How to Cook Tamales in a Corn Stalk


In many Mexican households, no holiday meal is complete without tamales, the tasty packets of corn dough cooked and wrapped in dried corn husks from corn stalks. Although exactly where tamales came from is debated, as far back as the 1500s the Aztecs offered the visiting Spaniards a form of tamales. Today, tamales are made in many varieties and with different filling such as shredded meat, beans, and cheese. Specialty Latin food markets will have packaged dried corn husks and prepared masa flour, make the tamale cooking process easier.

Things You'll Need

  • Two bunches dried corn husks
  • 1 pound shortening or lard
  • 2 1/4 pound masa (corn flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • Meat or vegetable filling
  • Steamer pot and basket
  • Fill a large pot with hot water soak the corn husks overnight. Drain and pat dry.

  • Place the vegetable shortening or lard in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until it has a fluffy, frosting consistency.

  • Pour the masa into another mixing bowl, and slowly stir in the water until it forms a dough.

  • Knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, then mix in the baking powder and salt. Add optional additional seasonings such as garlic or chili powder to your taste.

  • Beat in the whipped lard little by little until the dough is light and fluffy.

  • Trim the pointed ends off of the corn husks and lay two of them side by side vertically so that they overlap each other by about 1 inch.

  • Spread 2 tbsp. of the dough over the overlapping part of the husks.

  • Spread 1 tbsp. of filling on top of the dough. The filling can be beans, cheese, cooked shredded pork, ground beef or shredded chicken depending on your preference.

  • Fold the sides up lengthwise over the dough so that sides overlap, then fold the two remaining sides at the top and bottom so that they meet at the center to form a package. Tie the package up thin strip of corn husks.

  • Fill a steamer pot with water up to the line where the steamer basket sit. Line the steamer basket with corn husks.

  • Stack the wrapped tamales in the steamer basket loosely to allow room to expand, then cover the tamales with a layer of corn husks on top.

  • Cover and steam for one to two hours. The tamales are ready if the corn husks do not stick to the dough. Allow the tamales to cool slightly before serving.

Tips & Warnings

  • To make sure the dough is as light as it should be, drop a pinch of dough in a glass of cold water. The dough will float if it is light enough. If not, continue to beat and knead the dough until it floats in water.
  • Drop a quarter in the water of the steamer pot so that shaking of the coin will let you know if the water has evaporated. If your tamales aren't finished, you will need to add boiling water to the pot to continue.
  • After covering the tamales with corn husks in the steamer, add small kitchen towels on top to soak up the dripping water from the lid. This will help prevent your tamales from being soggy.

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