Hot Tamales

Total Time:
5 hr 45 min
1 hr
45 min
4 hr

4 to 5 dozen tamales

  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly toasted and ground cumin seed
  • 2 pounds Boston butt meat, untrimmed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 4 to 5 dozen dried corn husks
  • 2 pounds yellow cornmeal, approximately 6 cups
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 7 1/2 ounces lard, approximately 1 cup
  • 3 to 4 cups reserved cooking liquid
For the meat filling: For the wrappers: For the cornmeal dough: For the meat filling:

In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, kosher salt, paprika, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper and cumin. Divide the mixture in half and reserve 1 half for later use.

Cut the Boston butt into 6 even pieces and place into a 6 to 8-quart saucepan. Add half of the spice mixture and enough water, 3 to 3 1/2 quarts, to completely cover the meat. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meat is very tender and falling apart, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove the meat from the cooking liquid to a cutting board. Leave the cooking liquid in the pot. Both meat and liquid need to cool slightly before making dough and handling. Remove any large pieces of fat and shred the meat into small pieces, pulling apart with your hands or using 2 forks.

Place a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Once shimmering, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are semi-translucent, approximately 3 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno, and remaining half of the spice mixture and continue to cook for another minute. Add the meat and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

For the wrappers:

While the meat is cooking, place the husks in a large bowl or container and submerge completely in hot water. Soak the husks until they are soft and pliable, at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours.

For the dough:

Place the cornmeal, salt, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and combine. Add the lard and using your hands, knead together until the lard is well incorporated into the dry mixture. Gradually add enough of the reserved cooking liquid, 3 to 4 cups to create a dough that is like thick mashed potatoes. The dough should be moist but not wet. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set aside until ready to use.

To assemble the tamales:

Remove a corn husks from the water and pat dry to remove excess water. Working in batches of 6, lay the husks on a towel and spread about 2 tablespoons of the dough in an even layer across the wide end of the husk to within 1/2-inch of the edges. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture in a line down the center of the dough. Roll the husk so the dough surrounds the meat, then fold the bottom under to finish creating the tamale. Repeat until all husks, dough and filling are used. Tie the tamales, around the center, individually or in groups of 3, with kitchen twine.

To cook the tamales:

Stand the tamales upright on their folded ends, tightly packed together, in the same saucepan used to cook the meat. Add the reserved broth from making the dough and any additional water so the liquid comes to 1-inch below the tops of the tamales. Try not to pour the broth directly into the tops of the tamales. Cover, place over high heat and bring to a boil, approximately 12 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to low, to maintain a low simmer, and cook until the dough is firm and pulls away easily from the husk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Serve the tamales warm. For a 'wet' hot tamale, serve with additional simmering liquid. Store leftover tamales, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the freezer, for up to a month. To reheat, remove the plastic wrap and steam until heated through.

