romans and even Byzantines. Named after an ancient type of fish garos by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, this condiment was made by combining fish innards and blood with salt and letting it ferment until it releases a pungent smelling liquid. Like modern-day soy sauce or ketchup, this curiously concocted food item was added to dishes at the end of cooking.
With the arrival of Romans, a slightly different version of the garum, called liquamen, came into use. According to some historians, it differs from garum in that it was made by fermenting an entire fish and not just the insides. In that respect, it can be considered a predecessor of present-day Southeast Asian fish sauce. By 4th century AD, liquamen became extremely popular across the ancient Roman Empire, often taking the place of salt in recipes. The Apicius cookbook, for instance, contains several food recipes that require liquamen or garum for enhancing the flavor. Claudio Giardino, an archaeologist from Italy, stated:
According [to] the Roman writers, a good bottle of garum could cost something like $500 of today. But you can also have garum for slaves that is extremely cheap. So it is exactly like wine.
Archaeologists have discovered remnants of huge garum factories along coastal regions in Spain, Portugal and even the northern parts of Africa. In fact, jars containing garum remains in few of these factories actually helped researchers determine the date of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the consequent destruction of Pompeii. A modern version of garum, made from anchovies and currently in use in Italy, is Colatura di alic.
9) Isicia Omentata, circa 4th century AD –
Burgers are emblematic of the modern fast food phenomenon. Sandwiched between two soft slices of the bun and embellished with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise and even pickles, this sumptuous meat patty is loved unanimously across the globe, ever since it was introduced in the United States in the 1900s. It was widely popularized by street vendors and was one of the first American fast food items. Although the origins of this iconic recipe remain murky to this day, some historians believe that it can be traced back to isicia omentata, an ancient Roman beef preparation that dates back to the circa early 4th century AD – thus potentially being one of the oldest food items in the world.
The 1,500-year-old food recipe, which has survived in the extant ancient Roman cookbook Apicius: De Re Coquinaria, involved mixing the minced meat, condiments, pine nuts, white wine, and the famous Garum fish sauce, and cooking the resultant patties over an open fire. Speaking about the dish, UK-based food historian Dr. Annie Gray said:
We all know that the Romans left a huge mark on Britain, fundamentally altering the British diet forever. Street food became available en masse, and many of our favorite foods were introduced, including Isicia Omentata, what can be seen as the Roman forefather to today’s burger. This ‘burger’ was decidedly more upmarket than many of today’s offerings and is richer and more complex than the plain beef version most common today.
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2. Tortillas de Cempazuchitl | Marigold Tortillas from Spanglish Baby
Cempazuchitl or Mexican marigold is a flower traditionally used as part of the celebrations of November 1st and 2nd for All Souls Day and Day of the Dead. Marigolds are believed to guide the spirits to the Day of the Dead altar with their bright colores and strong smell.
Cempazuchitl flowers are edible and can also be used for cooking. These marigold tortillas are ideal to make for Dia de Muertos celebrations and re not only delicious but beautiful as well.
Get the recipe: Pork Tamales Rojos and Chicken Tamales Verdes
Too often, tamales that you buy are almost always a solid brick of masa with just a hint of filling. Why go through the trouble to make a delicious filling if you can't see it or taste it? Imagine eating a taco with almost nothing inside. Gross. In these two tamale recipes, there is almost a 50/50 ratio of filling to masa you're going to see and taste the delicious green and red sauces and enjoy the tender texture of the chicken and pork in every bite.
That's not to say that we didn't show the masa some love. We started with fresh corn masa—if you can find it you should definitely try it. It's got an almost custardy texture and intense corn flavor that instant masa just can't match. If you live in Texas or the Southwest, it should be pretty easy to find (it's sold in the grocery stores in Texas). In other parts of the country, you should be able to find it in a Mexican supermarket or a tortilla bakery. We saved some of the red and green sauces from the filling and added them to the masa for added flavor and color. This might be a little controversial to the masa purists out there, but this is the way we do it in my family.
Making tamales just takes a little practice, and it also helps if you can see someone making one. thus this step-by-step. Once you've spread and filled your first 5 tamales, you'll bang the rest out in no time.
