Adventures in Tamale Making

Have you ever heard of four Asians and a Jew making Mexican tamales? Though it sounds like the beginning to a really bad, non-PC joke, it was actually my Saturday. Believe it! We were inspired by a recent tamale making episode of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” and of course our love of tamales. Most of the ones out on the market seem to be about 25% filling and 75% masa. We wanted super filled, super saucy tamales, so why take chances when we can make them just how we want them. As gung ho as we all were about tamale making, did any of us really have any business venturing into the secret society of abuela work?

Thanks to Jamie, our tamale hostess, our filling combinations were endless. We had beef, pork, chicken and even oxtails! Cheeses included Jack, Oaxacan string cheese, panela and echilado cheese. It was nice to use the combination of a meltable, mild cheese alongside a spicy, salty cheese like the enchilado. Vegetables included roasted poblanos, roasted jalapenos, corn and black beans.

Gotta have a little cerveza while you work.

I was a big fan of the “compound tamale” – meat, cheese, beans, corn and roasted peppers all stuffed into a thin layer of masa. Flavor bomb!

The tamales took a few hours to assemble, but even longer to steam since we had to split our 100+ tamales into batches.

Once our tamales were ready, we really wished that we would have somehow marked them so we could find the oxtail ones first. No problem though. If we had to eat five or ten just to get to one oxtail, well then it was still worth it.

Now that we’ve got our whole method down, I can’t wait to do this again. If anybody has any tips, please shoot them my way. Hooray for tamale success!


  • Margy

    18 May 2009 05:05 pm

    [this is good] Oh my God, that looks good! Thanks for sharing.

  • Purplesque

    18 May 2009 07:05 pm

    [this is good] Oh, wow. May I come over the next time you have a tamale party? This looks amazing.

    p.s. What kind of fat did you use? I have used Emeril’s recipe before- a little toasted ground cumin in the dough. Bet AB’s was as good if not better.

  • Candy Sparks

    18 May 2009 07:05 pm

    omg i want to make some reminds me of a time when i was like 14 and my mom and i decided to make egg rolls and it was a process but well worth every burnt finger because those were the best tasting egg rolls in the world!

  • Ann

    18 May 2009 08:05 pm

    [esto es genial] Fantastic post. I’m so hungry now.

    I like Rick Bayless’ episode about tamales. He has a recipe for chocolate tamales on his site.

  • Ivysgrandkid

    19 May 2009 08:05 am

    [this is good] you are so good1

  • Sonia

    19 May 2009 08:05 am

    Ijole Delicioso, Great Job!!

    The Tamales were very good Jamie shared some with me and I loved them.

  • cyndia

    19 May 2009 09:05 am

    I ventured into tamale making once… just once!  I had fun but I did it alone and it was a lot of work all by myself… maybe I should try it again… and with some spirits to help me relax!

    They look delicious and my mouth is watering!!

  • Elly

    21 May 2009 07:05 am

    Mmmm these look SO good. I love tamales but I’ve always been too intimidated to make my own. How did you make the masa? Every recipe I see has a lot of lard in it, which kind of turns me off. :P 

  • julie

    27 May 2009 03:05 pm

    We used lard (yikes) so they weren’t really vegetarian, but I would love to try again with either butter or lard. Mmm toasted cumin would be divine. Maybe an Indian inspired filling like paneer… 

  • julie

    27 May 2009 04:05 pm

    Thanks Elly! Our masa had lard but since it was split up between over a 100 tamales I didn’t feel too guilty. Oh and I kept thinking about how much better lard is for you than shortening. It was so much fun I hope you’ll give it a shot.


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