Throughout the summer, we discovered that, for some reason, pork butts were on fantastic sales.
Because Joey loves to fire up his smoker in the backyard, we bought quite a few of them and have lots of delicious, smoked pork in our freezer.
We mostly use it to make tacos, combining the pork in a skillet with fresh green salsa and sauteed onions and bell peppers, but I’ve been trying to get creative with other uses and decided this week that I was finally going to cross a recipe off my bucket list: tamales.
I was extremely nervous about trying to make tamales without any prior experience, but the posts from the blog I used were so helpful, and while it was still a long process, it also was a fairly easy one.
I actually used two, separate posts from the blog “The Busy Abuelita” to make these—one for the masa dough and one for the red sauce. You can find the originals at https://www.thebusyabuelita.com/2019/02/tamale-dough-recipe.html and https://www.thebusyabuelita.com/2019/02/tamale-meat-recipe.html. I added extra spices in my version, and I didn’t roast the pork like she did, but I’d encourage you to go to her website to get instructions if you need help with that step.
Red Pork Tamales
Masa Dough Ingredients
- 8 ounces corn husks
- 2 cups lard or shortening I used lard
- 6 cups masa harina cornflour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 5 cups chicken broth
Red Pork Ingredients
- 4 pounds pork butt or roast cooked and shredded
- 16 ounces dried New Mexico chile pods
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 beef bouillon cube
- salt to taste
- Start by placing your corn husks in a large pot of warm water, weighing them down if necessary. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes before starting assembly.
- For the dough, begin by beating the lard with a mixer until it’s light—about two to three minutes. Add in the rest of the dough ingredients and let the mixer run until everything is well combined. You’ll probably have to do that for around seven to 10 minutes. You’ll know the masa is ready when a pea-sized piece floats in a cup of water. If it doesn’t float, keep mixing.
- Once the masa dough is done, cover it and refrigerate it until you’re ready to assemble.
- For the sauce, remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles (don’t worry if you don’t get every last seed. Just do your best.), and rinse them.
- Place them in a large stockpot and add just enough water to cover them.
- Bring the pot to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let them simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the pods but do not pour out the water they cooked in. Add the bouillon cube to the pot, turn the heat back up to medium, and stir until it dissolves.
- In a blender, adding each ingredient a little at a time and blending in between, add the pods, garlic, cumin and flour, along with one cup of the water from the pot.
- Pour the sauce through a fine sieve to get rid of any solid bits and pour the sauce into a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk the sauce and let it cook for about five minutes. It’s done when it coats the back of a spoon. If it’s too thick, add more of the water from the pot. If it’s too thin, keep cooking to reduce it further.
- Add in the shredded pork and stir to combine well. You don’t want a soupy mixture here—just a nice coating on the pork.
- Remove the pork from the heat and get ready to make tamales. Lay a cornhusk in front of you with the smaller, pointier end on top. Using a two-inch cookie scoop, put about one-quarter cup of masa dough on the wider end and spread it out across the width of the husk and about two to three inches up vertically. The dough will be sticky, and wet fingers really help here.
- Now place about two tablespoons of pork in the middle of the dough and roll the husk into about a two-inch-wide tube, rolling from the long side. Fold the pointed end up and tie the tamale shut with some baker’s twine. Set the tamale aside and repeat until all the filling is used.
- To cook the tamales, use a large pot of water with a steamer basket or strainer pot, or use a pressure cooker with a steamer basket. In either case, add about two cups of water to the bottom and pack in as many tamales as you can, standing upright with the open end facing up. In the pot, cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes or until the masa easily pulls away from the husks. In the pressure cooker, cook on high pressure for 20 minutes with a quick release.
- Serve immediately, and store any leftovers in the fridge or freezer for later.
These were so, so good! We have already eaten them for three meals, and I only made them three days ago. The sauce was great, and I got a huge sense of accomplishment when the first batch of tamales came out of my pressure cooker.
I finally get to cross tamales off my list of recipes to try, and I’ll be doing this again in the future. After all, there’s still plenty of pork in my freezer.
This piece first appeared in print on Nov. 5, 2020.
Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas and sponsored by Main Street Co. & Kitchen Corner in Newton, Kan. Visit their website at shopmainstco.com.