Guatemalan Tamales – Tamales Guatemaltecas
- Author: Hilah Johnson
- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Total Time: 3 hours
- Yield: 10 - 14 1 x
- For the Salsa Colorada:
- 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 guajillo chiles
- 2 ounces pumpkin seeds
- 2 ounces sesame seeds
- 1 small stick of cinnamon
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon achiote (annatto) powder
- 1 ounce of lard
- 1 pound lean pork, cut into strips
- For the Masa:
- 3 cups masa harina
- 6 cups water or broth
- 1/2 cup lard or butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Sliced green olives
- Thin slices of (roasted, peeled) bell pepper
- Banana leaves, about 2 pounds, and/or aluminum foil sheets
- Make the salsa first. Place tomatoes and garlic all on a baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes or until very roasted. (if you want to roast your bell pepper for the filling, halve it and roast it now, too)
- Toast the dried chiles on a heavy skillet for a few seconds until fragrant. Cut out stems, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.
- In the same dry skillet, toast the seeds and cinnamon stick for a few seconds until nutty. Put into blender container.
- Pulse a few times to make a coarse powder.
- Now add the roasted tomatoes and garlic, soaked chiles (discard the soaking liquid) and half a cup of the chicken broth. Blend. Add more broth if necessary to make a thick, smooth salsa. It should be about the consistency of a milkshake.
- Strain through a fine sieve and put into a pot with the meat strips and simmer about 15 minutes (or longer if you like) to cook the pork
- For the masa, combine the masa harina and water in a large pot. Use a whisk to remove lumps. Bring to boil, stirring, then simmer 10 minutes until thickened. Add the lard, oil, and salt. Stir and cook over low heat another 10 minutes. It should be about the consistency of porridge. Set aside.
- Cut the banana leaves into squares about 12 inches. Bring a large, wide pot of water to boil and blanch the leaves one at a time for about 45 seconds each. Use tongs to help get them completely immersed in the water. Stack on a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
- To fold tamales:
- Lay a banana leaf on a clean flat surface. Plop about 3/4 cup masa into the center of it. Top that with about 1/4 cup of the salsa and a piece of pork. Arrange any other fillings you like in the center of the masa and spoon a little more salsa over the top. Fold the side closest to you over the masa, and bring the side farthest from you towards yourself so that you end up with a long, skinny rectangle. Fold one long end under, then pick up the package like an ice cream cone and give it a little tap to get filling settled. Fold other long end over. Set aside
- (If banana leaf cracks, wrap the package in a sheet of foil.)
- Line a very large pot with the imperfect banana leaves and add about an inch of water. Stack tamales inside, seams down.
- Cover tightly and steam for 1.5 hours.
- Cool and serve
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Key thing to good tamales is to get a good scald on the meat. You can not miss by following these step by step instructions.
Now, the supplies are secured, the meat is cooked, and T-Day has arrived. Your kitchen is ground zero for one of this centuries most important cooking events. You are about to make Hot Tamales. Click on (III) above for the final instructions!
This site is dedicated to the Loving Memory of Goya Pina, who taught me how to cook tamales, and many other delicious Mexican Food dishes. She died in 1998 at the age of 78.
Ingredients in tamale dough
The first step to making the best tamales is making a flavorful masa! Here’s what you need:
The masa harina my family always uses is good old fashioned Maseca and that’s what I recommend. You can find it in most grocery stores and I’ve even seen it at big retailers like Target. If you can’t find it near you, here’s where you can order it online.
While shopping, you may see that there’s another version of Maseca that is specifically made for tamales (it’s usually in a brown bag). Don’t grab that one – grab the original Maseca in a white bag like the one pictured above.
While many recipes online use lard or shortening, this recipe calls for canola oil. You could also use a different vegetable oil like corn oil or even avocado oil – anything with a neutral taste. However I don’t recommend using olive oil because that will change the flavor drastically.
My parents have used oil instead of lard for as long as I can remember, and the flavor is amazing! The dough is soft and tender without being too greasy.
