Yum Peaceful Cooking: Beef Tamales

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beef Tamales

This is a partial recipe post. I didn't make the beef filling. Just warning you....but, whatever shredded beef recipe you like, use it.

Let me back up here. Tamales have been on my I'd-really-love-to-learn-how-to-make-that list since forever. One of my childhood friends from school informed me recently that she makes them every year. (What?!) When she offered to show me how, I didn't care that it was the middle of the summer and was going to be 90 plus degrees outside. I wasn't going to pass this up for nothin. So, Bernie (that's what I've been calling her since we were pre-teens....having water fights in the puddles whenever it rained) gathered all the makings....and made the beef at home in her slow cooker (with chili powder and other seasonings) and even had the meat shredded when she showed up on my doorstep. All I had to get was lard. For some reason, the main stream markets around here don't carry it very often. But I knew I could find it in the Mexican market. Thats when I discovered that lard can be bought by the bucketful.

Good ole Farmer John

Ok, lard vs shortening. It's up to you. I rarely use lard. But my personal feeling on this is....for tamales, I vote for the lard. It adds flavor. If you're dead set against lard (what a name...lard. It even feels fat saying it) then use the shortening.

Plan on two days for making your tamales. The first day will be cooking the meat (beef, pork or chicken) and shredding it. The second day will be preparing the masa and assembling it. It's not hard. I know there are a lot of opinions out there about tamales and how to make them, what to do, what not to do, etc. If you're a tamales lover, you know what you like. If making tamales intimidates you....its like anything else. Just do it.  Once you've done it, you'll start to get a feel for what works for you, what flavors you like, etc...and you can adjust stuff for the next time.

Ok, so Bernies at my house in all her glory, arms loaded with a huge bowl of shredded beef, a bag or two of corn husks, and her bathing suit and beach towel in another bag. (Yes...a dip in the pool in that heat was a must). We didn't waste any time and got straight to work.

First thing we did was soak the dried corn husks in a sink full of water

(Remove the silk before assembling your tamales)

While all that is going on, prepare your masa

This makes about 4 or 5 dozen tamales

6 cups masa
5 cups liquid (water and broth from the meat)
2 cups lard (divided)
1 TB salt

Melt 1/2 cup of the lard

While that slab of fat is melting away (oh lord, if only it was that easy to melt away my own slab of fat)....put the remaining lard in a large bowl and beat with a mixer.

You want to whip this up good until its light and fluffy. The more you beat it, the more air that gets incorporated (hahaha...thats what I'll say....I'm not fat...I've just incorporated air into my mid section...so in reality, I'm fluffy). Umm...where was I? Oh...air. Yes....incorporate air into the lard...thus creating the foundation for a fluffy masa. 

Slowly beat in the masa and liquid and salt. I think we used about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of water and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of chile liquid from the shredded beef. And continue beating.

You might need to resort to using your hands after a while (my mixer is old and starts to sound a little puny after a while).

Finally, remember that melted lard in your pan? I hope you've been keeping an eye on it so it doesn't start smoking. Once it has cooled off, add it to the masa mix by making a well in the center of your masa and carefully kneading it into the dough. Adjust the masa or liquid until you have a soft dough (I read somewhere that it should be the consistency of peanut butter?)

Time to assemble.....(this is the fun part)

Lay out a soaked corn husk...take a ball of masa....spread it around by pressing it with your fingers and then dump a wad of shredded meat down the center of the masa dough.

Then fold the husk over the masa, fold it again and tuck in the bottom corner. This is when a lot of people get all fancy and tie it all together with a strand of husk. It's really not needed. I mean, it looks all cute and everything but when you're making several dozen of these things.....well, I'm lazy. Bernie apparently is too cuz she said she never ties them. So we didn't. We just pile them up as we made them.

Once we had a good amount prepared, I got out the largest stock pot that I own, inserted a steamer wrack and added water and then placed the tamales inside. Some people layer them, some stand them up on end....we layered them at varying angles.

And....they steamed away. And we got back to making more tamales...and piling them up on the counter for the next round.

Now, these babies take a while to steam. We made fairly small tamales, and they took about 1 1/2 hrs to steam. They were done when we poked at them with our finger and they were firm. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of your tamales.

Once we had finished preparing the remaining tamales, it was time to relax while we waited.

What does one do to relax while waiting for tamales in the heat of summer?

Why....we make a pitcher of margaritas of course. Then we slip into our swimsuits and take a dip in the pool. (I've spared you a pool side photo.....not to mention that one wasn't taken) Thus we are not affected by the steaming heat in the kitchen and are allowed some time to catch up and reminisce about the good ole days. Remembering how we met in the halls of elementary school because we noticed that we both wore the same shirt to school that day.

Once we are thoroughly soaked in pool water and alcohol, we check in on the steamy kitchen and discover our first batch is complete

We load up the second batch and back to the pool we head, glasses refilled of course, and continue our pickled pool party until Bernie decides its time to head home. I sent her home with the remaining lard (nothing says Thank you like a bucket of fat). And I was left with these delicious tamales and a very memorable afternoon spend with an old friend.

Dinner that night was wonderful!

I've eaten lots of homemade tamales. Some good...some not so good. These tasted just the way I like them. I can't wait to make them again (maybe next time when it's not so hot). I want to use shredded pork. And I think I want the masa a bit thicker. The masa is my most favorite part of a tamale.

Bernie....Thank you for teaching me how to make tamales!! I'm so glad we re-found each other after all these years. I can't wait until our Julia Child cooking theme and many more adventures in the kitchen to come.


  1. one of my favorites - and I like how you made them now in the summer as I typically view these as a winter/christmas item

    1. Yes, making them now is a little unconventional...but so glad I learned now so I can make them for the holidays.
      Being the chef that you are....do you have any tips, hints or secrets you can share about making the perfect tamale?

  2. Can't wait to try this! I am happy to see you used chile in the masa. A lot of people do not.
    We will add black olives and raisins. (an Yslas family tradition)

    1. :) You know how to reach Bernie or I if you have any questions (I'd try Bernie first since she's the expert). I've never seen raisins in a tamale...does they just add a little sweetness?

  3. Danni, I had a great time working with you on this. Our next kitchen adventure will be Julia Child Dutch Oven cooking, so I think we should wait until it cools off some. Thank you for having me over so I could share this family tradition with you. Maybe the time after Julia we can make Green Chile stew or something with the Hatch Green Chile we will have.

  4. Any suggestion besides corn husk?

    1. you can use banana leaves or aluminum foil

  5. I would love to try homemade Mexican tamales..!It sounds easy.

  6. Awesome, I love that you steamed them without the special steamer I thought I needed. Now I can make them without borrowing it from my brother! Also: heh, bucket of lard. I've never used lard for them, I usually use whatever fat I skim off the liquid I braised the meat in topped up with shortening.

    @Liza: You can use parchment paper too, just cut it to size.

  7. I wanna use sauce with it. which sauce will be better? tomato sauce is okay?


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