Is there anyone who *doesn’t* love tamales? Serious question.
I know there are tamale preferences, (more meat, less meat, more chile, less chile)… but no one just doesn’t like them, right?
They’ve always been a favorite comfort food of mine, and they’re my usual metric for judging how good a Mexican restaurant is. The only issue with tamales is that they are extremely tedious to make, and they’ll turn your kitchen into a full-on disaster. The good part though? Tamales freeze really well. You can microwave them straight from the freezer into a steamy, satisfying meal within five minutes. The corn husks are perfect, built-in wrappers that hold in moisture and keep the tamales from sticking together (so there’s no need to freeze them on trays, you can just put them straight into your storage container and into the freezer).
They’re by far one of the best frozen meals you can have on hand. And unlike the prepackaged meals you buy from the store, you know EXACTLY what’s in these. Even if you’re not concerned about sneaky additives or carcinogenic pesticides, the fat content, sodium content, and flavor are completely under control. This is the most basic appeal of meal prep, but it totally applies to freezer meals as well. Yes, you will obliterate your kitchen. But all you need is one Saturday of work, and you’ll have tamales for literally months to come.
Perfect Pork Tamales for Meal Prep
For the Pork:
7-8 lbs pork shoulder/boston butt roast
1.5 T salt
1 t black peppercorns or ground black pepper
2 yellow onions-peeled and quartered
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
3 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
1 T cumin powder
5-6 bay leaves
2-3 quarts water
For the Chile*:
About 25-30 dried chilis (New Mexico, Ancho, Guajillo, or a mix)
1/2 a yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 T cumin powder
salt to taste
For the Masa:
10 c. masa harina (dry flour, not fresh)
leftover pork broth/fat
1-2 c. pork lard, melted
1 t baking powder (opt)
salt to taste
water as needed
1 8oz pack of corn husks
For the Corn Husks:
Take your corn husks and carefully separate them into your (empty and cleaned) sink. Plug the sink and fill with water, just enough to cover the husks. Use weights (I used jars full of beans) to keep them submerged. Let them soak for at least 2 hours, then place them on their ends in a bowl to drain and dry.
For the Pork:
Place your pork shoulder on a very large cutting board, and feel for a bone. If the bone has been left in, cut it out (and give it to your dog), or roughly cut the whole area into one large chunk, and the meat will fall off during the cooking process. Cut the rest of the pork shoulder into equally large chunks (4-5 in. pieces), and place in a very large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven. Sprinkle the salt, peppercorns, oregano, thyme, cumin, and bay leaves over the meat. Add the quartered onions and smashed garlic cloves, then add water until the meat is covered. Place on the stove on medium high heat, and bring to a simmer. Half-cover the pot (keep the lid at a tilt), then let simmer for about three hours, adding water as needed.
For the Chile:
While the meat is simmering, start your chile.* Place your dried chilis on a large cutting board, and use a pair of kitchen shears to cut off all the stems. Starting at the open end of each chili, use your kitchen shears to cut all the way down the side, then remove the seeds. Once all the chilis have been “cleaned”, place them in a medium-sized pot with the onion and garlic. Cover with water, then bring the pot to a simmer. Let simmer until chilis are soft and mushy (this can take 20-40 minutes depending on how dry the chilis were). Once fully cooked, remove from heat and set aside.
When the meat is done simmering, it should fall apart when you touch it. If it’s still clinging to the bone at all, or does not shred easily, continue simmering for another 30 minutes to an hour.
When the meat is finished cooking, let cool about 30 minutes, then use a large colander to strain the juice into a large mixing bowl. Once the solids (meat and onion) are cooled enough to touch, use your hands to shred the pork into a large bowl, removing any bay leaves, peppercorns, onion/garlic bits, or large pieces of fat. You can do this with two forks if you prefer, but I find that it’s such a messy process anyway, you may as well just use your hands and get it done faster. Once all the meat is shredded, set it aside and take a break to clean your workspace.
Once you have a bit of counter space cleared, it’s time to get out your blender or food processor. Use a slotted spoon to move the softened chilis (with onions and garlic) into to bowl or pitcher of your blender, then add just enough of the cooking juice to blend it into a smooth, red sauce. At this point, add the cumin and some salt, then blend again and taste. If you need to, add more salt (this is going into the pork, so if the pork is too salty, add less salt to the chile, and if the pork is undersalted, add more salt to the chile). Then pour your chile into the bowl of shredded pork and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust as needed. Set aside.
For the Masa:
In another very large mixing bowl, add the masa harina, baking powder, melted pork lard, and cooking juice from the pork. Use your (clean) hands to mix the masa until it’s a smooth, homogeneous mixture (this may take a while). Taste and add salt as needed. Then add water a little at a time, mixing in between, until you achieve a consistency almost like peanut butter. You want to be able to spread it with a knife.
Next, take your soaked and drained corn husks, and, one at a time, spread 2-4 tablespoons of the masa mixture evenly across the bottom 4-5 inches of the corn husk, (with the thinner end at the top) spreading on the smoother side. Then take a few tablespoons of the shredded pork mixture, and place in the middle of the masa-coated corn husk, and roll to close. Fold over the thinner end to create a “closed” tamale that’s only open on one end. Repeat until all ingredients are used.
Place a steamer basket in the base of a large pot and add just enough water to almost touch the base of the basket. Place as many tamales, open end up, in the steamer basket as you can fit and then cover. Bring the pot to medium-high heat and simmer about 45 minutes. Or until the tamales are springy and firm. Remove the tamales and let them cool on a plate before moving to storage containers. Repeat this process until all tamales are cooked.
For Meal Prep:
For any tamales that won’t be eaten immediately, keep the storage containers in the freezer and use as needed for up to three months. If excess moisture has caused them to stick together, microwave the whole container 15 seconds, then break apart the tamales you wish to eat. To serve: microwave frozen tamales for 5 minutes on high, then remove the corn husk wrappers. Serve with salsa, sour cream, extra chile, cilantro, or lime.
*Double the Chile recipe if you want to have some for serving on the side.