Authentic Pork and Beef Tamales

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Pork? On this blog? More likely than you’d think! Although I’m too chicken to cook it on my own, I got permission to post this recipe from the lovely woman who cooked it while I watched from the other side of the counter. Way back during the first week of December 2019, one of my friends invited a group of us over to his house to make tamales with his mom, who was visiting from California for the holiday season. According to Ben (the friend in question), making tamales with a gaggle of people is the only real way to do it, so the five of us met up for a multi-stop breakfast between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts one Saturday morning, inhaled as much caffeine as we could, and got to work.

The whole afternoon was an incredibly fun challenge, one that certainly felt much more difficult than I had originally anticipated. Ben and his mom already had the pork-beef filling cooked, the corn husks soaked, and the masa mixed, so our contribution to the final product mostly involved assembly and dirtying the kitchen. Which, I learned later, is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process! That being said, I would do it all again in a heartbeat, no questions asked.

I’m grateful for the chance to learn the process of preparing, assembling, and steaming tamales as a whole for a more personal reason, as well. My Southern grandmother was known throughout the family for a special Cajun-inspired tamale recipe she made every few months, she passed away long before I ever got the chance to cook with her. My mother and her siblings still order a single tamale at every restaurant they visit (that serves them, of course) in search of something similar to what she made, and every now and then my mom will pull out her old half-written recipe and try to recreate my grandmother’s tamales. Learning a more authentic style felt like a great way to honor her, especially with such an amazing group of people.

(from left: Ben, Art, me (Em), Mede, Justine)

A brief disclaimer: Given the unusual nature of this cooking experience and the lengthy, to-taste nature of the recipe itself, I’ll be laying this post out a bit differently from my usual fare. Rather than giving a list of ingredients with directions below, I will dividing the process up into sections. Each part is combined with the last, so the subheadings themselves do not constitute individual recipe “parts” but rather facts of the dish in its entirety.

(Finished pork and beef filling in chili sauce)

Pork and Beef Filling with Chili Sauce

Ingredients:
  • 1 pork roast (butt or loin)
  • 1 beef roast (butt or loin)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 10 whole pods guajillo chili
  • 10 whole pods pasilla/ancho chili
  • 10 whole pods California chili
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 6 qt. water (3/4 the volume of your stock pot)
  • 1/2 cup Mrs. Dash Original Seasoning Blend, divided
  • 1/2 cup cumin, divided
  • 1/3 cup turmeric, divided
  • 1/3 cup garlic salt, divided
Directions:
  1. Into a large stock pot, add 4 qt. water (1/2 the volume of your stock pot), pork, beef, onion, and half of the spices sans chilis (5 bay leaves, 1/4 cup Mrs. Dash, 1/4 cup cumin, ~3 tbsp turmeric, ~3 tbsp garlic salt).
  2. Bring pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer until the meat is cooked entirely through, about 2 hours.
  3. Remove loins from the pot, and set aside to rest, cool, and shred. Do not discard broth; set broth aside in a separate bowl or pot.
  4. In a separate bowl, remove the stems from the dried chilis so that only the whole pods are left.
  5. Add remaining 2 qt. water, all dried chilis, and remaining spices (5 bay leaves, 1/4 cup Mrs. Dash, 1/4 cup cumin, ~3 tbsp turmeric, ~3 tbsp garlic salt) to the now-empty stock pot.
  6. Bring water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about two hours, or until the chilis have entirely softened.
  7. Remove bay leaves and discard.
  8. Remove softened chilis and blend in a food processor until a smooth paste has formed.
  9. Return meat (now shredded) and chilis (now a paste) to the remaining liquid still in the pot. Add 1-2 qt. reserved broth as needed so that the meat is nearly covered, as shown above.
  10. Stir to incorporate and heat on low to warm meat. Let warm for the duration, until all tamales are assembled.
(Mixed masa, ready for tamale assembly)

Masa (Corn Flour Dough)

Ingredients:
  • 15 lbs masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1-2 qts. reserved spiced broth from pork/beef blend (previous section)
  • 2 cups Crisco oil
  • 1/3 cup salt
Directions:
  • Add all ingredients to large aluminum sheet pans (as pictured above), about 2 pans per batch.
  • Combine thoroughly, kneading with your hands until a doughy paste has formed and there are no lumps of oil or dried masa harina. Add additional flour or water as needed.
fig. 1: (Art and Ben spreading their masa much better than me.)
fig. 2: (Ben’s mom assembling tamales.)

Assembly

  1. Soak corn husks in water for at least 30 minutes before assembling. (Note: I have no idea how many corn husks we used, but I would suggest getting your hands on twice the number of corn husks as tamales you plan to make. Some break or are just not suited for wrapping the tamales, and can be used for other things in the cooking/assembly process.)
  2. Using the back of a spoon, gently spread a thin layer of masa halfway up the soft inner side of the corn husk. Leave the top few inches of the husk uncovered (as pictured, fig. 1).
  3. Add about 1/4-1/3 cup meat filing to the masa-covered portion of the corn husk. Roll husk, then tuck the uncovered portion of the husk down, opposite the seam, nearly folding the tamale in half (as pictured, fig. 2).
  4. Position upright, open side skyward, until ready to steam (as pictured, fig. 3).
fig. 3: (Assembled tamales waiting to be steamed.)
fig. 4: (Tamales steaming in the lined steamer basket.)

