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How to Make Homemade Tamales

These tamales are easy to make vegetarian. Made with Rojo's Fire Roasted Salsa along with sweet corn, roasted poblano chiles, and Monterey Jack.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time8 mins
Total Time28 mins
Course: main dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 6
Author: Lindsey Johnson
Cost: $30


  • Large, deep bowl
  • Steamer
  • Slow cooker
  • Baking sheet


Homemade Tamales

  • Very hot water for soaking
  • 10-12- ounces dried corn husks
  • 12 ounces 1 1/2 cups pork lard or vegetable shortening at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt plus more if needed
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 pounds 5 cups fresh coarse-ground corn masa for tamales OR 4 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/2 to 3 cups hot water see notes
  • 1-2 tablespoons ground chili powder mild or medium optional
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups flavorful chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 cups filling pulled chicken beef, pork, or beans, vegetables and cheese

Shredded Chicken Tamale Filling

  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 1 14- ounce container Rojo's Restaurant Style Medium Salsa
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder optional
  • 2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste

Black Bean Tamale Filling

  • 6-7 large poblano peppers
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack
  • 1 1/2 cups or a 15-ounce can black beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup sweet corn no need to thaw if using frozen
  • 1 cup Rojo's Fire Roasted Medium Salsa
  • Salt to taste


Homemade Tamales

  • Place cornhusks in a very large, deep bowl or other large container or pot. Cover the husks with very hot (but not boiling) water. Submerge the husks into the water, allowing the trapped air to bubble up. Place a plate or pan on top of the husks to keep them completely submerged. (I like to weigh it down with a heavy 28-ounce can placed on a plate.) Allow the husks to stay in the hot water for 2-3 hours, or until pliable.
  • While husks are soaking, prepare the tamale dough. Place the lard or shortening into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until creamy, then add the salt and baking powder. Beat on medium-high speed until light. (It won't really get fluffy if you use lard.)
  • Stop and scrape down mixer as needed. With mixer running on low speed, add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) to the mixer in three additions, beating well after each addition. Add chili powder, if using. Raise speed to medium-high and beat for 1-2 minutes until well-combined. Stop and scrape down.
  • With mixer running on low, slowly add 1 cup of the broth. Keep beating until smooth. The batter may be ready at this point, but it may need more broth. Test by dropping a small amount of batter into a cup of cold water. If it floats, the batter is ready. If it sinks, add a little more broth and beat again for 1-2 minutes on medium-high heat. Test again. The batter texture will be like a thick cake batter – spreadable, but not at all runny. It should hold its shape when spread onto the cornhusks.
  • Get the steamer ready. (I use the strainer insert for my stock pot.) Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a stock pot or other tall pan. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of the pot. If you don't have a steamer basket, you can place some small ramekins in the bottom of the pan and place a few layers of cornhusks or even a layer of aluminum foil pricked a few times with a fork to allow for air movement. The tamales need to be elevated for even cooking. Furthermore, the tamales will need to stand up as they cook, so it may be necessary to fill up any empty spaces with extra cornhusks folded over or balled up aluminum foil.
  • Prepare ties to secure the tamales by cutting string or thin strips of the husks into 8- to 10-inch pieces. You will need between 30-32.
  • Remove the cornhusks from the hot water and pat dry. Carefully separate the husks, trying not to tear them. Choose the largest, most intact husks. Count out 30-32. If the husks are narrower, count out enough to double up, as needed.
  • To assemble the tamales, work with one at a time, lay a husk out on a clean counter or cutting board with the tapering end facing toward you. Spoon 1/4 cup of the batter on the husk and spread it out to make a 4-inch square, leaving a border of 1 1/2-inches at the tapered end and a 1-inch border along the sides. Depending on the size of the husk, the borders may be a little wider. If needed, use two husk overlapping each other for a wider area.
  • Spoon a rounded tablespoon of the filling down the center of the batter. Using the husk as handles, pull the long sides together in the center over the filling. Bring the edges together and fold together over the filling in the same direction. Fold up the bottom of the husk to close up the bottom of the tamale. If needed, wrap another small husk around the tamale to ensure the filling doesn't leak out, or if there are any splits in the husk. Use the string or husk strip and tied around the tamale to secure it, but not too tightly. The top will remain open.
  • As you work, place the tamales in the steamer with the open ends facing up. The tamales will expand as they cook, so leave a little space between them and don't pack too many into the pot. (See note above about filling any empty spaces to keep tamales upright.)
  • Place a little water in the bottom of the pan if you haven't added it already. Turn heat to medium and steam tamales for 60-75 minutes. Add more water as needed so the pan doesn't boil dry. Check about every 15-20 minutes.
  • You'll know the tamales are done when the husks come away from the tamales easily. Turn off heat and allow tamales to stand in the pan for 10 minutes so they can firm up.
  • Serve immediately or cool completely and store in refrigerator or freezer. Re-steam refrigerated or frozen tamales before serving. (It won't take as long as the initial steaming time – just until heated through.)

Shredded Chicken Tamale Filling

  • Place the chicken thighs into a slow cooker. Spoon the salsa evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the chili powder, if using, and salt.
  • Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours, or until the chicken is tender and shreds easily.
  • Shred the chicken. Allow the chicken to cool, still in the slow cooker, to absorb the sauce. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
  • To use as tamale filling, it's easiest to work with when the chicken is cold or at room temperature.

Black Bean Tamale Filling

  • Adjust oven rack so it is about 4-5" from the broiler. Preheat broiler to high.
  • Place the whole poblanos on a baking sheet. Broil for 3-4 minutes, or until skin blackens and blisters. Turn over and broil the other side. Let cool.
  • Peel away the skin and remove the stem and seeds. Chop. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.
  • In a bowl, combine the cooled poblanos, Monterey Jack, black beans, corn, and salsa. Stir well. Taste and add salt, if needed.
  • Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made 3-4 days in advance.


Homemade Tamales Notes
  • Fresh masa can be found at Mexican markets and some grocery stores.
  • If using dried masa harina and water, add enough hot water so the dough is thick and pliable, not runny or crumbly. It should feel like playdough. Allow the masa to cool before using in the tamale dough.
  • Recipe adapted from Chef Rick Bayless
Shredded Chicken Tamale Filling Notes
  • Chicken breast can be used in place of the thighs, but they have a chance of drying out. Shorten cook time by 1-2 hours.
  • Cubed pork or beef stew meat can be substituted for the chicken.
  • I have never had an issue cooking frozen chicken in the slow cooker on HIGH heat. If you'd rather use thawed chicken, place it in the fridge overnight to thaw.
  • This makes enough for one batch of tamales, about 30-32. Use any leftovers as a taco filling, serve with rice, or freeze for later.
Black Bean Tamale Filling Notes
  • Makes enough filling for one batch of tamales, about 30-32.
  • Store any leftovers in refrigerator and use as a taco or quesadilla filling.