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Some of you might remember my post about Christmas Tamales way back in 2010. (BY the way, our YouTube video that goes with it is up to 22,663 views!) It’s been four years, and I decided it was time for a refresh. Everyone loved the tamales last time, but the masa dough was pretty bland, so I did some more research, and found a KICK-ASS recipe that is worth all the work in the kitchen.

It’s the standard mix of masa, lard, and stock–but adds in grits, butter, and frozen corn to really give the dough a lot of texture, depth, and richness.  And better yet, I have a great short-cut recipe that bypasses the corn husks, if you don’t have 6+ hours to kill in the kitchen.

50 Tamales cooking in our Dutch Oven.

50 Tamales cooking in our Dutch Oven.

For those of you who want to explore tamale making, I’ve broken it up in to a few easy steps:

  1. Make your filling in a slow cooker, 1-2 days ahead of the tamales. I used two great recipes from my tried-and-true Slow Cooker Revolution book by America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve posted recipes for Everyday Shredded Chicken Filling and Smoky Shredded Chipotle Beef Filling on a separate post. They are quick prep and can be used for any number of dishes that call for shredded meat.
  2. Scale up the dough. The recipe below originally yielded 12 tamales. Like 12 tamales is going to be enough for all the work you put into it. With 3 lbs of meat filling, you will be able to make 40-50 tamales, and will need to multiply the dough x4 or x5 to have enough.
  3. Invite over friends. You will have 50 tamales when you are done–share! Rolling 50 tamales took about 1 hour, split between 2-3 people working in stages: I spread out the dough, Judy inserted the filling, and Chris rolled the tamales.
  4. Freeze in Groups. I package the tamales up in sets of 10, and move most of them straight into the freezer. They freeze great, and all you need to do to reheat is remove from the freezer 1-2 days before you want them, and steam them until they are hot again (10-20 mins).

Tamale Dough
America’s Test Kitchen
NOTE: I’ve quadrupled the original quantities, but recommend blending the dough using the smaller batches to accommodate a food processor. If you have a large mixer, you might be able to blend this all at once.

  • 3 cups quick-grits (not instant)
  • 4 cups chicken stock, unsalted
  • 3 cups masa harina
  • 4 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (8 oz.) lard (or shortening)
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  1. Bring chicken stock to boil, and remove from heat. Whisk in grits, and let stand until water is almost absorbed (~10 minutes). Stir in masa harina (using hands to knead if necessary) and let cool to room temperature (~20 minutes).
  2. [For food processors or small mixers] Separate dough into four equal parts. Add in one part dough, 1 cup corn, 4 tablespoons butter, 2 oz (1/4 c.) lard, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix together until light, sticky, and very smooth, 1-2 minutes, scrapping the sides down as needed.
  3. Move processed dough into a bowl, and repeat three more times with the remaining ingredients. Once everything has been processed, stir the processed dough together to evenly mix everything together.
  4. Cover until you are ready to roll the tamales.

Chicken Tamale Filling
America’s Test Kitchen
NOTE: This was also quadrupled to yield 50 tamales. 

  • 8 oz. Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
  • 6-8 Tablespoons minced pickled jalapeños (Six will give you a nice heat, without being too spicy)
  • 4-5 cups shredded cooked chicken (See Everyday Shredded Chicken Filling)

Assembling the Tamales

  • 1 large bag dried corn husks
  • Filling (Chicken, or other preferred meat)
  • Masa Dough
  • Large Dutch Oven
  • Vegetable Steamer
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Place corn husks in a large bowl (I used my slow cooker) and pour in boiling water. Be sure to submerge all the husks, cover for at least 30 minutes. I usually do this first, before making the dough.
  3. Select a wider, larger husk and place it with the wide end facing you. Make a “L” with your left hand, with your thumb running along the bottom edge of the husk. Place 1/4 cup of dough within the space and spread out along the length of your hand–you should end up with a rectangle of evenly spread dough, with a small gap along the wide edge, and a larger gap on the left and triangle side of the husk.
  4. Spread 1-2 Tablespoons of your filling along the the middle of the dough.
  5. To roll, take the right (dough) edge of the tamale and roll it over to meet the other edge of the dough in the center of the husk. Fold the top edge of the husk down over the dough, and then finish rolling the tamale like a cigar.
  6. Place your vegetable steamer in the dutch oven, filling the bottom with water. Place the tamales in the steamer, with the filling side on top.  Leave a little space to add more water, as needed, into the pot.
  7. Once the dutch oven is full, cover the tamales with tightly sealed foil. Bring water to a boil, and then steam on low until the tamale dough pulls cleanly away from the husk–around 60-90 minutes.

See? How hard was that! But for you folks you will never have the time to roll tamales, know that you can easily make a tamale cassarole with the dough/filling—just place the filling on the bottom, add in a little more moisture or cheese, and then cover with the dough. Cook at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until the masa dough is cooked through. Easy peasy.