Basic Tamales

These tamales are great for a night in, or an authentic Mexican dinner. Choose from one of three delicious fillings, or try a new one each time you make this Mexican recipe.

Basic Tamales
Photo: Peter Krumhardt
Prep Time:
50 mins
Cook Time:
1 hrs
Chill Time:
1 hrs
Soak Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 50 mins
30 tamales


  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • ½ cup lard or shortening

  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • 3 ½ cup masa harina

  • 2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth

  • 30 dried corn husks (about 1/2 of an 8-oz. pkg.)

  • 1 recipe Chicken and Dried Fruit Tamale Filling, Red Chile-Pork Tamale Filling, or Poblano-Cheese Tamale Filling

Red Chile-Pork Tamale Filling

  • 2 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks

  • 1 small onion, quartered

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed

  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 4 dried ancho chile peppers

  • 2 dried pasilla chile peppers

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

Chicken and Dried Fruit Tamale Filling

  • 1 cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

  • ½ cup chopped dried apricots

  • ½ cup golden raisins

  • 1 ½ cup shredded cooked chicken

Poblano-Cheese Tamale Filling

  • 4 fresh poblano chile peppers, halved, stemmed, and seeded

  • 3 tablespoon olive oil

  • ½ cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 1 pound mushrooms, such as stemmed shiitake, cremini, and/or button, chopped

  • 1 chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, minced, plus 2 Tbsp. sauce

  • 1 cup cup shredded queso Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese (4 oz.)


  1. In a large bowl beat butter, lard, salt, and baking powder with a mixer on medium 1 minute or until smooth. Alternately add masa harina and broth, beating until mixture resembles a thick, creamy paste. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

  2. Meanwhile, in a very large bowl cover corn husks with boiling water, weighting them down with a plate to keep submerged. Let stand 30 to 45 minutes or until corn husks are soft and pliable. Drain well; pat dry with paper towels.

  3. To assemble tamales, starting at the wide end of a corn husk, spoon 2 rounded tablespoons dough onto husk and pat with wet fingers into a 4x3-inch rectangle so that one of the long sides of the dough is at a long edge of the husk. Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon desired filling down the center of dough. Fold long edge of husk over filling so it brings edges of masa together, encapsulating filling. Overlap long ends of husk; roll around outside of filled dough. Fold bottom of tamale up; secure with strips of corn husk. Place, folded-side down, on a platter until all are assembled.

  4. To steam tamales, add a steamer basket to an 8-qt. pot. Add water to just below the basket. Stand tamales upright in steamer basket. Don't pack too tightly, but fill the space. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; steam 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until dough easily pulls away from corn husks and is spongy and cooked through. Uncover; let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Red Chile-Pork Tamale Filling

  1. In a 4-qt. heavy pot combine pork, onion, smashed garlic, peppercorns, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Add enough water to cover (4 to 5 cups). Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, over medium-low 1 to 11/2 hours or until meat is very tender. Remove meat from broth; discard broth. Shred meat using two forks.

  2. Meanwhile, in a dry large skillet toast dried chile peppers over medium 4 to 5 minutes or until they have a toasted aroma, turning frequently. Cool slightly. Remove and discard stems and seeds from peppers. Place peppers in a large bowl; cover with boiling water. Let stand 30 minutes to soften. Remove peppers, reserving liquid. Strain liquid through a fine-mesh sieve. In a blender combine the peppers, 3/4 cup of the reserved liquid, the 2 cloves halved garlic, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Cover; blend until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl; add pork and stir to coat. Cover; refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 24 hours).

Chicken and Dried Fruit Tamale Filling

  1. In a large skillet heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic; cook 6 to 8 minutes or until very tender and starting to brown. Stir in cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Stir in tomatoes, apricots, and raisins. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes or until fruit is softened. Remove from heat. Stir in chicken. Transfer filling to a bowl. Cover; refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 24 hours).

Poblano-Cheese Tamale Filling

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. On a foil-lined baking sheet arrange peppers in a single layer, cut sides down. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of the oil. Roast 20 to 25 minutes or until charred. Wrap in foil. Let stand 20 minutes or until cool. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard skins. Chop peppers.

  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil over medium. Add onion, garlic, and salt. Cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more or until softened, stirring occasionally. Add chipotle pepper and adobo sauce; heat through. Remove from heat; stir in chopped roasted peppers. Transfer to a medium bowl; cool completely. Add cheese; toss to coat. Cover; refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 24 hours).

Make-ahead drections

After Step 3 layer tamales in an airtight container. Freeze up to 3 months. To serve, steam frozen tamales as directed in Step 4, adding 10 minutes to the steaming time.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

174 Calories
11g Fat
16g Carbs
4g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 30
Calories 174
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 11g 14%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 26mg 9%
Sodium 303mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 16g 6%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 2.8mg 14%
Calcium 44mg 3%
Iron 0.7mg 4%
Potassium 127mg 3%
Folate, total 9.9mcg
Vitamin B-12 0mcg
Vitamin B-6 0.1mg

*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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