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Authentic Homemade Mexican Food - Tamales Recipe

Updated on December 16, 2015

Mexican Recipes - Tamale Recipe

In Mexico, tamales begin with a dough made from hominy, called masa, or a masa mix such as Maseca. Depending on the region, they are generally wrapped in either corn husks or plantain leaves before steaming. They usually have a sweet or savory filling and are steamed until firm.

Mexico has an extensive variety of tamales. Tamale recipes can vary greatly, but they are definitely considered one of the most beloved traditional foods in Mexico. Almost every region and state in the country has its own kind of tamale or tamale recipe. It is said that there are between 500 and 1000 different types of tamales in Mexico. Some experts estimate the annual consumption in hundreds of millions per year. That's a lot of tamales!

Another very ancient method of cooking which has returned in popularity is the clay pot cooking; it provides a convenient one pot, no fuss meal that is juicy and succulent every time. The flavor is incomparable and the health benefits of locking in the nutrients make it an ideal form of cooking for everyday use.

Tamales are a favorite comfort food in Mexico. They are often eaten for either breakfast or dinner, and accompanied by hot Atole or Champurrado, indigenous maize-based beverages. Street vendors can be seen on every corner serving tamales from huge, steaming, covered pots (tamaleras).

Tamales are often eaten during celebrations, such as Christmas, the Day of the Dead, Posadas and Mexican Independence Day. If you want to take part in some traditional Mexican food and enjoy a truly unique and wonderful colonial village be sure to visit San Miguel de Allende Mexico. This amazing artist colony located in the mountains of central Mexico has been drawing artists and retirees for decades. Visit it once and you'll be back.

No Mexican menu is complete without tamales.

Mexican Food - Tamales

Mexican Recipes - Homemade Tamales

Mexican Recipes Mexican Food Favorites
Mexican Recipes Mexican Food Favorites

Mexican Recipes - Homemade Mexican Tamales Recipe

Makes approximately 4 dozen

Homemade tamales can be a lot of work, but they are so worth it! These tamales will be a hit with your family and friends and you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried them sooner. Trust me – you need to try this at least once! You’ll be hooked. Frozen tamales from your grocer’s freezer don’t even come close.

If making the tamales seems a bit overwhelming, you can break the process down and make them over two days. Day one, assemble ingredients, utensils and prepare the meats. Day two, make the Masa, assemble the tamales and steam … and ENJOY!

Utensils You Will Need:

Large stock pot with steamer insert

Long tongs

Basic kitchen supplies, i.e. bowls, spoons, measuring cup, knife, kitchen towel, skillet

Ingredients for Tamales

3 lb pork roast butt or loin

5 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on

1/2 cup corn oil

9 T chili powder

6 T Garlic Powder (do not use garlic salt or granules)

3 T ground cumin seeds

1 T fresh ground black pepper

5 T Kosher salt

3 T paprika

1 T whole cumin seeds - toasted

4.4 lb bag Maseca instant masa mix

Corn Husks (1 pound package has about 200 husks, so you’ll need about ¼ lb)

Preparing the tamale meat:

Preparing the Pork -

Cut the pork roast into 3" x 3" cubes. Place in a pan and cover with water. Boil for about 2-1/2 hours until it's very tender. Take the pork out of the broth and set aside to cool. Save the broth … do NOT throw it out!

Shred the cooled pork with your fingers and remove any fat or gristle.

Preparing the Chicken –

Place the chicken thighs in a large pot and cover with water. Boil for about 2 hours or until tender. Remove chicken to cool. Save the broth … do NOT throw it out!

Take the chicken meat off the bones and shred into very small pieces. Discard any fat, skin and bones.

Season the tamale meat:

Combine the following ingredients –

½ cup corn oil

6 T chili powder

3 T garlic powder

3 T ground cumin seeds

1 T fresh ground back pepper

2 T Kosher salt (not iodized)

Warm the oil and spices on the stove, do not cook … you just want to warm them up. Pour this over the meat and mix with your hands until it is distributed. This will probably take 8-10 minutes to get it completely mixed.

Cover the meat and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the tamales. Combine the pork and chicken broths and refrigerate, you’ll need them to make the Masa Mix.

Make the Masa Dough:

Start with 2.2 lbs of the Masa flour. It comes in a 4.4 lb bag, so use half of it.

Skim the fat off the chicken and pork broth and discard. Gently warm the two broths. You don’t want these hot, just warmed up a bit.

Put the masa in a large bowl and add the following spices:

3 T paprika

3 T Kosher salt

1 T toasted cumin seeds (toast the seeds dry in a pan on the stove for about 2 minutes)

3 T chili powder

3 T garlic powder

Mix the masa and spices until completely blended. Add 2 cups of corn oil to the masa mixture. After adding the oil, slowly begin to work in 8 cups of the warm chicken/pork broth, a cup at a time. Work the mixture with your hands to make a dough. It should be the consistency of thick peanut butter. If it is too thick, add more warm broth, if it is too thin, add more masa.

