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Pork Tamales with Double-Chile Sauce

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Yields 24 to 30 medium tamales

There are different styles of tamales throughout Latin America, but their essential components—masa, a filling, and a wrapper—are the same. Wrapped in corn husks and served with a smoky chile sauce, these are traditionally Mexican.

For the pork filling
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. lard or vegetable oil
  • 3- to 3½-lb. boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt, cut into 3-inch chunks and trimmed
  • 1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 4 dried bay leaves, toasted 
  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, or mild oregano, or 1 Tbs. dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 to 3 whole cloves
  • 1 to 2 guajillo, New Mexico, ancho, chipotle, or other dried red chiles, toasted, stemmed, and seeded
  • 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. whole allspice berries
For the chile sauce
  • 2 Tbs. lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 medium heads garlic, peeled (about 35 cloves)
  • 6 ancho chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded, soaked in very hot water for 15 minutes, and drained
  • 3 guajillo chiles, toasted, stemmed, seeded, soaked in very hot water for 15 minutes, and drained
  • 2 cups canned, puréed fire-roasted or regular tomatoes
  • 2 cups (approximately) reserved pork cooking broth or lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs. tamale-grind masa harina
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar or honey; more as needed
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano, toasted (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • Kosher salt
  • One 2- to 3-inch cinnamon stick
For the masa
  • 3-1/2 cups tamale-grind masa harina
  • 12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) lard, unsalted butter, vegetable shortening, or a combination, softened
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 to 2-1/2 cups reserved pork cooking broth
  • 40 dried corn husks
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.)

Make the masa

In a large bowl, mix the masa harina with 2-1/4 cups hot (140°F to 160°F) water. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), whip the lard, butter, or shortening on medium-high speed until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp. salt and continue beating while adding the masa in golf-ball-size pieces, waiting a few seconds between each addition. When about half of the masa is mixed in, start alternating the masa with the pork broth until all of the masa is used, along with about 2 cups of the broth. Add 1/4 cup of the chile sauce and whip until light and fluffy, adding more broth if the mixture seems too dry.

To test if the masa is ready, take a small piece (about 1/2 tsp.) and drop it in a cup of cold water. It should easily float. If not, simply whip the masa for a few more minutes and test again. Often, adding a bit more of the pork broth or cool water during this second mixing will help; don’t add too much liquid, however, or you’ll end up with overly soft masa and shapeless tamales.

Assemble the tamales

Soak the corn husks in very hot water for 30 to 45 minutes, or overnight in cool water with a plate or bowl set on top of the husks to keep them submerged. You’ll have enough husks to make the tamales, plus extra to line the steamer and make up for any broken husks.

In a medium bowl, mix 2 cups of the chile sauce with the shredded meat and season to taste with salt.

Wipe a soaked husk dry and put it smooth side up on a work surface. If necessary, trim the bottom with scissors so the husk can lie mostly flat. Put about 1/3 cup masa in the center of the widest portion of the husk. With a spoon or spatula, spread it evenly over one-half to two-thirds of the husk leaving a 1/2-inch border at each edge.

Put 2 to 3 Tbs. of the pork filling in the center of the masa about ½ inch from the wide end.

Fold the corn husk in half lengthwise so the edges meet. Fold the seam back so it’s in the center of the tamale. Fold the tail of the wrapper to cover the seam (at least half the length of the tamale). Flip seam side down onto a tray or rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

The tamales can be steamed as they are, or tied to make them more secure or to dress them up. To make ties, rip long, thin strips off one or two corn husks. Then place a strip of corn husk under the tamale, wrap it around the middle (making sure that you have some of the tail underneath) and tie securely.

Steam the tamales

Fill a deep 8-quart pot with a pasta insert with enough water to reach just below the insert. Without the insert in place, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Have ready a kettle or pot of almost boiling water to add if the water gets low. Arrange the tamales upright (open end up) in the insert, leaving room for the steam to circulate. Fit the insert into the pot over the boiling water. Use he extra husks to cover the tamales (this helps concentrate the heat). Cover the pot with a lid. Steam for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the water just boiling. Check the water level frequently and add more as needed to keep the pot from going dry.

