I know Thaumatin is the sweetest substance in the world, but have you tried fresh Tamales served directly from the oven? I bet you’ll sign a petition to have it added to the list of the sweetest substances in the world after trying it.
Named one of the world’s oldest foods, Tamales are made from corn dough known as masa. The dough is filled with various substances like veggies, fruits, and meat, and then the concoction is steamed in a banana leaf or corn husk.
Whether you’ve tasted Tamales or it’s your first time hearing about them, you probably would benefit from knowing how to cook them. It takes lots of time, but the good news is the investment is worth it.
This post will take you through several easy ways to cook Tamales in your home. But before that, let’s first see what the Tamales are and where they originate from.
Let’s dive right in!
What are Tamales?
Popular among the ancient Mesoamerican cultures like Mayans and Aztecs, Tamales date back to 8000 to 5000 B.C. They feature corn-based dough called masa wrapped around a filling and steamed in banana leaves or corn husk and are common among Mexican delicacies.
Tamales were traditionally filled with either pork, chicken, cheese, beef, or beans, but people add whatever they wish to the recipe. You can add veggies, various cereals, or anything else that you love.
What you need to cook Tamales in the oven
Cooking Tamales in the oven requires a few steps and some time, but the final results are worth the effort. To get started, you’ll need a few ingredients and tools, including:
Dried corn husks:
You’ll need husks that are wide enough to wrap around your tamale fillings. You may buy these corn husks online or in the Mexican or produce section at your local grocery store.
You’ll need a few ingredients to make the masa dough, including:
- Masa harina
- Avocado, corn, or olive oil
- Stock: Beef, chicken, pork, beans, veggies – whatever you want!
- Salt, ground cumin, and baking powder to season your masa dough
You could also add additional flavors to your masa as you wish.
You can fill this traditional Mexican dish with almost anything, from meat to veggies. They are perfect for using leftover meat, veggies, taco fillings, cheese, beans, etc.
You’ll need about 2-3 cups to fill your recipe, so feel free to use whatever works. You may use chicken, pork, beef, refried beans, cheese, veggies, etc.
If your filling recipe has sauce, you may not have to add extra sauce. However, if you’re preparing meat or veggies filling, an extra sauce is crucial to add some flavor.
Salsa bought from stores is often recommended, but you may also make it at home. Some of the salsa sauces you may add to your Tamales include red salsa, green salsa, Enchilada sauce, mole, etc.
Once your Tamales are cooked, you may load them with toppings to add to their flavor. The toppings are optional, but it’s recommended to use any combination of avocado, pico de gallo, sour cream, chopped cilantro, etc.
How do I cook Tamales in the oven?
Once the ingredients are ready, you can proceed to prepare and cook perfect Tamales. Here’s the whole process to follow:
Step #1: Assemble your Tamales
Assembling your Tamales is easy. All you need is the corn husks, your filling of choice, and Tamale dough, and then you can assemble your tamales as follows:
- Soak your corn husks wrappers: Find a big baking pan or a large stockpot, add several cups of water, and cover it with a lid. Leave the corn husks submerged for about 30 minutes or until softened.
- Mix up your masa (dough): Mix your masa using a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or hands. Mix it according to your recipe guidelines, cover it using a damp paper towel, and then refrigerate it until ready to use.
- Prepare your salsa and fillings: Prepare both the salsa and filling, then toss them in a bowl.
- Assemble the Tamales: This part may take a while, but it’s all easy if you follow the guidelines below:
- Place the soaked corn husk on a flat surface such as a cutting board or a plate
- Spread about a ¼ cup of masa dough on the corn husk and spread it into a rectangle using your finger or a spoon. This shape allows you to enclose your filling.
- Add about one or two tablespoons of sauce/filling to the center of the masa dough
- Fold the corn husk vertically to completely wrap the masa dough around the filling.
- Wrap your corn husk until it achieves the shape of a little burrito/cylinder
- Fold the skinny end to enclose one end of the tamal
- Tie the tamal together
Once you’ve assembled your Tamales, you can proceed to cook them as outlined in the following steps.
