Happy Tamale Day! Red Chile Pork Tamale Recipe

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Before I met Jeff, and many years ago, I lived in Arizona. While there I aptly honed my Mexican cooking skills which I treasure dearly, and also learned about a wonderful tradition with my Mexican friends. Every December before the holidays (which for Mexicans, stretches from the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 through Three Kings’ Day on Jan. 6) a tamaladas would be held. A tamale making feast if you will, where a few households would all get together and make tamales. Hundreds and thousands of wonderful tasty tamales!  Do you have a tamale recipe?  Feel free to use ours!

Red chili pork tamale.

Red chili pork tamale.

This is how it played out. Every participant was responsible for their own husks and also to bring a meat filing for the tamales and the host-house made about 7 hundred tons of masa. Everyone would sit around and drink and eat and talk and laugh and make tamales all day long. By the time you were finished you would walk away with hundreds of tamales in dozens of different fillings. It was absolutely amazing.

Think of it like this. Know those cookies or treats you absolutely can not live without at the holidays? THAT is what tamales are for Mexicans. And for me.

So this year myself, Jeff and a few wonderful friends got together to start our own tradición de tamaladas. And it was the best time ever. Following is the recipe for the red chilie pork tamale filling we made and some hopefully simple instructions on how to make them for yourself. Tamales are not just for the holidays. Tamales this good you want to enjoy all year long.


Red Chilie Pork Tamales

5 pounds pork shoulder or butt, cut into 3” cubes, reserve bones
12 ounces of a combination of whole dried chilies like Guajillo, Ancho, Puya, Casabel, etc.
2 white onions, peeled and quartered.
Head of garlic, peeled and chopped, roughly
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoons white pepper
½ teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
Heavy pinch cinnamon
2 – 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes
Corn or peanut oil

Hot water
1/3 cup white vinegar
Additional salt & pepper

Dried corn husks that have been picked through & cleaned and allow to soak in water for 30 minutes before tamale assembly.


The How To:

Over medium heat in a heavy bottom pan toast the peppers until they start to lightly smoke. Mix peppers and toast again. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

In a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven add a couple tablespoons of corn or peanut oil. Add some of the meat being careful not to over crowd the pan and brown on all sides. Remove and repeat with the rest of the meat (including the bones) till all the meat is well browned. Set aside.

Stem & seed chilies and either chop into ½” pieces or do like I do and put them all in a large zip lock bag and crush.

Add more oil to the pan if needed and add onions, sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Add the crushed chilies, herbs & spices and sauté for about 2 minutes.

Add back in the pot the meat, the cans of tomatoes and enough water to cover ¾ of the meat.

Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 2-3 hours or until the meat is shred-able.

Pork simmering in the red chili broth.

Pork simmering in the red chili broth.

Remove all the meat and bones and let cool. Blend the remaining liquid until it is smooth. (I find a hand or wand blender is best for this but a regular blender works great as well. Just use caution when blending hot liquids.) Return sauce to heat, add the vinegar and reduce till it thickens (by about a third) then add additional salt and pepper to taste.


For the Masa: follow the direction on your bag of Masa or buy it prepared from you local international grocer.  We’ve found it is easier to spread cold,so make it up the night prior and put it in the refrigerator overnight, believe me it makes assembly much easier!


Tamale Assembly

In a large bowl add the meat and about 2 cups sauce.  Mix well.

You can use the masa as is or do like we do and add a bit of the red chili sauce to it.

Now take a husk and flatten in your hand. Take some of the masa and smear it along the top of the husk down about 4”. Now take some of the filling and run it down the center of the masa on the husk.

Take some of the masa in your hand and smear it on a husk.  Place a small amount of filling down the center of the masa .  Wrap one side over the filling, then wrap the other side over covering the first side. Pinch the top to seal and fold the bottom up (see picture). Lay the tamale on the folded flap and do another. Have I mentioned this is much more fun to do with good friends?


Tamale Cooking

You will steam the tamales. This works best in a large pot with a steamer basket. You do not want the water to touch the tamales, just the steam. If you do not have a pot with a steamer basket, an inverted bowl on the bottom of the pan with a couple layers of husks on the bottom will do the trick.

Tamales in the steamer pot.

Tamales in the steamer pot.

Place the tamales in the steamer folded end down. Do not over crowd you want the steam to move around all of the tamales. Cover and let steam for 45-60 minutes, or until the masa pulls away from the husk easily.


Now you have zero reason to not enjoy this holiday tradition with your family and friends. Happy Holidays, our gift to you is this wonderful tamale recipe!



Meet Jeff & Heather. The dysfunctional duo that make up the cooking team of He Cooks She Cooks. They have a weakness for feel good, down to earth, amazingly tasty eats that almost always include the addition of beer. From growing their own tomatoes to brewing their own beer, they like to cook from scratch as much as possible. When they aren't feeding their friends they are geeks of the computer kind. They share their home with Bacon the lovebird, the insane kitten duo of Voodoo & Hops, and a motley bunch of friends who won't stop drinking all their good beer. They know what's important. Love. Food. Beer.
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