Ancho chile sauce, Christmas Traditions, How much masa equals how many dozens of tamales, Latino culture, Latino Family Traditions, Masa for Tamales, Pork Tamales

Five Important Ingredients for the Best Tamales

It’s a special time of year for Latino families throughout the country and the Americas.

Two weeks before Christmas is the time to pull out the Tactical Tamale Plan. After going through this ‘document,’ we found out that there’s a snag in the production. Our tamale masa connection is MIA, so I’ve had to post a Facebook request for prices for a pound of masa preparada.

The week before and after Christmas is usually tamale making time. Our tamale making fest is this weekend.

Although we may be Latinos we don’t all make the same kind of tamales. Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans make different kinds of fillings, use coverings other than corn husks-ojas, tie and steam or boil the tamales in various types of utensils. 

My family stretches from first generation to third generation Mexican American Latino.We don’t do fancy tamales, only two types: pork in red chile sauce which we call “Red ones,” and Anaheim Chiles, cheese and tomatillo sauce, that we call the “Green ones.” However, I will experiment (on my own) with a Vegan one filled with vegetables or lentils. But this post concentrates on what I believe are the important ingredients for the best tasting pork tamales. 

Beverages from wine to champurrado, several spoons or butterknives, cheese/cracker plate, veggie plate,Christmas cookies, favorite aprons, tamale pots, and music need to be assembled before one starts spreading the masa

The amounts of ingredients aren’t listed because they vary with how many dozens of tamales you make. Just do a search for “how to make tamales,” and several recipes will spring up. 


  1. Pork Shoulder, pork butt, or loin. Boneless is best but more expensive. Roast with garlic cloves, salt, oregano, onions. Trim any fat, cut into one inch squares. (The one in the photo above is too chunky).
  2. Well kneaded masa: for 4 pound bag of Masa Para Tamales* use
    3 tablespoons paprika
    3 tablespoons salt
    3 tablespoons chili powder
    3 tablespoons garlic powder
    2 cups vegetable oil
    2 quarts pork broth *SKIP this step by buying Masa Preparada (prepared dough) from a Mexican grocery store or bakery. One pound of masa is enough for half dozen of tamales-30 lbs is 15 dozens of tamales.(Masa is that stuff that looks like mashed potatoes in the photo. Should be creamy or fluffy will spread well on the ojas).
  3. Chile sauce: It is worth it to make your own, but a little time-consuming and messy. The deep brown red color of the sauce in the photo above is just right. We use several dried Ancho chiles (called Poblano’s too), remove stems and seeds, soak them and garlic cloves for 30-45 minutes in 3 cups of hot water. Place all in a blender with two cups of the water, give it a whirl, and add salt. Heat two teaspoons of vegetable/olive oil into a large saucepan, add two teaspoons of flour into the hot oil and stir until browned. Add the chile from the blender. Simmer until thickened. Add the cubed pork meat into the chile. Let it simmer together for 30 minutes or so. (You can take a short cut and use Las Palmas red chile in a can also). 
  4. Corn husks or ojas. Remove the cornsilk and soak them in a large pot of warm water until soft. Costco, Winco, Smart & Final and most Mexican supermarkets have these dried in packages. The cheapest are not the best, often small, and full of holes.This is a good job for the kids. Drain and blot them dry.
  5. The best for last: You must share chisme (gossip), joke, laugh, sing, tell stories, reflect on the past,  while around the assembly line of spreading the masa, spooning in the pork and chile, and wrapping the tamales. You must teach anyone over five years of age how to do something to help the tamale makers. 

Our motto:  No Help, No Eat. Of course this does not include guests.

While the tamale pot steams the dozens of tasty tamals grab your favorite beverage, relax on the couch and chismear with your favorite person.

 Or watch one of my favorite holiday films, like “The Christmas Story,” and laugh with the kids.

Build some memories as you prepare your holiday treats.Christmas comes and leaves so quickly.

31 thoughts on “Five Important Ingredients for the Best Tamales”

  1. Oooh, I'm coming right over. I can smell the pot a-simmering. I had neighbors from Las Cruces, NM who truly spoiled me on Mexican cuisine. This post brings back the aromas to my memory. Muchas Gracias.


    1. Love tamales! I do have a question, many of my Mexican born friends, including my Mexican born 90-year-old mother-in-law gasps when I tell the how I make the sauce for tamales: combination of ancho, pasilla, guajillo, NM dried pods. I clean, seed, toast on grill, soak in until soft, purée in blender with grilled onions, garlic, seasonings. The flavor is phenomenal and well worth the work. This is how my family always made them. Even now, in my 60’s, still make them this way. I wonder if I’m crazy doing all this work? Is it a regional tradition, or preference? Does anyone know?


