How to Make Tamales & Masa

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Tamales are a traditional Latin American dish made from corn flour and often filled with meat, cooked in a corn husk. You must peel away the husk and discard it before consuming the steamed contents within. The meat filling within tamales is called carnita, which translates to "little meats" in Spanish. The corn flour dough is known as masa, a vital ingredient to any tamale recipe. Allow for approximately five hours to make tamales and masa.

Things You'll Need

  • 4 pounds boneless pork, cut into cubes
  • 4 tbsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 8 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. whole peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 tsp. paprika
  • Large pot
  • Water
  • Plastic container
  • Food processor
  • Large bowl
  • One 16-oz. bag corn husks
  • 2 lb. bag prepared masa corn flour
  • 3 tbsp. chili powder
  • 3 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 cups corn oil
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Butter knife
  • Large steamer pot
  • Combine the pork, onion, garlic, peppercorns, cumin seeds, oregano, cinnamon, black pepper, 1 tbsp. salt and 1 tbsp. paprika in a large pot. Add enough water to cover all ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and stir with a spoon to blend all the ingredients. Cover and leave to simmer for two hours.

  • Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pork to cool in the broth. Drain off the liquid into a separate container and place the pork in a food processor. Pulse the processor to shred the meat into a dough-like consistency. Reserve the carnita, or shredded meat, and the broth for later.

  • Fill a large bowl with hot water. Place the corn husks in the water and set aside to soak.

  • Combine the bag of masa flour, chili powder, garlic powder, 3 tbsp. salt and 3 tbsp. paprika in a large mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients with your hands to break up lumps and blend spices into the flour.

  • Add the corn oil to the mixing bowl and work it in with your hands. Pour the reserved broth into the mixture and continue to blend with your hands. Keep blending until the masa is the consistency of paste.

  • Wash your hands and remove one corn husk from the water. Hold the pinched end pointing toward your fingers, smooth side facing upward in your palm.

  • Spread a 1/8-inch thick layer of masa over the corn husk, leaving 1/2-inch of space uncovered on all sides. Spread 1 tbsp. of carnita down the center of the masa.

  • Roll the husk, starting from the right side, to wrap around the masa and carnita filling. Fold the pinched tip of the husk over the end to close one side. Place the rolled tamale, folded side down, in a steamer pot. Repeat with the remaining husks.

  • Fill the bottom half of the steamer with water and cover. Place the pot over high heat and leave the tamales to steam for two hours. Check on the pot every 30 minutes and add more water so it does not run dry.

  • Remove the tamales from the steamer pot and serve while hot. Store any leftovers in plastic bags in the refrigerator for three days or in the freezer for six months.

Tips & Warnings

  • Reheat tamales in the microwave, covered with a damp paper towel. Alternatively, you can wrap them in aluminum foil and heat in an oven set to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

References

  • "Tamales 101: A Beginner's Guide to Making Traditional Tamales"; Alice Guadalupe Tapp; 2002
  • "Tamales"; Daniel Hoyer; 2008
  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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