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    I didn't make the full tamale, I made it just for the meat to use in my tacos. I didn't have jalapeno nor toasted cumin but I just used regular cumin (no jalapeno). For the water I soften a California dried pepper (or Mexican) They are the dried dark red peppers. I soaked it, removed the seeds and put the water you use to cover the meat while cooking in a blender, added the pepper and blended, then added to the meat and cooked it. I use some of the water that was extra after the meat was cooked I used to cook the rice, using only the extra flavored water from meat. I chopped onions, garlic, fried the dry rice until brown, put it in my rice cooker adding cilantro to it and cooked. Excellent
    Here's an interesting tip: Double up on the dough portion of this recipe. From the extra dough, scoop out ? cup portions.Take half of these portions and store in the 'fridge. Take the other half and wrap to freeze. Now, any time you want, take a ? cup portion and cut it in half. Flatten each half into a flat, level disk. Add a little of any filling you want then top with the other half, pressing the disk edges to seal. Now, toss a filled disk on a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat. Check the bottom every 2 minutes or so. When it JUST start to brown (about 2-3 minutes, flip and repeat on the other side. You just made an El Salvadorean pupusa!
    As others have written, this was a lot of work but mostly in the assembly. I probably used less than half of the package of husks. I was concerned that the meat filling would be too spicy, but the outer corn breading neutralizes the heat. These are very different than the tamales in a jar my mom loved.
    Fantastic! Never made tamales before, but when we bit into one of these my wife turned to me and said "that's what a tamale is supposed to taste like!" 
    I confess we only did the meat mixture- we used the masa recipie on the side of the bag for the corn flour- but wow, what a filling!  
    I think where this really shines is how you never miss a chance to add flavors- we did simmer the tamales in the broth rather than steam and I think it really added an extra depth to them. And not really that difficult. I do agree with one earlier reviewer that you need to let the tamales cool a bit after they come out of the broth in order to firm up a bit- otherwise they will be soggy. 
    This filling goes on the "all-purpose" list for pork tacos, enchiladas, nachos, you name it. Too good to not use more often!
    This recipe is awesome. I made them once on a whim and my family fell in love! Now ....Chrismas...tamales? ....Thanksgiving...tamales? ....President's Day...tamales? : It's getting out of hand
    The meat mixture is out of this world! I used it with my favorite tamale recipe using masa harina and steaming. I also slow cooked the meat in a slow cooker all day rather than in the oven. Absolutely loved the taste of the cooking liquid in the masa mixture. Will be making this again in the future!
    Wonderful recipe! For those confused by the use of cornmeal, these are Mississippi Hot Tamales from the Delta. They are also simmered instead of steamed like most tamales. And, as mentioned in the recipe, it is custom to serve them "wet" with the simmering sauce. Excellent! There is a site called the tamale trail that is worth looking at for more information about this variety of tamales.
    Great meat recipe but I too used maza flour instead of corn meal. Thanks for the details in the cooking and prep process. Some recipes fall short in that area but not this one!
    I was really inspired by this episode, I remember my grandmother's burrito man would bring a massive box of frozen tamales every three months or so, and she would heat up a little bundle as my after-school snack. So I had to try this for myself.  
    Despite the difficulty in putting them together while dealing with a four-month-old who had just woken up, it was worth it for the spicy trip down memory lane at dinner that night. I froze most of them, and my wife adds them to her salads for lunch at work.
    I used Ma-Se-Ca Tamale Flour for the dough and braised the meat in my stock pot all day. The tamales turned out perfectly! So delicious!
    The masa was awful, too dense and bland, I should have done more research before I decided to follow Alton with blind faith, to my disappointment. Clearly, corn meal is NOT the way to go, should be masa harina. I will give him a big shout out for the meat prep, it was flavorful and all I adjusted for was the lack of cilantro which gave it a great taste....I only made a dozen and did the taste test before I proceeded to finish the entire quantity, glad I did, I then made a masa with harina and then we had some great tamales....
    This was my first time to try to make tamales and it is definitely time consuming, but it turned out great! I was a little worried after the last cooking part because it looked watery and mushy, but I took the tamales out and let them sit for about 10 or 15 minutes and they firmed up. I am really impressed with these!
    I love the recipe. I made one change and use the maza flour instead of corn meal, it seems to hold more of the flavor. Thank you for a great recipe.
    First time I have cooked any tamale recipe. Turned out great. Good spicy heat with nice underlying flavor.
    Time consuming but not overly complicated. It was delicious in the end though.
    I am making this recipe for the fifth time today. We love it. The only adjustment we made was cutting the salt in half.
    We really love this recipe. I tried to make tamales one year for Christams,and they were so good. Everyone really loved the flavor of the pork. So, I decided to try to make this same recipe, but use the meat for pulled pork tacos instead. It is so easy and has become one of those meals that everyone in the household agrees on!
    Turned out terrific! A lot of work but not too difficult or overly complicated...just time consuming. This is one of those recipes where all that time spent is well worth it. I did as another review suggested and used the filling from this recipe with the dough from the turkey tamales featured in the same episode. I ended up with slightly more filling than dough so I will probably make more dough next time I make these. As for the people that are saying that the dough is just too bland, I have seen some recipes that add chili powder or cayenne pepper to the dry ingredients when making the dough to spice it up a bit. This may work. Although I think the dough from the turkey tamales recipe complimented this spicy pork filling really well. All in all a great recipe to make over a weekend for a big Sunday dinner or to freeze and have great leftovers to take to work for your lunch (yum).
