From Nonna's Kitchen: Janet’s Mexican Pork Tamales

One delicious Mexican dish I have always wanted to learn to make was tamales.  So, when I had the opportunity to cook with Janet, a wonderful Mexican woman.  I asked her if she would show me how they are made in Mexico.  She warned me that tamales are a labor of love and is certainly not a quick dish but she ensured me they would be worth the work!

Now many different countries have a version of tamales.  Even in Mexico, some make their tamales with corn husks while others use banana leaves.  Janet said in Northern Mexico, where she is from, corn husks are the preferred cooking sleeve. She feels it yields a tender, soft exterior for the tamale.  The fillings are also a matter of preference.  Some like them with refried beans or chicken but the favorite for Janet’s family is pork slow cooked and flavored with ancho chile.  She also uses any leftover pork to make tostadas or as a filling for tacos.

Making the masa is a bit time consuming but very important.  Janet told me how in Mexico, you can go right to the mill to pick up freshly ground masa.  She said it is softer and she can taste the difference from what we purchase in the grocery store.  Here in the States, she prefers to buy ‘instant’ Masa as she feels it has the closest flavor to what she was able to buy back home.

Once the masa is ready, she lays the pliable husk in her hand a spreads the masa up and down, using her palm as a base.  She wants the masa to be thin so she can put a generous helping of pork down the middle.  Then, she expertly folds it up and ties it with a bow made of corn husk.  In Mexico, she would make a simple tie on the pork tamales and a bow on the bean tamales so her guests would always know what they will find inside!

Also, Janet makes the filling the day before.  The pork simmers to a soft consistency for three hours so she likes to have it shredded and flavored ahead of time so that when she is ready to make the masa and cook, the pork is already done.

Broken pieces of corn husks are used to line the bottom of the steamer before the tamales are nestled in.  Then, a plastic shopping bag is placed on top!  This catches all the condensation.  No one likes a soggy tamale. Then, a dish towel on top for a warm seal before the pot top.

When the tamales are ready, Janet covers them with homemade salsa verde made with tomatillos, onions and cilantro.  The combination of the savory pork, soft corn masa and fresh salsa verde made me feel like I had taken a wonderful trip south of the border.

Janet’s Mexican Pork Tamales


Prep time :        Total time: 

3 pounds pork butt, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 white onion
6 cups water, to cover pork and make broth
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon ground pepper
1.5 ounces ancho chile
40-50 corn husks

  1. Place cut up pork in a large pot with half of a white onion. Add water to pork and 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon pepper
  2. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 3 hours. Remove pork from water and shred. Reserve 4 cups of the pork broth.
  3. While pork is simmering, boil ancho chile in one cup of water for thirty minutes. Remove from water, deseed and remove stem. Blend it in a blender with 1/4 cup water until it is completely pureed.
  4. In a large pot, add pureed ancho chile, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 cup of pork broth and shredded pork. Mix until combined. Heat for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Remove from heat, set aside.
  5. Soak corn husks in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes while you make the masa.

1 1/3 cup refined pork lard
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups instant masa
4 cups reserved pork broth, from above
2 teaspoons kosher salt

  1. In a large mixer beat the lard with baking powder until fluffy, at least 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer to a large bowl and add masa, 3 1/2 cups broth and salt. Mix by hand until a stick dough forms.
  3. Turn the stand mixer back on low speed and slowly add small amounts of the hand mixed dough back in. Two to three minutes total, until a paste like consistency is formed.
  4. Remove the corn husks from the water and wring them dry. Lay them on a hand towel and sort by similar sized husks for consistent tamales.
  5. Place the husk in the palm of your hand and using a spoon, spread the masa paste on the half of the husk that is laying in your hand in a very thin layer. Add three to four tablespoons of pork filling and fold up the husk. Using small pieces of husk, make a tie around to hold the husk closed.
  6. Add 4 cups of water to the bottom of a large steamer. Using the small and broken pieces of the steamer and begin layering the tamales in.
  7. Once all the tamales are in, use a plastic grocery shopping bag to cover all the tamales. Cover with the lid.
  8. Steam for one hour and then turn off the heat. Allow them to sit in the steamer for an additional hour after the heat is turned off.
  9. Serve with refried beans and salsa verde.

Buon Appetito!