Her Hearts Kitchen

How To Make Tamales


Making tamales is a cherished tradition in many Latin American cultures, particularly in Mexico. These delicious, savory bundles are often enjoyed during festive occasions and family gatherings. Despite their somewhat intricate preparation, tamales are incredibly rewarding to make. This guide will walk you through each step of the process, making it easy for even an intermediate-level cook to master this beloved dish.

The History of Tamales

Tamales have a long and rich history, dating back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. The Aztecs, Maya, and other indigenous peoples made tamales as portable food that could be easily carried by warriors, hunters, and travelers. The word “tamale” comes from the Nahuatl word “tamalli,” which means “wrapped.” Over the centuries, tamales have evolved, but their fundamental essence remains the same.

How To Make Tamales

Ingredients Needed

Before diving into the preparation, it’s essential to gather all the necessary ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:

Masa (Dough)

  • 4 cups masa harina (corn flour)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup lard (or vegetable shortening)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt


Fillings can vary widely. Here are a few popular options:

Pork Filling

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder, cooked and shredded
  • 2 cups red chile sauce

Chicken Filling

  • 2 pounds chicken breast, cooked and shredded
  • 2 cups green salsa

Vegetarian Filling

  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 cup diced bell peppers
  • 1 cup green salsa


  • Dried corn husks (available at most Latin grocery stores)
How To Make Tamales

Preparing the Corn Husks

The first step in making tamales is preparing the corn husks. They need to be softened so that they are pliable enough to wrap the masa and fillings.

  1. Rinse the Corn Husks: Rinse the husks under cold water to remove any dirt or debris.
  2. Soak the Husks: Place the husks in a large bowl or sink filled with hot water. Weigh them down with a plate to keep them submerged. Soak for at least 30 minutes, or until they are soft and pliable.
  3. Drain and Dry: After soaking, drain the husks and lay them out on a clean towel to dry.

Making the Masa

The masa, or dough, is the heart of the tamale. It’s essential to get the right texture and consistency.

  1. Mix Dry Ingredients: In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add the Lard: Using an electric mixer, beat the lard until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Combine Wet and Dry Ingredients: Gradually add the masa harina mixture to the lard, alternating with the chicken broth. Continue mixing until you have a smooth, spreadable dough. The masa should be moist but not too wet.

Preparing the Fillings

While the masa rests, prepare your desired fillings. Here are some detailed instructions for popular options:

Pork Filling

  1. Cook the Pork: In a large pot, cook the pork shoulder until tender. This can take about 2-3 hours. Once cooked, shred the pork using two forks.
  2. Mix with Sauce: Combine the shredded pork with red chile sauce, ensuring the meat is well-coated.

Chicken Filling

  1. Cook the Chicken: Boil the chicken breasts until fully cooked. Shred the chicken with two forks.
  2. Mix with Salsa: Combine the shredded chicken with green salsa, mixing well.

Vegetarian Filling

  1. Combine Ingredients: In a large bowl, mix the cooked black beans, corn, diced bell peppers, and green salsa. Ensure everything is evenly distributed.

Assembling the Tamales

Now comes the fun part – assembling the tamales!

  1. Lay Out a Husk: Place a softened corn husk on a flat surface. The smoother side should be facing up.
  2. Spread the Masa: Using a spoon or spatula spread a thin layer of masa onto the center of the husk. Leave about 1-2 inches of space on the sides and at the bottom, and about 4 inches at the top.
  3. Add the Filling: Place a spoonful of your chosen filling in the center of the masa.
  4. Fold the Husk: Fold the sides of the husk together, enclosing the filling. Then fold the bottom up towards the center. The top should remain open.
  5. Tie the Tamale: If desired, you can tie the tamale with a thin strip of corn husk to keep it secure.
How To Make Tamales

Steaming the Tamales

Steaming is the final step in cooking tamales.

  1. Prepare the Steamer: Fill the bottom of a large steamer pot with water. Place a steamer basket or insert it above the water level.
  2. Arrange the Tamales: Stand the tamales upright in the steamer, with the open ends facing up. Pack them loosely so steam can circulate.
  3. Steam the Tamales: Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and steam the tamales for about 1 to 1.5 hours. Check occasionally to ensure there’s enough water in the pot.
  4. Check for Doneness: The tamales are done when the masa pulls away easily from the husk.

Serving the Tamales

Tamales are best enjoyed fresh from the steamer, but they can also be reheated later. Serve them with additional sauce or salsa on the side. Tamales can be a meal on their own or paired with rice, beans, and other traditional sides.

Tips and Tricks

Using Fresh Masa

If you have access to a Latin grocery store that sells fresh masa, it can be a great alternative to masa harina. Fresh masa has a slightly different texture and can enhance the flavor of your tamales.

Adjusting Consistency

If the masa seems too dry, add more broth a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. If it’s too wet, you can add a bit more masa harina.

Freezing Tamales

Tamales freeze well, making them a great make-ahead dish. After steaming, let the tamales cool completely. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and place them in a freezer-safe bag. To reheat, steam them again or microwave them wrapped in a damp paper towel.


Making tamales is a labor of love, but the result is a delicious, comforting dish that brings people together. With this guide, you can tackle the process step-by-step and enjoy the satisfaction of creating homemade tamales. Whether you’re making them for a special occasion or just to share with family and friends, tamales are sure to be a hit. So gather your ingredients, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to embark on a culinary adventure that celebrates tradition and flavor.

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