Prepare the corn husks:

Soak the husks in a sink full of warm water (about 2 hours or overnight). You will need to carefully separate them when they get soft. Be careful not to tear or damage the corn husks.

Assemble the tamales:

After the corn husks are soft, take some of them out of the water, shake off the excess water. Lay them on a towel on the counter.

Pick up a husk and lay it across the palm of your hand with the small end toward your fingers. Scoop up about ½ c of the masa dough and spread it on the husk using either a spoon or your fingers. Place about 1 tablespoon of meat on top of the masa and roll so that the masa envelopes the filling (masa should slightly overlap itself so that the filling is encased). Fold the ends of the husk up as if wrapping a present, and tie with strings or thin strips of excess corn husks. You want the tamale parcel to stay closed for steaming.

Tamales Recipe - Steaming

Mexican Food Tamales
Mexican Food Tamales

Cooking Your Tamales

Steam the tamales:

To cook the tamales, you’ll need a very large pot that has something in the bottom to keep the tamales out of the water while they steam. You can use a vegetable steamer insert, or a metal colander that fits on your pot. You need to be sure the tamales can steam and do not come in contact with the water. Stack the tamales upright until full. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to medium low and cook for at least 2 hours. Check water several times and add more if it’s getting low. You DON’T want the pot to boil dry! When the time is up; take one tamale out of the steamer and leave it on the counter for about 5 minutes to cool. To test for doneness, unwrap the tamale; it should be firm, with no raw masa. When done, remove all the tamales and let them cool on the counter. Serve immediately. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.

How to serve tamales:
Traditionally, a tamale is served plain, as is. However, a lot of restaurants serve them in a sauce that compliments the filling: for example, a green chile sauce for pork or chicken, or a red chile sauce for beef. Sometimes tamales are served in the corn husks, and sometimes they are opened and removed for you. Experiment and find out how you prefer to serve them.

To Freeze:

Gently place 6 to 8 tamales in a zip lock freezer bag, or use a vacuum sealer. Tamales can be frozen for several months.

To reheat your tamales:

To reheat your tamales (after they have been steamed and refrigerated or frozen); wrap the tamale in a damp paper towel and place it in a plastic zipper bag. Microwave on high for 45 seconds and serve.

Tamales make wonderful food gifts. Include your favorite tamale recipe and you'll have a friend for life!

Mexican Food for Desert!

Be sure to follow you Mexican food menu with a delicious desert of ice cream with cajeta, the silky smooth and luxurious Mexican caramel sauce is beyond compare. This is no ordinary caramel, it is complex and unique, a truly unique taste treat that needs to be experienced. Cajeta is also delicious on just about anything you put it on, sliced fruit, sponge cake, in your coffee, anywhere you might use a traditional caramel.

Another very traditional and popular desert in Mexico, as well as many other Spanish speaking countries, is Pastel de Tres Leches or Tres Leches Cake, a cake that is truly decadent. This three milk cake will certainly become a family favorite, or take it to your next potluck, but be prepared for all the requests you'll get for more!

And of course, follow it all up with a traditional and delicious cup of cafe con leche and your Mexican Food feast is complete!


Submit a Comment
  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago

    It takes some work, but the results are incredible! I can't wait to hear how you liked them. :)

  • stephaniedas profile image

    Stephanie Das 

    7 years ago from Miami, US

    I've been looking for a good tamales recipe! Voted up and useful, this recipe looks awesome. I will let you know when I try it. I order them a lot when I eat Mexican food, but they often come out dry or too heavy. I'm glad I've found a good recipe this time, thanks for sharing.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    These are delicious aren't they? I just love tamales! Thanks for stopping in Teresa.

  • eventsyoudesign profile image


    8 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

    I actually made these for my husband months ago. He loved them. Of course, this was before I knew how great you are. Teresa

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Susan, I hope you get a chance to try these. I know it can seem like a lot of work, but it's really not that bad and it is so worth it!

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 

    8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I have been looking for a recipe for tamales as I love them! Thank you so much for writing this :)

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Hi loseweightmama, if you like Mexican food you need to try this! These are so delicious, you'll love them! Make plenty more than you think you'll need ;)

  • loseweightmama profile image


    8 years ago from Maine

    This sounds really yummy. I've never made tamales but I make enchiladas with traditional chili red sauce all the time. They're my favorites. One day I might get daring and try this.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    MagicStarER, you are going to love these tamales! Let me know if you make them and how they turn out. Delicious, wish I had some now! :)

  • MagicStarER profile image


    8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    Great job, I am bookmarking it! :)

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Shawn, these can take some time, but they are so worth the effort! I hope you make them, you'll be hooked.

