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Home-Made Tamales - 3 Ways

Tamales 3 Ways

Tamales 3 Ways

Well, there’s a first time for everything and this was mine - making tamales. I loved it! I loved everything about it.

Karen saw this picture and said they look like little regalos. I totally agree. Each one is a little present, a gift and I’m so glad I gave these a try.

I couldn’t decide on what type of filling to use - so I put out a query to my friends and they all said shredded pork. It was becoming hard to decide on just one - so in my usual fashion, I chose three.

Here we have 1) Green Chile with Corn and Queso Fresco Cheese, 2) Shredded Sweet Pork, and 3) Shredded Chicken with Adobo Sauce.

Tamale varieties

Tamale varieties

The Roja sauce I made from dried ancho chiles and fresh tomatillos matched very well with all of them.

Roja sauce with tamales

Roja sauce with tamales

The first time I ever tasted a tamale was in college, and it was out of a can. Who knew there was such a thing? A home-made tamale and one out of a can aren’t even in the same stratosphere. Obviously, opening a can is easy…and making them from scratch is a bit more time consuming. It’s not hard, though, just carve out some time or recruit some helpers. Because I work full time, I needed to simplify it for myself by making the filling earlier in the week, then I made the masa on Friday evening, and on Saturday morning I set up an assembly line and put them together fairly quickly.


I have a link to the masa dough recipe by Rick Bayless. I paid attention to his key tip about the masa dough floating in water. Because I made the masa the night before - I did double mix this as he suggests.  I tried the floating trick before I put it back in the mixer, and the little dollop of dough sunk like a stone.  When I re-mixed it, adding more water, it became fluffy and light - but also held together like it should.

I tasted this dough as I mixed it, ignoring the rawness, I was looking for what else it needed. I added a bit more salt, a sprinkle of sugar and a dash of cayenne pepper.

I ended up with 4 dozen tamales - and they are long gone by now.  I’m already planning my next tamale project - I would love to include a dessert tamale this time.

Oh! Another important tip - when I was watching youtube videos on how to assemble and fold them, there was one that explained the corn husk actually has an inside and an outside. The inside has a very subtle waxy feel to it and this where the tamal dough goes. It prevents the dough from sticking and after steaming you can unroll them and the tamale will come right out. If you put the dough on the outside, the non-wax side - it will stick. With the corn husks that I had, some of them were difficult to tell which was the inside and outside. I had to turn them over and over feeling carefully and looking closely. Pay attention to this detail - it works!

Links and recipes are below.


Rick Bayless Tamal Dough

This is the recipe for the sweet pork:

This is a copycat version of Qdoba grilled chicken. I further adapted to make it a crockpot version.

Shredded Chicken with Adobo Sauce

  • Servings: 4 Cups
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


  • 2 (4-oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo
    1 package fajita seasoning
    3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
    1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • One large family pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of all fat.


  • In a blender, mix the peppers with all the adobo sauce, fajita seasoning, water, sugar, and olive oil. This will have quite a bit of kick. Add a bit more water and/or sugar if needed to tone it down to your taste. Keep in mind, the chicken will mellow it a little, and it will go into a recipe with other ingredients which will also disperse the spiciness.
  • Place the raw chicken in a crockpot and add the sauce. Cook on high for 4 - 6 hours or low for 8 hours.
  • Shred and cool.
  • A fantastic tip - if you have a kitchen aid mixer (or similar), pop this into the bowl with the sauce and use your dough hook. Mix on low speed and it will break up all the chicken and mix thoroughly with the sauce. It works!
  • Taste the final mixture and add seasoning to your liking. If you need a little salt, or a touch more sugar, maybe a bit of lime juice to elevate it. It’s up to you.      

And for the green chile, corn & queso fresco - that’s all it is.  One large bag of frozen chopped green chiles, one can of corn, drained, and one round of queso fresco. I seasoned with white pepper and some cumin to taste.



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