    No question you MUST use Masa Harina for the masa. This recipe is the closest I have ever seen to my own. A few differant spices, but all good. I always just wrap in the husks and fold. I can honestly say I have never bought a store bought tamale that I did not HATE! I also hate when resterants try to pass ground beef tamales Yuck.
    Did not have a good experience with this recipe! The masa was dry and very bland....but the meat was fantastic! So I think I'll try the suggested Masa Harina as some of the other reviewers did. But worth a second try....definitely!
    This is great, except I used masa harina instead of cornmeal, it's cheap and works out fine. I save my special ground cornmeal for cornbread and turkey dressing. Also, this is a BIG recipe, it made alot. I was wishing I had a group of Oaxacans to help me finish it. lol.
    I hadn't made tamales since I was a kid living on the South Texas border with Mexico. These are outstanding. I did use Masa Harina to make the dough and found the resulting tamales to be very authentic. Surprising easy. I enlisted the help of my neighbors and we had a good time putting together tamales and drinking beer. If you like tamales, double or triple the recipe, they freeze well.
    I have never made tamales before but I am surprised how good these tamales taste like, they almost remind of some of the tamales I can get at the grocery freezer section but much better and less expensive.
     I used some of the left over corn husks to tie the tamales individually instead of using butcher string to tie three together.
    I mixed things up and made the dough for AB's turkey tamales with the filling for these. These tamales are legit!
    I always read all the comments before making any recipe. I liked the one that suggusted using Masa Harina from Alton's Turkey Tamales recipe. I used 6 cups of Masa Harina which is a much finer corn meal with 1 cup of regular corn meal. I flavored the meal mixture with some of the seasonings from the recipe. Used all the broth ( I condensed it down to about 5 cups) from the meat (I used beef brisket, since I bought one to make Guy's recipe). The corn dough tasted great on its own!
     This is my first attempt at making tamales. Next time I will use more than just one tablespoon of meet. The corn husks I bought were pretty large.
     I just took my first one out of the steamer, yes I steamed rather than boiled, Since it is my first I was afraid the water would get into my tamales. It tastes fantastic! I will definately be making these again, but with more meat in the middle.
    I've been making tamales for years, and after watching Alton's tamale episode, I knew it was time to whip up another batch. If you've never made tamales before, I can offer a few tips that will make the whole process easier.
     First, don't make too big a deal out of cooking the meat?this is a perfect recipe for a slow cooker. Grab your big oval cooker, pick your meat, then throw the meat (you can use either pork or chicken) and the seasonings in and let it cook away while you're at work. By the time you get home, it's falling-off-the-bone tender, your stock is perfect, and the shredding is easy.
     Second, on dough day (aka assembly day), make it easy on yourself. Alton, I love you man, but 7 1/2 oz of lard? Big guy, just grab a one-pound box of lard, whack it in half and be done with it?trust me, tamal dough doesn't require that level of precision.
     Now comes the fun part?assembling these little critters. Your best bet for evenly sized tamales is to use a cookie (portion) scoop. The medium #40 size scoop (FoodNetwork carries the OXO brand) makes the process very fast and easy. Coincidentally, by using the cookie scoop I get about 4 1/2 dozen tamales from a batch of dough.
     Roll your own tamales and you'll never be happy with store-bought again.
    I made the recipe.. it was long but it turned out perfect. I have made tamales in the past and had to throw them away. Masa was too wet or to dry and the meat had no flavor.
     Alton, Thanks for the great recipe!!!
    Um......hello is this thing on..... I'm sorry when I saw the above comments on tamale making being exhausting and time consuming, I couldn't help but comment. In my family this is a Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition that can be dated back to before I was born. The WHOLE family gets involved so for the novices out there if you aren't one ready for a little sweat in the kitchen or kitchen table for that matter, back away from this recipe or any of the others containing the word tamale. It can be messy, back breaking, and even aggravating at times... but when the family comes around that's all you want to do! Thanks again Alton for another lovely spin on a great classic staple! I step down from the soap box now. :)
    I made this because I was sick of going out and getting tamales that weren't as authentic as my bestfriend who is latino use to make for me. So I made these and it was perfectly seasoned and spicy I added more chayanne pepper because I love hot food. These were excellent!!!
    Having never cooked tamales before I try to implement a big new thing like this in stages, realizing that I'm going to mess it up the first few times I do it. I want to develop a feel for the tamale cooking so I'm just going to do a few at a time, with the meat and broth stored in the fridge between experiments.
     I found that, for me, the meat as it came out of the boil was perfectly seasoned, and when I added in the other half of the spices with the aromatics it was overwhelming -- not too hot but just too much of everything. I would have used maybe another tablespoon of the spice mixture at most.
     Its possible that the intensity would have moderated some when the actual tamales were cooked but my experience has been that if the individual components aren't tasty the result won't be, so I'm redoing it with half the spices.
     YMMV of course.
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