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Tamales are one of the most symbolic street foods in Mexican culture. This dish embraces a whole ancestral tradition that has become stronger through time; they are very popular during festive periods and bank holidays, such as Independence Day. Read our step-by-step guide on how to make authentic Mexican tamales, so no matter where you are, you can imagine you are in Mexico eating them, since they are so authentic, they will transport your taste buds straight to Mexico!
What is a Tamal?
Its origin dates back to pre-Hispanic times, it comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli, which means wrapped. Tamales are wrapped and cooked in corn husks or banana leaves, which are removed before eating. They can have a filling of meat, vegetables, fruits, sauce.
There are several types of tamales that come from different countries where corn is a staple ingredient. There is evidence that shows that the origin of corn was probably in Central Mexico, from where it spread to the rest of Latin America, and they incorporated dishes and ways of cooking such an important ingredient.
Different Types of Tamales
Tamales change according to the state. Some argue that the best tamales come from Oaxaca, which have their own recipe; these differ from standard tamales because they are bigger and are wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husk. They can contain chicken mole filling, rajas con queso, red sauce or green sauce. If you are looking for something sweeter, you can find pineapple, strawberry, and cinnamon fillings.
Another version is the Chilango version (Mexico City) that is called torta de tamal, which is a baguette filled with a tamal. If you go to Sinaloa, you will find a different type of tamal which is smaller and is filled with red meat, vegetables, olives, and red sauce, also very delicious!
Cook Your Own Homemade Tamales
Lucky for us, we can make our own tamales without having to go to a restaurant to enjoy this authentic Mexican comfort food. We are going to show you step-by-step how to make homemade tamales just like the ones from our Mexican abuelitas (grandmas).
5 pounds of beef
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of canola oil
1 cup of Masa flour (Maseca brand)
3 cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of red chili sauce
2 pounds of dried corn husks
2 pounds of lard
1 cup of beef broth
5 tablespoons of baking powder
It has to be made the day before so it can be refrigerated the whole night, this way the fat will rise up and will be easier to remove from the mixture.
- Cook the beef, garlic, and salt in a slow cooker for 8 hours. Place it in the fridge and let it chill.
- Remove the meat from the refrigerator and remove all the fat from the top
- Shred the meat with a fork – you can use some extra hands.
- Brown the flour in oil in a pot over high heat.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, red chili sauce, and salt.
- Cook until thickened.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Add the sauce to the meat.
The Masa Dough
- Beat the lard with a mixer until it looks like whipped cream (it will take you around 15 minutes)
- Add the masa flour little by little
- Add some salt and baking powder to the dough mix while adding all the masa flour you have.
- Add the beef broth slowly until it incorporates
- Beat on high speed until the dough spreads like creamy peanut butter.
- Cover the mixing bowl with damp paper towel, it keeps the dough from drying out.
- Lay a corn husk on the counter, glossy side up, with the wide end at the top
- Spread ¼ cup of the masa dough on the corn husk and press it down in a thin layer (¼ inch thick)
- Spread a rectangle that covers the husk, but leave 2 inches at the bottom without dough.
- Place 2 tablespoons of the beef in the center – you can add some extra ingredients like vegetables, olives, or cheese.
- Fold in the long sides of the husk over the filling, one side should overlap the other and then fold the husk from bottom to top. Tear a strip from the edge of the corn husk and use it to tie the top of the tamale and hold it together
- Place upright in a steamer
- Steam for 40 minutes and check.
Tips for Making the Best Mexican Tamales
- Buy fresh, plain masa flour without lard
- Try to loosen up the dough and mix it with the lard
- The key to great tamales is to add extra lard to the dough. The goal is to put your dough in a glass of water and it has to float.
- Soak the corn husks in water overnight.
- Fold the bottom of the corn husk up so the bottom of the tamal can be completely sealed.
- Add water to the steamer and bring to boil
- Place the tamales upright in a large steamer, so the tamales do not lose their shape.
- Don’t let the boiling water reach the bottoms of the tamales or it will make the dough hard.
- Check the steamer often to make sure it has enough water.
These tamales will be your favorite ones! Let us know how you like them in the comments below.