Last Updated on September 9, 2023 by My Back Kitchen
Tamales, the iconic Latin American dish, have been delighting taste buds for centuries. Among the many variations, Tamales de Puerco, or Pork Tamales, hold a special place in the hearts and palates of food enthusiasts. These savory bundles of masa dough filled with tender, seasoned pork offer a taste of tradition and a journey into the rich flavors of Latin American cuisine.
A Taste of Ancient Traditions:
Tamales have been prepared and enjoyed for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. Tamales de Puerco pay homage to the traditional techniques and ingredients used by indigenous cultures in Mexico and Central America. The art of making tamales has been passed down through generations, preserving the authentic flavors and techniques that make these delicacies so special.
Crafting the Perfect Masa Dough:
The foundation of our Tamales de Puerco lies in creating the perfect masa dough. Masa harina, a type of corn flour made from dried corn kernels treated with lime, is mixed with lard or vegetable shortening, and chile paste. This mixture is beaten until light and fluffy, resulting in a smooth and pliable dough that serves as the wrapper and flavor enhancer for the pork filling.
Preparing the Flavorful Pork Filling:
The pork filling for Tamales de Puerco is a labor of love. Tender, pork shoulder is cooked, chopped, and seasoned with a combination of spices then simmered with raisins providing succulent morsels of meat to be nestled within the masa dough. This flavorful filling infuses the tamales with richness and texture.
Assembling and Steaming to Perfection:
To assemble Tamales de Puerco, a corn husk is spread with a thin layer of masa dough. A spoonful of the seasoned pork filling is placed down the center, and the corn husk is carefully rolled and folded to enclose the filling. The tamales are then steamed until the masa dough is firm and cooked through, allowing the flavors to meld and intensify.
Serving and Enjoyment:
Tamales are typically enjoyed as a complete meal or as part of a festive gathering. They can be served with a variety of accompaniments, such as salsa roja or guacamole. The tamales are unwrapped from their husks, revealing the steamy masa dough and succulent pork filling. Each bite offers a harmonious blend of flavors, with the tender pork complemented by the comforting masa and the tantalizing spices.
Tamales de Puerco exemplify the essence of Latin American cuisine, combining tradition, flavors, and culinary craftsmanship. From the handcrafted masa dough to the savory pork filling, every step in the preparation process reflects the care and passion behind this cherished dish. Tamales de Puerco invite us to embrace the rich culinary heritage of Latin America and celebrate the flavors that bring people together. So, unwrap a tamale, savor the taste, and indulge in the sensory journey of Tamales de Puerco—a timeless culinary tradition that continues to captivate food lovers around the world. Enjoy!
Tamales de Puerco
- 6 lbs bone-in pork butt cut into large pieces
- ½ onion
- 4 cloves garlic skins left on, lightly crushed
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- ¼ cup fresh rendered pork lard
- 2 cups white onion diced
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper or more to taste
- reserved pork broth
- 1 cup prepared chili ancho paste
- 10 lbs masa for tamales* divided into 5 lbs.
- 1 cup prepared chili ancho paste equally divided
- 6 Tablespoons kosher salt equally divided
- 1 lb. pork lard equally divided
- 1 ½ lb. vegetable shortening equally divided
- Place pork butt, 1/2 onion, garlic, 2 Tbsp. salt and peppercorns (including the bone), in a large stock pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer until the pork is tender; approximately 1 – 1 ½ hours. Turn off heat and let pork cool slightly in the broth. Remove the pork from the pot, reserve 4 cups of the cooking liquid for later use. Chop the pork. Set aside.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat, add the pork lard, 2 cups diced onions, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until the onions become translucent. Add chopped pork and continue to cook stirring frequently until some of the pork becomes toasted.
- Add chili ancho paste, ground cumin, salt, pepper and raisins; stir until well combined.
- Add two cups of broth. Continue to cook over medium high heat stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan, cooking down the liquid. Taste and correct seasonings if needed. If the mixture looks too dry, add more of the pork stock and cook down until the mixture is moist not too wet. Cool, use immediately or store in the refrigerator or freezer for later use.
- **Note you will need to do this step in batches to prevent overflow** In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, add pork lard, vegetable shortening and salt. Mix on low speed until light and airy, roughly 2 -3 minutes.
- Add 1/2 of the masa, ½ cup chili paste, 3 T salt. Mix until the mixture is light. Test by dropping a teaspoon full into a glass of water. If the dough floats, it is ready. If it sinks, continue mixing and re-test before proceeding to next step.
- Move the masa into a large bowl, cover. Mix the second batch of masa. When finished, add to the bowl of already prepared masa. Cover.
Soaking the Corn Husks:
- The night before you are going to assemble the tamales, soak the husks in hot tap water. The morning of making the tamales, sort through the husks and stack in one dozen piles. 10 lbs of prepared masa yields approximately 15 doz.
- Take a husk into the palm of your hand and using the back of a soup spoon, spread approximately 3 heaping tablespoons of masa, 1/4-inch thick, on the upper half of the corn husk making sure to leave a ½ inch border on all sides.
- Place a heaping tablespoon of filling and spread vertically down the center of the masa, making sure you have raisins in each tamale.
- Bring one long side of the husk over to cover the filling and fold/roll to one side. Fold the top of the husk down. Lay out the rolled tamale on a baking sheet until you have assembled several dozen.
- I have found that a large lobster steamer works great. The steamer typically has three sections; the bottom for the water and two steam baskets that stack on top of each other. Fill the bottom section (steamer) with water cover and bring to a boil.
- Line a steamer basket with a single layer of extra, corn husks. Arrange the tamales vertically, open end facing upwards snuggly in to the basket. Use extra corn husks to fill in any gaps. Cover the top of the tamales with a layer of corn husks. This prevents any water droplets from getting into the tamales. Carefully, cover with the lid and stack on top of the boiling water section of the steamer. Steam for one hour. While the first steam basket cooks, continue to assemble tamales and fill the second steamer basket.
- To check if the tamales are ready, carefully remove one, unroll and see if it releases easily from the husk. If not, continue cooking for several more minutes.
- When the first batch is ready replace the steam basket with the new batch. You will most likely need to add water to the steamer.
- Enjoy immediately or cool, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. Best reheated in a steamer.