Rice Tico style
3-5 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf)
1 small or half a medium onion
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper (optional)
3 cups (700 ml) chicken broth or water
2 cups (350 ml) white rice
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes).
To prepare the masa, allow the meat broth to cool until it is just warm. To the dry masa add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon ground achiote, and mix dry. Then add the vegetable oil, mix with your hands while adding the warm broth. It should take about 2 1/2 cups to make a paste the consistency of mashed potatoes. Mix and add slowly, and if you over shoot on the broth and get it too thin, add a little more masa.
Red Chile Pork Tamales
- Quick Glance
- 1 H, 30 M
- 8 H, 30 M
- Makes 24 tamales
Special Equipment: Bamboo steamer or steamer tray for your stockpot
Ingredients US Metric
- For the red chile pork tamales filling
- 5 pounds pork shoulder
- 1 tablespoon mild olive oil or vegetable oil, plus more for coating the pork
- 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoon chipotle powder
- 14 dried guajillo chiles, seeded and stemmed
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 cups cold water
- For the tamale dough
- 3 1/2 cups masa harina
- 2 1/4 cups warm water
- 10 ounces lard or vegetable shortening
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 32 dried corn husks
Pat the pork shoulder completely dry with paper towels. Rub the pork shoulder all over with just enough oil to coat it.
In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons (60 grams) salt with the chipotle powder. Rub the mixture on the pork, completely covering all surfaces. Let the pork rest at room temperature for 1 hour. (But for no longer than 1 hour or the salt will draw moisture from the pork and make it tough.)
Preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C).
Place the pork in a roasting pan, fatty side down. Cover the pan with a double layer of aluminum foil and roast for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until the pork falls apart when pressed with the back of a fork and reaches an internal temperature of 195°F (91°C). Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest, without uncovering, for 30 minutes.
After the pork has cooled for 30 minutes, use 2 forks to pull the pork into long strands. Resist the temptation to chop the pork into chunks! Discard any gristle or chunks of fat. Strain the cooking liquid. You should have anywhere from 2 to 4 cups (473 to 946 ml) of liquid.
Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, toss in the chiles and cook for approximately 30 seconds per side, until they’re slightly toasty. Be careful not to over toast the chiles or let them blacken or the resulting sauce will be bitter.
Remove the toasted chiles from the pan and place in a bowl. Add enough hot water to submerge the chiles. Let the chiles soak for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the soaked chiles to a blender and discard the soaking liquid. Add the garlic, cumin, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and cold water to the blender. Puree until the mixture forms a smooth paste.
Heat the 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in a heavy, large stockpot over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot and begins to shimmer, pour the red chile sauce into the pot and immediately stir. Be careful as the sauce will splatter. Cook the sauce, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens and begins to darken.
Add the reserved pork drippings and the pulled pork. Bring the mixture to a simmer and gently cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Let the red chile pork filling cool slightly before preparing the tamales. (You can cover and refrigerate the pork overnight.)
In a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer, blend the masa harina with the warm water. Stir the mixture thoroughly to create a solid ball of rehydrated masa. Add the lard, baking powder, stock, and salt, whisking thoroughly or, if you are using a mixer, blend on medium speed for approximately 5 minutes. Set the mixture aside until ready to assemble the tamales.
Separate the corn husks and place them in a large bowl or your kitchen sink and add enough warm water to completely submerge them. Let the husks soak until they become relatively soft and pliable, at least 30 minutes.
Remove the husks from the water, separate completely, and pat them dry with a clean towel.
Prepare the ties for your tamales by tearing several of the husks into strips 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) wide until you have 24 strips. Gently tie a knot at a narrow end of each strip and tear the opposite end to double the strip length to about 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. Repeat with the remaining strips.
Place a large corn husk on a clean flat surface with the shortest side facing you and the smooth side facing up. Spoon approximately 1/4 cup (60 grams) masa dough on the upper center of the husk and, using a butter knife or the back of the spoon, spread it into a square shape across the width of the husk to approximately 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Be sure to leave approximately 1/2 inch (13 mm) on the top and sides of the husks plain to allow for easier rolling.
