How to Make Tamales and Host a Tamalada [Video Recipe]

Tamalada [Video Recipe]

July 4th is a perfect to mix it up the typical BBQ by adding this Latino  twist

Tamaladas are fun social gatherings where the goal is to make a ton of tamales and taste a sampling of them.

Since making tamales can be quite labor intensive, the process goes so much faster when you have the additional hands of family and friends to make them in large batches. This is why typically you see tamales being made for major events like holidays and weddings – times when there are many people all together. A tamalada is usually a full day long chore or party depending on how you look at it. That’s why it’s so much more fun to turn it into a party!

Here are some tips to host the perfect event and my own modified version of tamales based on my mom’s original recipe. You should plan to make at least 5 dozen tamales to make the day’s efforts worthwhile. If you can, try to even double this recipe because they freeze well for easy enjoyment at a later date and you’ll want to send everybody home with some.


Plan to shop a day or two before your party to gather all of the ingredients you’ll need. It’s sometimes difficult to find all of the ingredients in local supermarkets. If you have a local Latino grocery store close by, that’s your best bet. If not, you can purchase much of the specialty items on-line, just give yourself enough time.

You’ll need corn husks, masa harina (corn flour), lard, assorted meats, vegetables, dried chile peppers, and spices for the tamales. For the festivities, make sure you have drinks, snacks and other refreshments as it will be a long (but fun) day.

You can ask your guests to bring different tamale fillings like chicken, refried beans, squash and corn, sometimes people add raisins to any of these as well.

Night Before Prep

Since my favorite filling is shredded pork spiced with chile sauce, I usually prep my pork shoulder or butt the day before as it needs to slow cook for about 8 hours to become tender enough to fall off the bone.

I also like to prepare my masa dough the night before as this is a major task. If you start early enough on the day of your tamalada, you can do it the same day.

Your Space

I love to pull out all of my most colorful clay and ceramic pots for the festivities. I have some traditional Mexican hand painted bowls that create a very authentic atmosphere and set the tone for an entertaining tamalada. Make sure to have plenty of extra bowls, dishtowels, paper towels, and utensils.

You’ll want to soak the corn husks for at least two hours before use so they are flexible enough to roll up.

Set everything up at a large kitchen table or island. You’ll need a lot of space. Lay out all of your tamale ingredients – masa dough, fillings, husks, and husk strips for tying them up, at a reachable distance and with enough “elbow room” for easy assembly.

Create an Entertaining Vibe

What’s a tamalada party without music? You can create your own playlist or find a curated medley of Latino-inspired music to play while making (and eating) the tamales. Singing and dancing are encouraged—it makes the tamalada feel more like a party!

Teach the Art of Tamale-Making

Tamale making is an art. I sometimes forget that I need to show my guests the steps of how to assemble the tamale and equally important, how to wrap it up nicely.

You’ll need to go through all the steps listed below:

•Spreading a layer of masa dough on the damp cornhusks

• Spreading the fillings on the masa dough

• Wrapping and rolling the tamale and tying it neatly with a corn husk tie

• Steaming the tamales the perfect amount of time so you can enjoy the finished product

Have Takeaway Zip-lock Bags or Plastic Containers Ready

My tamale recipe makes about 4 to 5 dozen tamales so make sure you send your guests home with some tasty treats as a reward for a long day of work.

Now you’re ready to make the tamales. Here’s my recipe and you can check out the quick video below to give you a visual tutorial on the steps involved.

Mom’s Favorite Tamales (slightly modified by me)

Makes about 4 to 5 dozen

Pork Filling

Pork Shoulder or Butt (bone in) – about 7 to 8 lbs.

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons chile powder

1 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Chile Sauce (see below recipe)

Masa Dough

8 C. Masa Harina

3 C. Lard (at room temperature)

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tbsp. salt

3 3/4 cups warm chicken stock or pork stock from cooked meat (more if needed)

Chile Sauce

10 dried chile peppers (mixed between ancho and guajillo)

3 cloves garlic

Corn husks (between 60 to 100)


Start by prepping the pork shoulder or butt. I put mine in a slow cooker for the long cooking process. Coat both sides of the pork with the cumin, chile powder, salt and pepper. Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with the extra virgin olive oil and get the heat up high enough to give both sides of the pork a nice browning. Once complete, add enough water to cover the pork 1/2 way and simmer for 6 to 8 hours on very low heat. Keep checking it throughout the long process as you may have to add more water to keep the level at the 1/2 way mark. You can check the meat to see if it is starting to fall off the bone. That’s when you know it’s ready.

