In Latin America, tamales are a celebration food served at Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But eating tamales is only part of the fun—making them is a celebration in and of itself. It’s a social occasion, an excuse to bring family and friends together and spend the day in the kitchen. These party-like gatherings, known as tamaladas, always result in a huge batch of delicious, steaming hot tamales—enough to feed everyone, with plenty of leftovers to give as gifts.
Making tamales begins with preparing a soft, rich corn dough called masa, along with a meat or vegetable filling and a sauce. The filling can be anything from spiced shredded pork (as it is in my Pork Tamales with Double-Chile Sauce recipe) to roast chicken or simple roasted poblanos. Masa and fi lling are wrapped in corn husks (or banana leaves) and then steamed. The process isn’t difficult; the key is getting the masa right and mastering the wrapping technique. The good news: We’ve got all the tips and techniques for delicious success.
Make the pork filling
Heat the lard or oil in a heavy-duty 8-quart pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the pork until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer each batch to a bowl after browning.
Return all of the pork to the pot and add the remaining pork filling ingredients and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the meat is fall-apart tender, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Remove the meat from the pot, cool briefly, and shred it using 2 forks. Strain the broth, discarding the solids, and let cool briefly. Skim off the excess fat and reserve the broth. (The recipe may be made to this point up to 2 days ahead; refrigerate the meat and broth separately.)
Make the chile sauce
Heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the lard or oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onion and garlic to a blender.
Add the soaked chiles, tomatoes, and a little of the broth to the blender and purée until smooth.
Heat the remaining 1/2 Tbs. lard or oil in the saucepan over medium-high heat, add the masa harina, and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chile-tomato mixture and cook, stirring regularly, until it has darkened in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar or honey, cumin, oregano (if using), allspice, cloves, 2-1/2 tsp. salt, and enough pork broth to thin the purée to a sauce consistency. Add the cinnamon stick, lower the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the color deepens slightly, the consistency is smooth, and a light sheen develops on the surface of the sauce, an additional 15 to 20 minutes, adding more broth as needed. Season to taste with salt and sugar. (The sauce may be made up to 2 days ahead; keep refrigerated.)