Just Good Food

by John Ryan


Making and Steaming the Tamales


As you'll quickly find out, the tendency is to use too much filling, making a tamale that is so fat you can't roll the husk all the way around. Then once you get the proportions right, you'll be disheartened by how ragged the first few look. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it. Have some more beer.


The production line:
Masa, with a serving spoon
Filling, with a fork


1. Use about 1/4 cup of masa to make a sort of nest on the husk. Leave a 2-inch margin at the top and bottom. Leave at least a 1-inch margin on both sides.

2. Put a couple forkfuls of filling in the "nest." Bring the husk together so the masa meets and surrounds the filling, then overlap the husks so the tamale is protected. Don't try to roll them tightly, they need to expand as they cook.

3. Tie the top and bottom.

As soon as you have the first dozen done (figure 2 or 3 per person), start steaming them.


Steaming the Tamales
Arrange them log cabin style in a steamer, cover, and steam for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Watch that the pot doesn't boil dry. Have a tea kettle of water simmering on a back burner. If you need to add water to the pot, add boiling water. But try not to pour it directly on the tamales.

(This is a good time to make some rice and mash beans for dinner.)

When are they done? Take one, snip the ends and unroll it. If it comes cleanly away from the husk, it's done.

The tamales don't need a sauce, but if you have some left, feel free to use it.


Don't look for a tamale steamer at Williams-Sonoma, you're going to improvise. Don't worry, everybody does. There are just a few things to keep in mind.

Remember, you're steaming the tamales, not boiling them, so you don't want water to touch the tamales.

For 9 or 10 tamales, use a steaming insert that fits inside a 3-quart pot.

For a major batch, 20 to 30, use one of those collapsible flower steamers in a big pot.

You probably won't get all of them steamed that night, so put the rest in freezer bags and refrigerate or freeze. They need to be cooked, which takes a long time, but once they are done, they simply need to be heated up for a short time in a steamer or in a microwave.


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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