How to Steam Tamales

How to Steam Tamales (Image: bhofack2/iStock/GettyImages)

You've perfected your filling. You spread the masa over the dried corn husk like a pro. Now, how do you steam tamales so they come out perfectly cooked? Several of the tools and appliances you already have in your kitchen can handle the job, giving you multiple ways to cook tamales.

Tamale-Steaming Basics

Steaming tamales is what keeps the masa and fillings soft and delicious. The steam provides the heat to cook them through and the moisture to keep them from drying out. When you steam tamales, you want to keep the tamales in the steam but not in the water. Any part of the tamales that sit in the water turn out soggy.

Use a Steamer Basket

Put your steamer basket in a large stockpot. Add about 1 inch of water. You don't want the water to come into the steamer basket because you don't want the tamales sitting in the water.

Place your tamales upright with the open side up in the steamer. Turn on the burner to bring the water to a boil. Steam the tamales with the pot lid on until you notice the dough starting to pull away from the husks. This should take about 45 minutes.

Watch the water levels as the tamales cook. You may need to add more water as it evaporates because you never want the pot to run dry. Use caution when adding water to avoid soaking the tamales.

Steam Tamales Without a Basket

Don't have a steamer basket? There are many ways to cook tamales in a pot without an actual steamer basket. You just need to get creative to find something that keeps the tamales out of the water and can handle the heat and moisture of the steam. Use the same method of steaming in a stockpot as you would with a steamer basket, simply replacing it with the alternative tool.

One option is a metal strainer, which is similar to a steamer basket. Use the handles of the strainer to hold it up over the water instead of sitting in the water. Keep in mind your lid can't close tightly with the strainer handles in the way, so they may take a little longer to cook.

Here are some other substitutes:

  • Place a heat-proof plate on top of three balls of aluminum foil to create a steaming platform. Place the tamales vertically on the plate.

  • Turn a heat-proof bowl upside down in the bottom and put four chopsticks across the bowl to make supports. Lay the tamales carefully on the chopsticks.

  • Position a small, round wire rack in the bottom to hold the tamales above the water. Place a bowl or ball of aluminum foil in the center as a support to lean the tamales against if needed.

Cook in a Pressure Cooker

Is your pressure cooker collecting dust? Pull it out to steam your tamales. Put about 1 cup of water in the bottom and then add the included strainer basket.

Arrange the tamales in the basket and put on the lid. Cook your tamales in the pressure cooker for about 15 to 20 minutes on high pressure. Release the pressure according to your cooker's instructions.

After the pressure is released, take off the lid to check your tamales. Like with all other cooking methods, they should be cooked through and peeling away from the husk or easy to pull from the husk. Steam them a few more minutes in the pressure cooker if they're not quite done.

References & Resources

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