Yesterday was my dad’s birthday! I love celebrating the people I love and although he was not keen on a huge party, our family made our time together celebrating him very special. I always have a hard time coming up with The Perfect Gift for him and this year was no different.

This is the man who helped give me the confidence I needed to quit my job, built my daughter her crib, and walked me down the aisle (and, as of yesterday, is my daughter’s godfather. Thanks, Dad!). I would give him anything for his birthday that would make him happy, but I was drawing a complete blank as his day came near. Good for me though, I knew something special about him: he loves tamales. I may not have all the money in the world to buy a shiny new gift, but I’m pretty handy in the kitchen, and tamales he would have.

For Father’s Day I had kolaches shipped in from Texas (from Weikel’s and they are amazing!) for him and they were quite the hit. I had thought about having some tameles shipped over for his birthday but then decided that I would tackle them and try to make them myself. So here is the menu for a Texan transplant: homemade kolaches for breakfast, tamales for lunch, and a red velvet cheesecake for dessert.


adapted from Evil Shenanigans

Season two pounds of beef short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper and brown in hot oil until darkly browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. While doing this add the following to a crock pot:
4 strips bacon
1 medium onion, peeled, quartered, and separated
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 can drained Rotel tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 T cumin
1 T paprika
1 T chili powder
2 t coriander
2 t salt
2 cups beef stock

Then add the beef short ribs and cook on low for about 10-12 hours until the meat is tender. Remove them ribs and shred them. I had a really hard time getting a decent amount of meat from the ribs. I decided to supplement with some chicken and would probably just make chicken tamales in the future.

For chicken tamales:
Shred a roasted chicken. In a saucepot combine all of the above ingredients expect for the onion, garlic and bacon, and supplementing chicken stock for the beef stock. Simmer the shredded chicken until it has had a chance to absorb some of the juice, then refrigerate overnight. Yes, it really is that easy!

While you make your tamales you need to soak the corn husks. I made 28 tamales with this recipe and used one and a half packages of dried husks. Soak the husks in hot water and keep them submerged by placing a heavy bowl or plate on top of them. They’ll take up to two hours to get malleable enough to work with.

This masa for the tamales is amazing, and you’ll use the same recipe no matter what filling you decide to use:
4 cups masa (I used MaSeCa para tamales)
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 T salt
2 t baking powder
1 cup pork lard (manteca)
1 T minced chipotle in adobo (reserve the rest for optional tamale topping)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Mix the masa with the warm water in a medium bowl until it forms a dry paste. Set aside while you beat the lard, baking powder, and salt in your stand mixer. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the chipotle peppers, then add the masa mixture in four additions, beating well after each. Add one cup of the chicken broth to the mixture and slowly bring back to medium speed and beat for five minutes. Drop a small ball of masa into a cup of water and if it floats then you’ve beaten it enough–go ahead and cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour. Once chilled beat the mixture again and add the last half cup of broth. Test again by dropping a small ball into a cup of water. When it floats you’re ready to assemble your tamales!


Assemble the tamales by placing a corn husk on the counter in front of you with the skinny end facing you. Put about 1/3 cup of masa on the wide end of the husk and spread into a four-inch square. Then place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the middle of the square. If you’re using chicken like I did make sure to squeeze the filling to drain it so your tamales don’t get soggy. Fold the husk in half to enclose the filling, then roll the husk to seal the tamale. Fold up the skinny end and, if desired, tie with a small piece of husk.

When all of your tamales are made line the bottom of your steamer with a few corn husks. Place the tamales open side up, leaving some room for expansion. Then place a few wet husks on top of the tamales. Steam over a rolling boil for about 75 minutes. Don’t let your steamer run out of water–refill it if necessary with boiling water. The tamales are done when the masa will easily separate from the corn husks.

We don’t have a tamale steamer, but that didn’t stop us and it shouldn’t stop you. Cut both ends off of two cans (from soup, veggies, whatever) and put them in the bottom of a large pot. On top of them place a flimsy pie tin that you’ve punched holes in. Bam! You’ve made a steamer. We even used aluminum foil to cover the top of the pot. It doesn’t get easier than that.

We served ours with mole, leftover sauce from marinating the chicken, salsa verde, and the chipotle sauce from the chipotles in adobo that you mixed into the masa. Use whatever sauces or toppings you enjoy!


Happy birthday, Doc.


3 responses to “Tamales

  1. OMG, I am so impressed with your courage to tackle tamales and with your ingenuity in creating a steamer! I was just thinking I could do it in a crockpot, but I’m not sure. My hubby LOVES tamales, and I’ve always wanted to try them. I know he would probably prefer beef – I’m wondering if I could use chuck roast instead of ribs. I’ll let you know via a blog post if I try it! Great job! (applause & standing ovation) 🙂

    • Linda, thanks! I was pleasantly surprised with how easy they were to put together. Time-intensive, yes, but not as hard as I feared. I’m not sure about using a crockpot because you’re not trying to cook them low and slow, but if you try it I’d love to hear about it. I just wasn’t ready to plunk down $20 on a tamale steamer without knowing if they’d be any good! Now I might. The chuck roast is a great idea! Good luck if you tackle them!

  2. Wow! This sounds like the perfect day of food. I too am a transplanted Texan and I spell my name Lesly. Sounds like we have a lot in common. For ladarrah, I use a regular vegetable steamer inside by large pan and it works just fine. Nice meeting you!

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