From the Kitchen

Homemade Tamales are Worth the Work

Oh, yes they are! I got together with my sister and her husband, Brian, who can make a mean tamale! I asked him to show me how to cook these little gems and if I could share it with you. He made them once for us years ago and I’ve been craving them ever since. Now I could make them myself, as he walked me through it step by step. It does take the better part of an afternoon to get through, but I promise, they’re soooooo worth it!!

This is probably the most photos I’ve ever had in a post, but I really want you to see the details of this process. It always helps to follow along and actually make these. Let me know if you do and how it goes!

Recipe for Sweet and Savory Tomatillo Tamales:

UPDATE: This makes around 50 tamales, depending on how much filling you use and how much masa dough comes out.

Tomatillo Chicken Sauce: (we doubled this, so it’s more in the photos. We used the extra sauce in quesadillas and tacos later in the week.)

  • 1 onion, peeled & diced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled whole
  • 1 pablano chili, diced and no seeds (unless you like heat)
  • 5 tomatillos, peeled & cubed
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 lbs. chicken, boneless

Prepare the vegetables and cook them in a pot with the oil and salt and pepper. Let this simmer for 10-15 minutes until they cook down.

Pour this mixture into a blender, adding the 1/4 cup water. Then puree until smooth. Add your sugar and blend again.

Cook your chicken whole in a pot on medium heat. Let them brown for 5 or so minutes. Then pour your blended sauce onto the chicken. You’ll let this simmer for 1 hour, letting all the juices meld.

Once it’s cooked through after an hour or so, take 2 forks and shred the meat apart right in the pot. Now it’s ready to be the filling.

Corn Husks: start to soak the corn husk just before you start the Masa dough. Once they’re soaked, set them on a towel to dry. A few of them will get peeled into strips for tying the tamales later.

Masa Dough: (this is the same amount as you see in the photos, only our tomatillo sauce was doubled)

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 chicken boulon cubes
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup lard (yes, lard. This is found by the shortening or in the Hispanic food isle)
  • 1/2 bag of masa (this is like flour, but it makes a dough. Also found in the Hispanic food isle)

Bring to a boil – the water, sugar, salt, boulon cubes, red pepper, and lard. Once it’s at a boil, pour in one cup at a time of masa, and stir. Keep pouring in the masa until you get the consistency of a thick, almost sticky dough. It will start to pull away from the sides. Now it’s ready.

Tamale Train Assembly Line:

Tamales need to be steamed, so you will need some sort of steaming pot to cook them in. Brian has a large fun steaming pot he uses just for tamales. But some rice cookers have them or you can use a steaming basket placed in a large cooking pot.

We’re ready to assemble these tamales. Line up all your items, the masa dough, the corn husks, the tomatillo sauce, the corn husk strips, and a plate to stack.

Place a heaping spoonful of masa dough onto a corn husk. Using a second corn husk, mash it down into a large oval shape.

Scoop a spoonful of chicken tomatillo sauce onto the dough. Roll the dough, so that it seals together. The ends don’t need to be pressed together, but you do want to shape the dough around the sauce as best as you can.

Wrap the corn husk around the dough and tie each end with a strip of corn husk.

Place them on top of each other in the steamer, criss-cross style. Let them steam for 1 hour.

Now it’s time to eat and enjoy. You don’t need any sauce on top, they’re great as is. They would be yummy paired up with some sweet rice or chips and guacamole. And they made a lot of leftovers, so we just heated them up in their husks in the microwave the next day for lunch!

Thanks, Brian, for teaching me how to make “hot” Tamales! Your recipe for Tomatillo Chicken is to die for! You’re a master chef who cooks a mean Mexican meal. I know I could make them on my own now, and I will. They were delicious!


  1. I just tried this out using pork instead of chicken and without the sauce since the kids are a lil picky. It was amazing! The boys cant wait to make,them again thank goodness for this recipe!

  2. I own an Italian restaurant in South Brunswick
    one Spanish guy works with me, one day one lady
    came to our place and sold tamales for him
    he gave me one to try ,it was my first time to eat
    tamales ( omg ) I loved it it’s was made with chicken
    & very spicy !!!! But the lady never came back again
    Then last week I was driving him home in nw Brunswick
    so he invited me to a small restaurant
    but :( I didn’t like it at alll
    this recepe is a lit hard for me to make it’s too much
    work, can u please show me a good restaurant for spicy
    tamales but good ones !!!!
    Thanks a lot

  3. yum! Thanks for the recipe! too bad I came across this so late! I am planning a Mexican food night but won’t be able to make these this time! But I’ll definitely try these the next time!

  4. Thank you for posting this recipe-my neighbor owns a Mexican restaurant-and won’t share this secret combination:) Ha! Now I can eat them whenever I want…

  5. My husband makes these for us every now and then. He does all of the prep work and we each make our own. We love adding zucchini, tomatoes, cheeses, and green peppers. The veggies add that extra touch and we don’t know anyone else who has ever done it. The label with marker on the corn husk to keep them all straight.

  6. Carina – It doesn’t surprise me that these are made at your house! Good tip for the masa in the food processor and for freezing. Although, when we’ve had these, there’s always a lot of people at the party and they go quick!

  7. A couple tips:

    If you can’t find lard you can use shortening, they aren’t quite as awesome, but they’re still good.

    I always make my masa in the food processor: add the dry, and pulse. Add the lard and pulse. Add the heated broth and pulse until combined. Dump into a bowl and start making the tamales.

    Tamales FREEZE BEAUTIFULLY! So yes, it’s work, but make a ton! After they’re steamed, cool them down, stick them in a Ziploc and freeze them (still in their corn wrappers, please!) When you want a tamale, take from the bag and nuke for about a minute. The corn wrapper is the perfect covering/re-steaming device.

  8. Karen – Great question. I’ve updated the post to say so too. It made around 50 tamales. But it’s give or take on how much you fill them or how much masa ends up in the pot.

  9. Bri — I shall never make these, but now I am so hungry for them. Next time I’m in Utah, I want you to consider cooking these for me, Karen and Don!!! I have had some of your good Mexican cooking, and I don’t know how I can live without these. But I’m not cookin’.

    Droolin’ Aunt Gwen

  10. Thank you for this! I’ve always wanted to try out tamales, but needed a FOR SURE good recipe to start off with because they’re so time consuming. Loved all the photos, but it would be nice to have all the text together somewhere so I could just slap it into my recipe file without all the pics in between.

  11. My grandmother is Mexican and every year a HUGE group of relatives gets together and make mass amounts of these delicious, delicious things. This is very similar to how we have always done it, though the chicken recipe is a bit different – can’t wait to try it out! Thanks for sharing!!!

  12. Oh my gosh, I am so excited you posted this!! My husband is Mexican and has always wanted us to make tamales together (he never has). I can’t wait to surprise him with a day of making tamales!! (But will he still love me when we’re through?) :)

  13. I don’t know if I will attempt, but I am so glad that you made it look somewhat simple. I live in El Paso (not by choice) and I can have it delivered to my house home made. I think once i leave El Paso I will miss it, so you recipe will be come very valuable to me. Way to appreciate something is to get your hands dirty and making it yourself! Once again, thanks

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