Once complete, the pork should be ready to fall off the bone. Take the pork out of the water and start to remove the meat, shredding it and removing any of the excess fat. Place all the meat back into the Dutch oven containing the water.

(While you’re waiting for the pork to cook, it’s the perfect time to make the chile sauce and the masa dough.)

Making the Chile Sauce:

Put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once it starts boiling, reduce the temperature down to medium heat. Add the garlic cloves

Make sure there are no stems on the chiles. Cut them off if yours come with them attached. Using a cast iron skillet on medium heat, place 10 peppers on to toast them. You may have to do this in 2 batches. Let them toast for about 2 minutes on each side. Once done, add them to the pot of water. Let them sit for about 20 to 30 minutes to soften and reconstitute. Once softened, run the whole mixture through a food processor or blender – I like to let the mixture cool down beforehand so I don’t have any hot liquid mishaps. Make sure to blend thoroughly as you want to make sure the skins are finely blended down. If you are not able to do this, you can run the mixture through a fine strainer to get the large pieces out of the mixture.

Once complete, you’ll start to add the chile sauce to the shredded pork. You can add as much as you like to get the desired taste. I like to use a lot of it. Any leftover sauce can be used in any other dishes you make. It’s great added to beans, or any beef dishes.

Making the Masa Dough:

I blend mine by hand which takes a lot of arm strength, but that’s how we always made it when I was growing up. If you have an electric dough mixer, then by all means, use it.

Place the lard in a large mixing bowl. Knead with your hands until it becomes light and airy, about 20 minutes—yes, it’s a long time and that’s why it’s a labor of love.

Add the masa harina, baking powder, and salt to the whipped lard, and continue mixing by hand, breaking up the large clumps of dough with your fingers. The mixture will be crumbly.

You can slowly start to blend in the chicken or pork stock as you continue mixing the mixture. The masa needs to be a bit wet, spreadable, and sticky.

The masa can be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours or stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

If you are going to make a lot of tamales, I recommend making the masa the day before your tamalada. You’ll want to take it out to get to room temperature the day of and will need to give it a bit more of a mixing possibly adding in a bit more stock before you start the process.

Assembling the Tamales:

2 hours before you start the process, you’ll need to place the corn husks into a large bowl of water to make them pliable.

You’ll also want to take some of the husks and pull into narrow strips to create the ties that will seal the tamales closed once you finish wrapping them.

Spread Masa:

Place a corn husk in the palm of your hand with narrow end at your fingertips. Starting at the middle of the husk spread about 2 tablespoons of the masa in a rectangle or oval shape. Spread it towards the wider bottom edge. Do not spread the masa past the 1/2 way point of the husk as you’ll need to fold the husk to close it. Also leave about a 2-inch border on the left and right sides of the husk.
You may find that some of the husks are not very wide. In this case you can layer a couple to create a wider base.

Fill Corn Husks:

Spoon 1½ tablespoons of the pork filling (or any others you’ve made) down the center of the masa dough. Start to roll the husk as you would a burrito making it as tight as you can, and then turn the narrow end of the husk up to seal the whole tamale. Finish the folding process by tying a thin strip of the corn husks around the folded up tail end to seal it shut.

Steam Tamales:

Using a deep pot or tamale steamer to steam tamales. I don’t own a tamale steamer so I typically use a double boiler. You don’t want the tamales to be sitting in water so typically I’ll wrap them in foil so that they’re standing upright with their open end exposed. If necessary, I’ll crunch some foil underneath them just to keep them above the water level. Set the pot on high heat with a cover and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and let them cook for 40 to 45 minutes. You can test them to see if they’re done by trying one. If you can pull the corn husk off without the masa dough sticking to it, they’re ready!

Related Content:

Another Great Summer Dish, Gazpacho with Lobster [Recipe]

Cascarònes – A Fun Latin Tradition for Easter!


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