Cooking/Steaming

  1. Fill a large steamer-compatible pot with about 4 cups water.
  2. Line the inside of the steamer basket with leftover soaked corn husks to ensure no tamales stick to the bottom (as pictured, fig. 4).
  3. Pack tamales open-side up in the lined steamer basked and cover with additional leftover corn husks to trap steam (as pictured, fig. 4).
  4. Bring water to a boil and steam for about 45 minutes per batch.
  5. Remove with tongs and serve warm with salsa or additional sauce of your choice.

As for reheating, I had plenty of luck re-steaming some leftovers at home, but I definitely recommend finding a corn husk substitute for lining the steamer basket if you don’t have any more on-hand. I found my leftovers sticking to the basket pretty thoroughly, but didn’t think of adding a lining until the process was finished. Parchment paper with a few holes poked in could work just fine, or perhaps a few paper towels. Either way, they tasted just as delicious a few days later!

Authentic Pork and Beef Tamales

Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time4 hrs 45 mins
Assembly Time:3 hrs
Total Time8 hrs 45 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican

Equipment

  • large stock pot
  • large steamer basket
  • food processor or blender
  • large aluminum baking trays

Ingredients

  • 50+ whole corn husks

Pork and Beef Filling with Chili Sauce:

  • 1 pork roast butt or loin
  • 1 beef roast butt or loin
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 10 whole pods guajillo chili
  • 10 whole pods pasilla/ancho chili
  • 10 whole pods California chili
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 6 qt. water 3/4 the volume of your stock pot
  • 1/2 cup Mrs. Dash Original Seasoning Blend divided
  • 1/2 cup cumin divided
  • 1/3 cup turmeric divided
  • 1/3 cup garlic salt divided

Masa (Corn Flour Dough):

  • 15 lbs masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1-2 qt. spiced broth from pork/beef (reserved from previous section)
  • 2 cups Crisco oil
  • 1/3 cup salt

Instructions

Pork and Beef Filling with Chili Sauce:

  • Into a large stock pot, add 4 qt. water (1/2 the volume of your stock pot), pork, beef, onion, and half of the spices sans chilis (5 bay leaves, 1/4 cup Mrs. Dash, 1/4 cup cumin, ~3 tbsp turmeric, ~3 tbsp garlic salt).
  • Bring pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer until the meat is cooked entirely through, about 2 hours.
  • Remove loins from the pot, and set aside to rest, cool, and shred. Do not discard broth; set broth aside in a separate bowl or pot.
  • In a separate bowl, remove the stems from the dried chilis so that only the whole pods are left.
  • Add remaining 2 qt. water, all dried chilis, and remaining spices (5 bay leaves, 1/4 cup Mrs. Dash, 1/4 cup cumin, ~3 tbsp turmeric, ~3 tbsp garlic salt) to the now-empty stock pot.
  • Bring water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about two hours, or until the chilis have entirely softened.
  • Remove bay leaves and discard.
  • Remove softened chilis and blend in a food processor until a smooth paste has formed.
  • Return meat (now shredded) and chilis (now a paste) to the remaining liquid still in the pot. Add 1-2 qt. reserved broth as needed so that the meat is nearly covered, as shown above.
  • Stir to incorporate and heat on low to warm meat. Let warm for the duration, until all tamales are assembled.

Masa (Corn Flour Dough):

  • Add all ingredients to large aluminum sheet pans (as pictured above), about 2 pans per batch.
  • Combine thoroughly, kneading with your hands until a doughy paste has formed and there are no lumps of oil or dried masa harina. Add additional flour or water as needed.

Assembly:

  • Soak corn husks in water for at least 30 minutes before assembling.*
  • Using the back of a spoon, gently spread a thin layer of masa halfway up the soft inner side of the corn husk. Leave the top few inches of the husk uncovered (as pictured, fig. 1).
  • Add about 1/4-1/3 cup meat filing to the masa-covered portion of the corn husk. Roll husk, then tuck the uncovered portion of the husk down, opposite the seam, nearly folding the tamale in half (as pictured, fig. 2).
  • Position upright, open side skyward, until ready to steam (as pictured, fig. 3).

Cooking/Steaming:

  • Fill a large steamer-compatible pot with about 4 cups water.
  • Line the inside of the steamer basket with leftover soaked corn husks to ensure no tamales stick to the bottom (as pictured, fig. 4).
  • Pack tamales open-side up in the lined steamer basked and cover with additional leftover corn husks to trap steam (as pictured, fig. 4).
  • Bring water to a boil and steam for about 45 minutes per batch.
  • Remove with tongs and serve warm with salsa or additional sauce of your choice.

Notes

*I have no idea how many corn husks we used, but I would suggest getting your hands on twice the number of corn husks as tamales you plan to make. Some break or are just not suited for wrapping the tamales, and can be used for other things in the cooking/assembly process.
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