  • Shawn Scarborough profile image

    Shawn Scarborough 

    8 years ago from The Lone Star State

    Those tamales look good. I can't wait to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Thanks wilderness ... wish I could send you some ;)

  • wilderness profile image

    Dan Harmon 

    8 years ago from Boise, Idaho

    A well written hub - I feel as though even I could make them (although it would be better if you could arrange to have delivered over the internet right to my monitor!).

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Thanks heart4theword, I love your "name" and hope you get a chance to try these.

  • heart4theword profile image


    8 years ago from hub

    This was really great. Love the detail you shared in how to make tamales:) When I get the time to try it out, I will be back to follow this hub:) Awesome!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    OMG, I'm so jealous! I hope you enjoy them, they are so worth the effort. Come back and let me know how they turned out!!!

  • Iceman1987 profile image


    8 years ago from Washington

    Well... its settled... I think I'll try to make some tomorrow!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Michael, I'm not sure what difficulty you're having, but the masa shouldn't be too hard if you have the right consistency. I've never had a problem with this recipe, so give it a try and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Michael Willis profile image

    Michael Willis 

    8 years ago from Arkansas

    Thanks for posting this recipe in a Hub. The Masa is where I have my problem. lol I have not been able to get it right yet. I will try your method and see if i can improve.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Hi Shealy, there's nothing like homemade tamales! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Shealy Healy profile image

    Shealy Healy 

    8 years ago from USA

    Exceptional recipe.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    esatchel, that is a wonderful activity to do with kids! It teaches them a lot and they get to appreciate another culture and cuisine.

  • esatchel profile image


    8 years ago from Kentucky

    Love the tamales. We have made tamales here at home - we love to experiment with making different techniques and foods we are not familiar with. Hardly authentic, I suppose, but delicious and they gave us and the kids a 'hands' on' experience on how favorite foods are actually made!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks AEvans, please let me know how you like them. I think you'll find the process not too difficult and the results delicious! Thanks for stopping by.

  • AEvans profile image


    9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

    Oh Boy! I am definitely booking marking this one mom and I just talked about Tamales and I always wanted to learn how to make them and you have a recipe. Thank you! :)

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Hi Micky, I think they would make excellent substitutions.

  • Micky Dee profile image

    Micky Dee 

    9 years ago

    Great recipes! I'd be substituting TVP or soy. Thank you very much!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Nothing like fresh homemade tamales! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • prasetio30 profile image


    9 years ago from malang-indonesia

    I think this food was delicious. I like the presentation, it look simple but the taste was yummy.......Good work, my friend.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    That's a good point sagebrush, tamales can have all different types of fillings. Depending on what you use, the oil can complement it. Experimenting with flavors is always fun!

  • sagebrush_mama profile image


    9 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

    I'm thinking it would work, as the tamales I ate most usually had a green olive stuffed in the middle, along with a julienne type slice of potato and/or carrot. I fear one of those would send my gallbladder into fits, nowadays. Sad, because they are so good!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Hi Sagebrush, this recipe does call for maseca for the masa. I would probably try substituting canola for the corn oil; it has a much milder/neutral flavor. I'm sure olive oil would work too ... depending on the olive oil, it could impart more of a nutty flavor. Nothing that would be overly obvious in the completed dish.

  • sagebrush_mama profile image


    9 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

    Wow! I was surprised that the masa doesn't require manteca! Do you think olive or canola oil would be okay to substitute? I have to watch oils and lards.

    These sound really delicious!

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Teresa, I hope you get a chance to try these ... I think you'll enjoy them. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Teresa Laurente profile image

    Maria Teresa Rodriguez - Laurente 

    9 years ago from San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.

    thank you for sharing the recipe here. The pictures are making me hungry now. It looks real. Hi Lamme, thank you.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks Princessa, I can only imagine how wonderful those Sunday's were! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

  • Princessa profile image

    Wendy Iturrizaga 

    9 years ago from France

    This hubs makes me so hungry. It has been a long time since I've had tamales. I used to have Sunday breakfast with Tamales in Peru when I was a little girl. Your hub brought back so many memories of happy Sundays and delicious tamales...

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    @cheeky girl ... there's always tomorrow :) Thanks for stopping by and the comment. I've been reading your hubs as well.

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    Thanks barry ... they are definitely worth the work involved.

  • Cheeky Girl profile image

    Cassandra Mantis 

    9 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Wow, only for the fact that I have just pasta, this would probably drive me crazy! It sounds divine! Thanks for the cool (or should that be hot) recipe! Cheers!

  • barryrutherford profile image

    Barry Rutherford 

    9 years ago from Queensland Australia

    they sound good !

  • Lamme profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    I know what you mean drbj, I've been thinking about making tamales all day! Thanks for stopping by.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    9 years ago from south Florida

    Lamme - I just ate dinner but your hub on tamales is making me hungry all over again. Well done, mi amigo.


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