Pork Tamales
Vanessa Mathison is making an Arevalo family recipe that is perfect for the holidays.
Pork Tamales
Seasonal Event:
Vanessa Mathison is making an Arevalo family recipe that is perfect for the holidays.
  • One 8-ounce package dried corn husks
  • 10 ounces ( 1 1/3 cups) of pork lard
  • Salt
  • 3 ½ cups dried masa harina mixed with 2 ¼ cups hot water
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups chicken broth
  • Approximately 7 pounds boneless pork shoulder (or 1 whole piece of boneless pork shoulder)
  • Two 15 oz. cans of red enchilada sauce

Pork Tamales - Home & Family


1. Prepare the cornhusks. Cover the husks with very hot water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged, and let stand for a couple of hours until the husks are pliable. For forming the tamales, separate out 28 of the largest and most pliable husks—ones that are at least 6 inches across on the wider end and 6 or 7 inches long. If you can’t find enough large ones, overlap a couple of the smaller ones to give wide, sturdy surfaces to spread the batter on. Pat the chosen husks dry with a towel. Set aside.

2. Prepare the batter. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa (already mixed with the water) in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2 teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup of broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think it needs some. For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then re-beat, adding a little more broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

3. Prepare the filling. Cut pork into about 4 inch square chunks. Fill large saucepan with water, add the meat and bring to a boil over high heat. Partially cover and reduce the temperature to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer until the meat is fall-apart tender, about 1 hour. Let cool for a few minutes, then use a slotted spoon to remove the meat. Discard water. Use fingers or 2 forks to break the meat into coarse shreds, removing fat. Return shredded meat into empty saucepan and add 1-2 jars of enchilada sauce, filling should be thick not runny.

4. Set up the steamer. It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover cornhusks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between the husks so condensing steam can drain off.

5. Form the tamales. Cut twenty-five 8- to 10-inch pieces of string or thin strips of cornhusks. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out one of your chosen cornhusks with the tapering end toward you. Spread 1-2 heaping tablespoon of the batter into about a 4-inch square, leaving at least a 1 1/2-inch border on the side toward you and a 3/4-inch border along the other sides (with large husks, the borders will be much bigger). Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the center of the batter. Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusks and bring them together (this will cause the batter to surround the filling). If the uncovered borders of the two long sides you’re holding are narrow, tuck one side under the other; if wide, roll both sides in the same direction around the tamale. (If the husk is small, you may feel more comfortable wrapping the tamale in a second husk.) Finally, fold up the empty 1 1/2-inch section of the husk (to form a tightly closed “bottom” leaving the top open), and secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strings or strips of husk around the tamale. As they’re made, stand the tamales on their folded bottoms in the prepared steamer. Don’t tie the tamales too tightly or pack them too closely in the steamer. They need room to expand.

6. Steam. When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of leftover cornhusks or cotton kitchen towel to prevent condensation water from dripping into the tamales. If the tamales don’t take up the entire steamer, fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil (to keep the tamales from falling over). Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up.

7. Serve and enjoy!

Get more information about this episode >>