Step #2: Prep your oven
Preheat your oven to medium heat to prepare it to cook your Tamales. Place the steamer rack into your oven if you have one.
Step #3: Cook your Tamales
Wrap your Tamales in several layers of aluminum foil and arrange them in the oven. Then, set your oven to about 425 degrees Fahrenheit and leave your Tamales to cook for about 15-20 minutes.
You can tell when the Tamales are ready when the corn husk changes color from white to off-yellow or when the cornflour isn’t mushy.
Step #4: Remove your Tamales
After the 15-20 minutes, or when the Tamales are cooked evenly, remove them from the oven and serve them how you like them.
Note: If you don’t have a conventional oven, you can make an improvised one using the Dutch oven or a casserole dish. If that’s the case, cook your Tamales as follows:
- Put a steamer wire rack inside the Dutch oven or casserole dish and arrange your Tamales with the open end facing upwards.
- Add boiling water and steam the Tamales for about 40-60 minutes to cook.
- Don’t increase the oven’s temperature to avoid drying out the Tamales.
Other best ways to cook Tamales
Cooking perfect Tamales in an Instant Pot
An instant pot is a slow cooker, a pressure cooker, a yogurt maker, and a rice cooker all in one package. Instant pots allow you to cook and reheat your Tamales in much less time while improving their flavors.
Once your Instant Pot achieves high heat, dampen your Tamales and leave them to warm for about 10 minutes. Ensure they are spaced apart so that they’ll all be well-cooked.
Cooking Tamales in a Microwave steamer
Microwave steamer is your best bet if you have serious Tamale cravings and want a quick method to cook or reheat them. To achieve the ideal microwave Tamales, wrap them in a damp paper towel and arrange them on a microwave-safe plate.
Leave them to heat for about one to two minutes or more for raw Tamales, and then serve them how you like them. However, remember to be careful with the steaming process because this method risks drying your Tamales out. If you want moist tamales, watch out for the cooking time.
Cooking delicious Tamales using a deep fryer
This is a reliable alternative to achieving the crispiest and thickest Tamales. However, this method will increase the meal’s calories.
Here is a step-by-step method to cook your Tamales using the deep fryer:
- Remove your Tamales from the freezer, leaving them in the refrigerator to unfreeze.
- Set your deep fryer to medium heat and leave it to preheat for some time. Cooking in cold oil will leave you with limp and soggy Tamales
- Remove the corn husk and pat down your Tamales using a damp paper towel. This allows you to remove extra moisture that can cause the oil to bubble and pop.
- Place the Tamales into the deep fryer using metal tongs, leaving them submerged in the oil. Don’t drop the Tamales to avoid sustaining burns.
- Leave the Tamales to cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they turn golden brown with a nice fried coating.
- Remove the Tamales from the deep fryer oil and leave them to cool
Note: An air fryer works just as perfect as a deep fryer to cook Tamales
How do I reheat my Tamales?
If you buy pre-cooked frozen Tamales or leftover Tamales, you can reheat them through different methods. For instance, you may use a stovetop, an oven, a microwave, or a steamer basket to reheat your Tamales.
Some best ways to reheat your Tamales include:
- Remove your Tamales from the bad and place them in the hot steamer for about 15-20 minutes. Leave them for a longer time if they’re frozen
- If you’re using an oven, preheat it to 325 degrees F. Then, remove the Tamales from the plastic wrapping, wrap them in foil, place them on the sheet pan, and leave them to bake for about 15-20 minutes.
- For the microwave, make a hole in the bag. Leave it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes.
Tamales are some of the most ancient Mexican delicacies. They are made using a corn-based dough (masa) and filled with chicken, beef, cheese, beans, veggies, chili, or other sweet fillings.
This post provides step-by-step instructions to cook and preheat Tamales at home using the oven, deep fryer, microwave, and instant pot. Good luck as you purpose to make delicious homemade Tamales for your family or friends!