Just Good Food

by John Ryan


Master Shopping List
and Ingredient Notes
for Tamales


I'm having you buy too much of some things either because you have to (5-lb. bag of masa harina) or to be on the safe side (corn husks).


1 medium onion
2 heads garlic
1 large green bell pepper
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
1 fresh jalapeño chili
1 lemon
3 or 4 avocados (1-1/4 pounds)
1 5-pound pork shoulder (weight includes the bone)
1 pound lard
4 ounces ancho chilies
4 ounces pasilla or guajillo chilies
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
5 pounds plain masa or masa harina
1 pound corn husks
24-ounce jar salsa (a "thick & chunky" style is best)
8-ounce carton sour cream
1-pound bag corn chips
Plenty of beer and/or white wine
Several big, zip-lock freezer bags


Make sure you have...
Vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
Chili powder
5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons vanilla


Pots, pans...
Big pot (7 to 8 quart) w/lid
2 3-quart pots w/lids
Large skillet
Large platter to shred the pork
Really large bowl for the masa
Really large bowl for the meat filling
Large plastic tub to soak the husks in
Collapsible flower-style steamer
Electric mixer
Blender or food processor
Wire strainer (not a fine one)
Rubber spatulas
1-gallon container for the broth
Large crock or 8x8-inch cake pan
for the guacamole "flag"
Bowl for chips


Ingredient Notes

You will probably find most, if not all, the ingredients in a big supermarket, especially if the store serves a large Hispanic community. Otherwise, you'll need to find a neighborhood market where the signs are in Spanish.

Pork shoulder
This is variously labeled as pork butt, pork shoulder, Boston butt, shoulder roast, or some combination thereof. It's a big, brick-shaped hunk of meat with a bone in it.

Lard (manteca)
Mention lard and most people treat you like a crazed degenerate. The trouble is, lard actually has less saturated fat and has less cholesterol than butter. But don't believe me, compare labels.

The most common form is labeled "lard/hydrogenated lard" and doesn't need refrigeration. You'll probably find it by the oils in the supermarket.

Dried chilies
You need a total of 8 ounces. In Chicago chilies mostly come in 4-ounce cellophane bags. I definitely get a bag of ancho, then I flip a coin and buy either a bag of pasilla or guajillo. Now, I'm not enough of a chilehead to rhapsodize about the differences. There's no doubt these are chilies, but they're all fairly mild as chilies go.

If all you can find are ancho chilies, then get 8 ounces of them.

Masa is Spanish for "dough." Masa harina means "dough flour." It's very fine--much finer than cornmeal. On the side of the bag you'll probably see recipes for tortillas and tamales.



Making tamales will consume an entire day, so do your shopping a day or two before.

The tamale recipe will make approximately 60 tamales. If everyone gets two or three for dinner, then there should be enough to send everyone home with a bunch. Here's the plan:

On the day of the party, get the pork started first thing in the morning. It really is a matter of dump and cook-you can probably get it going while waiting for a pot of coffee to brew. The pork will take 3 to 4 hours, so once it's gently simmering, make the guacamole, get the beer in the fridge, tidy up....

When the pork is done, shred it and make the sauce.

(You should get all these chores out of the way before your friends arrive. Without hurrying, the pork, sauce, guacamole, and clean up will take about 6 hours.)

Okay, now your friends arrive. With more hands available, the masa, soaking the husks, and getting organized will easily get done inside an hour. Rolling the tamales will take three of four people about an hour. Getting dinner ready, steaming the tamales and making the rice and beans, takes about 1-1/2 hours. (I don't include a recipe for Spanish rice or refried beans here. If you choose to make them, do it while the tamales steam.)

Given that this isn't work-I mean, nobody is punching a time clock or anything-if your friends come over around three in the afternoon, you'll probably be eating around seven thirty or eight.


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John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.


This page created December 1998