      1. If the result is fine (which it sounds like) I’d say keep making your sauce the way you make it. My sisters both make salsa roja and salsa verde in a blender. They don’t add grilled onions but cooking is a matter of taste and your recipe sounds delicious.


      2. The grilled onions add a sweet subtle taste to the peppers which can sometimes taste a bit acidic. Yes, I will continue to make it this way. My question was, what is the tradition in Mexico for making tamales?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes its very traditional, our family does it the same way minus the onions. However we dont toast them, we simmer them a bit in water til soft, i also save some of that liquid. And i use a blender and then strain it. i dont like pieces of the chilie peeling in my sauce. i use new mexico and calif chile pods. we like them spicy so i use more new mexico than calif.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I made them with a friends last weekend. We made por with red sauce, chicken with green sauce and . . . chocolate chip for dessert! We had 30 LBS. of masa ay yay yay! Demasiado! We worked from 10:30 A.M. until 6 P.M. when I collapsed.
    It was fun and they were tasty. We need to improve in our corn husk wrapping skills, anyway I do! thanks for the tips. We'll incorporate them next year 😉


      1. From my calculations and memory (because we rarely write things down):
        5 pounds of masa makes approximately 3 dozen tamales; so 30 pounds could make 18 doz. This approximation depends on the size of ojas as many now come in small, medium and large sizes.


  3. Yuuummmmm,those Chocolate chip was sound good. Maybe I'll experiment with some Mexican chocolate bits. I know what you mean, after a day of making tamales I want to sink into someone's jacuzzi and have a glass of wine.


  4. Hi Sweetie! Thank You SO Much for taking the time to post all this information. Greatly Appreciated!! 🙂 Question? How long to steam tamales? I think I may have over-steamed mine as I cooked them for 1hr. & 40 minutes total. Also I used a wet towel to cover tamales as I remember my mom did too (she’s in heaven now & we pull a picture of her and place it over on the top shelf so she can be there with us in spirit!). Would you kindly give me an idea how long to steam them & should I be using the wet towel? Also I’ve been using the “synthetic” ojas cuz it’s just easier to work with for my 3 daughters and I so the steam time could be a factor. Any help is GREATLY Appreciated! Blessings to You!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Hate to tell you that steaming time is complicated, as it has to do with type of tamale pot & how many are stacked inside. We use a traditional pot, with six dozen tamales stacked. Yes, a wet cotton towel is important. Make sure the pot has a steamer basket inside to lift tamales out of the water. This kind of big pot takes 3 hrs to steam. Smaller pot with 3 doz might take 1 1/2 hrs. I’ve never heard of synthetic ojas but if they work for you that’s cool. Bless you for keeping the tradition alive and remembering your mother.


    2. My grandma makes a little roof on top of the tamales with the leftover soaked husks! She saves all the scraps and makes sure to buy extra ojas so that she can cover the tamales. It allows you to tuck them into little crevices and makes the steaming more tight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We do the same. I also save the scraps to tie the bow around them as a finished festive touch. My grandkids love that!


  5. I love making tamales with the family! This is one of the most traditional activities in my family. It seems like this tradition extends through the generations, even in Mexican-American families. Amazing!!!


  6. I have a new steamer pot given to me that holds 100 at a time, so an extra large one. In the past have used different pots and would sometimes run out of water and/or put in too much. My thought is 3 hours of steaming the water would run out in the bottom well of the pan. Maybe I am keeping the heat too high? I will steam about 4 dozen at a time (I take breaks while steaming them, let them steam, then get back to it). Did not know about the towel, just make sure the lid is on properly. Mine are probably smaller than what you make judging by how much masa makes how many tamales. I will get appx 7 dozen out of a 5lb bag of dry masa I prepare myself with added chicken broth, lard and added red chili sauce (all warm). I make extra red chili sauce on the side with beef bones for flavor to add to the masa. So, my basic question is if you have any advice on the temperature to steam at and how much water, and do you add water during that 3 hour steaming time you suggest? Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Wendy. Yes, the tamales I make are large so quantities (dozens) vary depending on size of cornhusk or okay. I’ve tried putting a penny beneath my steamer so I can hear when it rattles which alerts me to pour in more water-bath in a noisy house like ours that doesn’t work all the time.
      When I put on a pot of tamales to cook I bring the water to a boil and then turn heat to simmer. Check every 45 mins to an hour and add water to pot. My tamales are usually ready in 2+ hours. If I stack more than 5 doz at a time it’ll take longer. I hope this helps.


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