Spoon approximately 2 tablespoons (30 grams) pork mixture in an even line along the center of the masa and gently fold the husk over widthwise to completely encase the filling and form a tight tube. Fold the bottom of the husk up toward the center of the tamale and tie with the prepared strip of corn husks. Be sure to leave the top of the husks open. Repeat with the remaining corn husks and masa dough.
Fill a large stockpot 1/4 full with warm water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Line a steamer basket with several unfilled corn husks. Place the prepared tamales upright with the open tops facing towards the top of the steamer basket and top with additional corn husks. It’s perfectly fine (and actually necessary) to stack the tamales one atop another. Cover the steamer basket with a tight-fitting lid and place on top of the stockpot with the boiling water and steam until the batter pulls away easily from the husks, checking occasionally to see if the pot needs to be replenished with water, about 1 hour total.
Turn off the heat and let the tamales rest in the basket for at least 30 minutes, until they begin to firm. And then dig in! (It’s astounding how quickly tamales disappear in contrast to how long it takes to make them!) If you have any leftover tamales, they can be eaten cold straight out of the refrigerator or gently warmed in a steamer. Originally published December 6, 2016.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
These red chile pork tamales are terrific. They’re a bit of work but the result is a plateful of tasty comfort food. Even if you didn’t grow up eating tamales, which I didn’t, these are easy to master.
For the newbie, this is probably best tackled as a 2-day event because it takes a while to roast the pork and there are many steps to this recipe. Besides, the pork benefits from being cooked a day ahead and having a chance to soak in the chile mixture.
It can take a few tries to get the hang of how to assemble the tamales in the corn husks—although it’s not hard. But a quick video on YouTube can be very helpful if you’ve never seen it done.
This recipe easily makes 24 tamales and you will have leftover pork for a second batch or another use.
OH MY GOODNESS!! These red chile pork tamales were delicious! Despite my feeble attempt of wrapping, folding, and tying, these red chile pork tamales looked wonderful!! They looked nowhere near restaurant quality, but they really looked great!! And they tasted absolutely wonderful.
The taste of corn was a perfect balance with the seasoned red chile pork. The mixture of chile powder and salt was the perfect amount. Once the pork was covered with chile salt and had come to room temperature, I popped everything in the oven and roasted it for about 4 1/2 hours. I removed it from the oven and let it rest until cool enough to handle, a little over an hour.
Shredding the pork took me about 30 minutes. (It was a large piece of meat and still quite warm.) While the pork was cooling, I seeded the peppers and toasted them in a skillet. Although 14 seemed like a huge amount, I followed the recipe exactly. After covering the peppers with hot water and letting them sit for 30 minutes, I threw them in my food processor along with the garlic, cumin, and salt. The addition of the water really helped to loosen the mixture up and turned it into a sauce-like consistency. I poured it into the pot and stirred constantly. It didn't change color or thicken up much at all.
While the meat was cooling, I soaked the husks in the sink. I weighed them down and soaked them for a little over an hour. I also made the dough during the meat cooling period. I used shortening instead of lard. The dough came together very nicely although it was a very large amount.
I cleared my counter and lined up the meat, husks, and dough in a nice row with my steamer pot to the right. Here comes the "fun" part. Being that I have never made tamales, I totally went by the directions on how to spread and fill the husks. My husks were nice and soft but when I would spread the dough, the husks tore. The addition of the meat was fairly easy, but the wrapping part was a fiasco! I did my best to just take my time and carefully fill and wrap. I tried wrapping them up with the strips of husk, but after a few, I just stopped trying to tie. Some of my tamales were fuller than others and they were in no way uniform but I kept on filling.
My pot was full after 3 dozen and I had plenty of dough and meat left over. I steamed them for 55 minutes, until the dough pulled away easily from the husks. I removed the steamer basket from the heat and let them rest while I finished cleaning up my unbelievable mess.
This is a very time-consuming and fairly labor-intensive dish. I had more dirty pots, pans, and bowls than I could ever remember ever having for one dish!
Next time I probably would really have to consider cutting the recipe in half. and invite friends and family over to help devour the tamales!