It’s easy to make the masa for tamales. Just a couple of ingredients. Whip this. Mix that… (snaps fingers) … and done! Mexican food at its best.
Someday, I hope to visit my favorite imaginary state: Masa-Chew-Sets. 😀
Nowadays, most stores will carry all the ingredients you need to make yummy tamales.
Or, if you are lucky enough to live by a Mexican grocery store, they will carry prepared masa. Just know that if you buy prepared masa it will most likely include lard.
Another thing you can do is ask your local Mexican restaurant if they will sell you prepared masa.
My uncle and his family own a Mexican restaurant in Palm Desert, California called “Los Pepes Mexican Grill.” They do not use lard in their masa.
Or, just make it home.
You have to understand that when I was a kid, we would drive nearly an hour to buy Mexican food products. Making the masa for tamales is easy.
Let me show you how easy it is to make the masa for tamales.
First you start by whipping the shortening.
Traditionally, we use lard in Mexico. Some of you will say… yuck! I’m over here saying… YUM! I love the stuff. If you’re a lard lover like me, go for it, but we’ll keep it kosher and make this recipe with shortening instead.
Another thing you can do to substitute shortening and lard is to make a completely vegan and healthier masa using oil.
After you whipped it … Whip it real good! … set it aside.
In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together.
Notice how there are no spices mentioned in the recipe. That is because I wanted to give you the most basic recipe.
Spices you can add if you are making savory tamales:
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Spices to add if you are making sweet tamales:
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground anise
Add chicken broth. You can use water, but I find chicken broth adds flavor.
If you are making sweet tamales (or tamales dulces), I recommend using water.
If you are making savory tamales, use chicken broth, pork broth, beef broth, or vegetable broth.
Some people will add the liquid from the cooked meat to the masa. This will give your masa very good flavor.
Then add it to the whipped shortening. You want it be light, creamy, and fluffy. Think cookie dough.
How to tell if the masa for tamales is ready:
The water test! (Note: This is not waterboarding. Masa never talks). 😀
Take a dollop of masa and drop it in a cup of water.
If it floats, it’s ready!!
If it doesn’t float, beat it some more.
There’s no such thing as over-mixing here.
Mix until it floats. It might just need more shortening.
After that, you’re ready to spread, fill, and wrap tamales.
See how easy that was?!
Making tamales is not hard. It’s just time consuming. My advice for the newbies: Grab a couple of friends and have a tamalada. It will go quicker with friends.
If your masa for tamales is grainy, add more liquid and more fat (shortening or lard, whatever it is you are using).
If the masa is too stiff, add more liquid (whatever broth or water you are using).
If you run out of broth, use water but adjust the salt by adding more.
If you run out of shortening or lard, you can add oil. Be careful what type of oil you add. Olive oil will change the flavor.
Hope you enjoy!
Watch How to Make Masa for Tamales Video
- 3½ cups masa harina for tamales (20 ounces)
- 3 cups very hot water
- ½ pound shortening, or lard
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup chicken stock
- In a large bowl, combine the masa, salt, and baking powder.
- Add the hot water.
- Knead until you form a smooth dough.
- Beat the lard with your mixer until smooth. About 2 minutes.
- Add the masa in small batches, beating until smooth and scraping down each time.
- Pour stock and beat until the dough is soft. About 2 minutes.
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Beat one last time with your mixer for 1 minute before using.
More advice for the newbie tamale maker:
Have your masa for tamales ready to go.
Have your filling ready to go.
Soak the corn husks the night before.
Make as many tamales as you can and freeze them.
Invest in a good steamer.
Invite friends to help…. I might have already said that, but I can’t stress this enough.
The tamales that you purchase at the store are supposed to be big. Sometimes, the corn husks come small or ripped. It’s ok to make smaller tamales.
Tamales last 6 months in the freezer. They do not last that long at my house.
Tamales last 5 days in the refrigerator.
For leftover masa, you will want to make champurrado. It goes perfectly with tamales.
How to reheat tamales:
For thawed tamales, place in hot steamer for 20 minutes.
For frozen tamales, place in hot steamer for 25-30 minutes. Check after 25 minutes.
You can also place in an oven 325 degrees F. Wrap in foil paper and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes if thawed and 25-30 minutes if frozen.
If you are still intimated to make tamales on your own, all of my tamales recipes have videos.
For More Tamales Recipes:
Red Pork Tamales
Tamales de Rajas con Queso, Pickled Jalapeño and Cheese Tamales
Instant Pot Chicken Tamales
Beef Tamales, Tamales de Res
Chicken Salsa Verde Tamales
Northern Style Bean Tamales, or Tamales de Frijol Norteños
Tamale Masa with Oil