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A Christmas Tamale-Making Party

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The pork tamales featured in this menu are the real deal, and eating them is only half of the fun.

This menu serves four, and makes enough tamales for each guest to take home 15 each. The shopping list already reflects the doubled tamale recipe.

In Mexico, 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.

This laid-back tamalada menu for six includes a big pot of chili, plus tortilla chips and dips, and for dessert, chocolate ice cream laced with dulce de leche. You can make much of the party food ahead, so you’re free to shape and steam a double batch of the tamales with your guests—with plenty of leftovers to take home or give as gifts.

Menu Timeline

Up to 2 days ahead:

  • Make the pork filling for the tamales.
  • Make the sauce for the tamales.
  • Mix the masa harina with water and refrigerate.
  • Make the chicken chili.
  • Make the ice cream.

The night before:

  • Soak the corn husks in cool water overnight, with a plate or bowl set on top of the husks to submerge them.

30 minutes ahead:

  • Whip the moistened masa harina with the lard, butter, or shortening.

When guests arrive:

  • Begin assembling the tamales.
  • Prepare a steaming basket to steam the tamales (it’s helpful to have two steamers so the two batches can steam separately)
  • As soon as you and your guests have assembled 30 tamales, begin steaming this first batch.

After the tamales are all assembled:

  • Begin steaming the second batch of tamales.
  • Make the guacamole.
  • Rewarm the chili.
  • Serve the meal while the tamales finish steaming.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 1 large and 4 medium white onions
  • 3 medium, ripe avocados
  • 1 lb. fresh ripe tomatoes (about 3 medium)
  • 4 medium limes
  • 6 medium bulbs garlic (about 73 cloves)
  • 1 fresh jalapeño
  • 1 large bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, marjoram, or mild oregano

Meat, Eggs & Dairy

  • 7 lb. boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt
  • 1-1/2 lb. boneless, skiness chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat, or 1 store-roasted chicken
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-3/4 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup whipping or heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • Sour cream, to garnish chili (optional)

Other Groceries

  • 80 dried corn husks
  • 7-1/4 cups tamale-grind masa harina
  • 4 cups lower-salt chicken broth (optional)
  • 4 cups canned, puréed fire-roasted or regular tomatoes
  • 2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans
  • 24 oz. (3 cups) lard, unsalted butter, or vegetable shortening, or a combination
  • 1 14-1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup lager beer, such as Corona
  • 7 oz. Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)
  • 1 can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dulce de leche
  • 16 dried ancho chiles
  • 6 dried guajillo chiles
  • 3 Tbs. dried Mexican oregano (optional)
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. whole cumin seed
  • 2 tsp. whole allspice berries
  • 6 whole cloves

Pantry Staples

  • 1/2 cup granualted sugar
  • 3/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar or honey; more as needed
  • two 2- to 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 1 Tbs. chili powder
  • 2-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • kosher salt
  • whole black peppercorns

The Menu


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