To test for doneness, quickly remove a tamale and replace the lid on the pot to continue the cooking. Put the tamale on the counter for a few minutes and then carefully unwrap it. If ready, the masa should be set and will pull away from the wrapper easily.

Let the tamales rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to allow the masa to firm up. For softer tamales, let them rest in the pot with the heat off and the lid and extra leaves removed. For firmer tamales, let them rest out of the pot, covered with a cloth.

Serve the tamales in their wrappers with extra sauce passed on the side, and have diners unwrap them just before eating. Once unwrapped, they cool quickly.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 270; Fat (g): fat g 18; Fat Calories (kcal): 160; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 7; Protein (g): protein g 12; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 8; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 16; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2.5; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 250; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 40; Fiber (g): fiber g 2;

Photo: Scott Phillips

This is the best tamale recipe I've ever made. I followed the steps exactly and they turned out fantastic. I even froze some and steamed them after and they were still great! I took 2 days to make them last year and will follow the same steps when I make these in a few weeks.

I also had problems with the masa, but a seasoned tamale maker said it takes practice to get it right, so I think if I keep trying I'll get it. The smoky flavor of the meat was good, but the cloves overwhelmed the taste somewhat. We ate ever last tamale with enthusiasim though!

Fantastic recipie. Great instructions and the pictures in the magazine helped out alot. It is vital that you let them set up after steaming. They just got better over time. Will certainly keep this recipie to make over and over again.

I'm on my fourth double batch since this recipe came out in Dec 09/Jan 10. Needless to say we think they are great and so do our friends. I cook all of them, any left-overs I cool, vacuum seal two to four in a package and freeze. They only take a minute to re-heat for lunches. They are also great made with Elk meat.

They weren't quite as good as one I bought out the back of a pick up, but they were pretty good. We used some left over brisket. They were pretty tasty

This recipe takes quite a bit of time, but freezes great. We made a double batch, froze them and they are terrific! One of the best recipes I have ever tried. Well worth the time. I have been a fine cooking subscriber for 2 years, and will keep up my subscription because of recipes like this one....

These tamales came out fabulous! The instructions were extremely well-written and helpful for me and my first-time tamale making crew. We erred on the side of less masa when assembling the tamales, so I think next time I wouldn't worry so much about overdoing it. Despite that, they still came out great and we were all still raving about them 2 days later. The key was definitely the rest time at the end. We thought they were still not done after an hour and a half of steaming, but re-read the final instructions and realized they just needed to sit for about 10 minutes to firm up. We, too, ended up with a good amount of leftover sauce and pork filling which we will enjoy using in pretty much anything!

I have no doubt that the recipe ingredients were accurate but my masa part was awful and never cooked up properly. I got my masa to float as a test so I'm still confused as to what went wrong. I think FC should have had some other tests other than pcitures because the pictures clearly didn't help. What a disaster after so much work.

I have no doubt that the recipe ingredients were accurate but my masa part was awful and never cooked up properly. I got my masa to float as a test so I'm still confused as to what went wrong. I think FC should have had some other tests other than pcitures because the pictures clearly didn't help. What a disaster after so much work.

This recipe was worth every minute of the preparation. I made the pork, broth and sauce the day before our tamale party. Our guests raved about the pork and the perfection of the masa. Truly one of the best tamales I've ever had. Cannot wait to make it again. In the meantime, I'm so glad I made extra sauce so we can put it on every meat item in the fridge!

This was delicious. The sauce was really nice and I am now trying to figure out what to do with my extra pork filling!

This was a very long process, but well worth it; our whole family raved about it when my daughter finished it. We found all the spices and chiles at our local Good Food Store, specializing in bulk and organic foods. Be sure to alot two days to make it if you haven't done it before. I think I will make the filling & broth and freeze it for future meals.

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