Red chile and pork tamales

In honor of the holidays, a beloved recipe for one of my required holiday undertakings.  Adapted from a recipe I found long ago in Martha Stewart Magazine–but I have served them proudly to anyone who loves The Real Thing and have been mightily praised, so you’ll find them authentically wonderful.

Be warned–this is a time consuming process. Start early.  It is also very difficult to do the first step without a blender.  I once used a very small coffee grinder out of desperation, but I wouldn’t recommend it.


1 package dried corn husks (6 oz)

For the filling:
6-8 dried New Mexico red chiles
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1- 1/2 cups water
1 T olive oil
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into stew size pieces
1 tsp salt

For the batter
5 oz lard
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1- 3/4 cups masa harina mixed with 1 cup + 2 T hot water, cooled to room temperature
2/3 cup fresh chicken stock

1. In a large container, place the corn husks and cover with hot water.  Put a plate or something on top, or they’ll float and won’t be reconstituted when you need them.  Soak for an hour.

2. To make the filling, break off the top of the chiles and shake out the seeds.  Tear each one into four or five pieces, and put them into the jar of a blender.  Add garlic, pepper, cumin, and water, and blend into a smooth puree. 

Sear the pork quickly in a medium sized heavy saucepot, then pour the chile mixture over it, add another 1-1/2 cups water, and salt.  Simmer until pork is tender and the sauce is thick, about an hour.  Shred the meat into the sauce and set aside.

3. While the meat is simmer, prepare the masa.  In a bowl, mix the lard, baking powder, and salt. Beat until the mixture is very light, then add half the masa harina mixture and half the chicken stock, beat well, and add the rest of masa and stock.   Beat until very fluffy.   Refrigerate until ready to use.

4.  Assemble the tamales.  It will be easiest if you have a fairly large surface to work on–if not a counter, use the kitchen table.  Before you begin, tear one or two of the corn husks into thin strips for tying the tamales.

     Line up the corn husks, masa, and filling in a row.  Traditionally, this is done by a row of women, but you can do it yourself with patience and a lot of good music on the Ipod.  (Breaks to dance are definitely good for your shoulders!)

     This is my method:

Put the corn husk on a dry cup towel with the pointed end at the bottom, and dry with another towel.  Scoop about a 1/4 cup or a little less into the center of the husk and smooth with a large spoon to a depth of about 1/4 inch, leaving about a 1/2 inch all around the edges. 

Spoon a line of meat into the center of the masa, top to bottom (if you think of the way you like to eat tamales, meat in every bite is important).

Pull the sides of the husk to the center, and let the masa meet inside, then roll the husk around the filling until it feels nicely dense but not too tight.  Fold the bottom point up and tie it in place with one of the husk strips you tore earlier.   Tie another one around the top, about an inch down.


To cook, put the tamales, open side up, into the steamer, and steam for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.  You’ll know they’re finished when the husk pulls away from the batter cleanly.

Makes about a dozen tamales, so feel free to double it.

Variations:  are endless.  Use your imagination.  I absolutely adore plain, simple, traditional tamales like this, but I love to play with them, too.  I’m still experimenting with vegetarian forms, and CR will slay dragons for the duck and cherry version. 

I’d love to hear of any you’ve tried!

4 thoughts on “Red chile and pork tamales

  1. You are amazing. But I can’t believe you make tamales by yourself! It seems horribly wrong. The last time I did it there were four women plus my grandpa, who was a little out of it by that time, but could still fold OK. Plus I think we got the masa ready to go from a panaderia. We did make four or five dozen, though, which I think is key given how time-consuming they are and how quickly they can get eaten!

    I love two veggie versions – one is cheese and green chile (by which I mean, what you put in the middle is an unmelted piece of cheese and a fat strip of green chile), and sweet tamales, which have nothing in the middle and are just masa sweetened with sugar, spices, and raisins. MMM.

  2. I know, I know. It should be a big crowd of people, but that’s the downside of living away from the main body of family.

    The green chile version is very similar to one I am planning to try. And the raisins sound very good.

  3. Yeah! This recipe worked great! Thanks Barbara we really enjoyed our dinner of tamales, green chile and rice….Yummo!

  4. Donna, glad it worked out for you. I think I’ve come up with a really spectacular vegetarian tamale. If it works out as well as I think, I’ll post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *