Step-by-Step Guide on How to Make Tamales de Puerco {She Made/Ella Hace}

How to make shredded pork tamales -

While those of you in the US are celebrating Groundhog's Day, here in Mexico we are celebrating Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas). In the Catholic faith, it's a Feast Day to celebrate the day that Mary presented Jesus in the temple. And in Mexican tradition it is also the day that whoever found the baby Jesus figurine in La Rosca de Reyes has to make (or pay for) the tamales. And that's exactly what Girlichef and I are making this month for She Made / Ella Hace.

I can't think of a better tamal recipe to share with you than my grandmother's delicious shredded pork tamales. Tender pieces of shredded pork in a spicy chile colorado sauce tucked inside a soft and billowy corn masa (dough). Hidden inside each tamal, was Gramm's secret weapon olives.  Gramm always had to buy an extra can of olives whenever she made tamales because Pappy and I would always play around putting the olives on our fingertips.

I knew that making Gramm's tamales would bring back a lot of happy childhood memories of watching her and Pappy assemble the dozens of tamales to be shared with family and friends, but I wasn't prepared for how strong my reaction would be. Every room in my house felt so warm and comforting as the tamales simmered away on the stove, and smelled exactly like my grandmother's cozy little kitchen.

I slid down to sit on the floor to bask in the familiar aroma for a few more minutes before the kiddies came home from school. I closed my eyes wishing I could hear my grandparents laughing and joking as they worked, and the tears started to rolled down my face. Mostly they were tears of joy because of the happy memories evoked by the aroma of the masa and chiles permeating throughout the house. But my heart also ached a little because of how much I miss my grandparents, and because I'm still mourning the loss of my beloved grandmother. After a few deep sighs, I found comfort in realizing that I am keeping their memory alive by sharing and passing on these traditions to my children. And hopefully one day, they'll share these same traditions with their families.

Shredded Pork Chile Colorado Tamales -

Tamales de Puerco con Chile Colorado
(Shredded Pork Chile Colorado Tamales)

Meat Filling:
  • 2 pounds pierna de cerdo (you can use pork rump or shoulder roast) 
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 dried ancho chilies
  • 2 dried guajillo chilies
  • 1 cup pork or chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Masa (Tamale Dough):
  • 4 cups masa harina (I use regular Maseca) 
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup manteca (lard) or shortening
  • 3 cups pork or chicken broth

Additional Ingredients:
  • 24 large dried corn husks
  • 1 to 2 cans whole black olives, pitted

Preparing the Meat Filling:
Making tamales can be a little time consuming.  So to make it an easier and more pleasant experience, I like to prepare the meat filling a day or two in advance.

Cut the pork meat into about 4 large pieces, so that the meat cooks evenly.  Place the pork meat in a 4-quart pot with the medium onion and two garlic cloves; season with salt and pepper.  Fill the pot with enough water to cover the pork meat, about 6 to 8 cups.   Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to low and let simmer until the meat is completely cooked and very tender.

Shredded Pork Tamale Filling Prep 1
I used 3 small onions, because that's what I had on hand. 
Let the cooked pork meat cool slightly before shredding it.  Reserve the pork broth for making the masa (dough).  (If you're going to prepare the meat filling in advance, refrigerate the pork broth and reheat it just before starting to make your masa.) 

While the meat is cooking, cook the dried ancho and guajillo chilies in 2 cups of water.  Let cool slightly, then remove the stems and seeds.  Puree the chilies, 1 clove of garlic, the chili powder, and ground cumin with 1 cup of the water the chilies were cooked in and 1 cup of pork broth until smooth.  Pour the chile puree over the shredded pork and mix until well combined.

Shredded Pork Tamale Filling Prep 2

 Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Shredded Pork Tamale Filling

Preparing the Hojas (corn husks):
In a large bowl, cover the corn husks with boiling water.  Cover and let set for about an hour or until the corn husks are soft and pliable.

Dried Corn Husks

Rinse the corn husks with cold water to remove any dirt and residue.  Pat the corn husks with a kitchen towel until completely dry.  (Masa doesn't stick to wet corn husks.)

Rinsed corn husks

Making the Masa:
In a medium bowl, combine the masa harina, baking powder and salt.

Tamale Dough Prep 1

In a large mixing bowl, cream the lard with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  (Light and fluffy manteca makes for light and fluffy tamales.)

Tamale Dough Prep 2

With your electric mixer still on medium-high, beat in the masa harina, one cup at a time until no dry bits of masa harina are visible.  (Mixture will be grainy.)   Reduce the electric mixer speed to low and stir in 3 cups of very warm pork broth until it has all been absorbed.   Using your hands, press the mixture together to form a dough.

Tamale Dough Prep 3

Now let's make some tamales! 
Spoon about 1/4 cup of masa (dough) onto each corn husk.  You could spread the masa with a spoon, but I think it's much easier to flatten it with your fingertips.  A good rule of thumb is to flatten the masa to about a 1/4-inch thickness across two-thirds of the corn husk, leaving a 1/4-inch space on one side and the top, and about a 3-inch space at the bottom.

Tamale Prep 1

Spoon a couple tablespoons of the meat filling down the center of the masa and top with 2 to 3 black olives.  (This is when Gramm would say, "Don't be stingy with the filling, no las estasmos haciendo para vender!") (Translation: We're not making them to sell!)  

Tamale Prep 2

Starting at the 1/4-inch edge, gently fold your tamal in thirds, then tuck in the ends.  (This is the easiest way to wrap tamales. The process will get easier with each tamal you make.  Practice makes perfect!)  Place the tamales seam-side down on a large plate, until you've finished  with all of the tamales.

Tamale Prep 3

Fill the bottom of an 8 to 10-quart tamale steamer (or larger if you are doubling the recipe) just to the bottom of the ridge where the steamer insert rests.  Place the insert inside the tamale steamer and arrange the tamales loosely so the steam can circulate.  Cover and cook over high heat for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer for 45 minute to an hour.  (If you don't own a tamale steamer, don't worry.  My grandmother cooked her tamales in a large roasting pan on the stove with enough water that covered the tamales about 1/3 of the way.)  

Tamales de Puerco en Salsa de Chile Colorado -

For a complete meal, serve with Mexican Rice , Refried Beans, and a delicious Atole.  (And remember to remove the corn husks from the tamales before eating them.)  Enjoy!!!  (Yields 18 to 24 tamales) 

Shredded Pork Tamales with Chile Colorado Sauce -

Now head on over to Girlichef's to check out her recipe for sweet Tamales de Fresa!  



  1. These look heavenly! I can't wait to make them, but it will have to be after my baby is born. I just wish I had someone who could make them for me!

  2. This is THE BEST way to keep those memories alive. My mouth is actually watering just checking out that pork...I would love to be able to try a few of your beautiful tamales de puerco! So great cooking with you (as always) =) xo

  3. What a beautiful way to remember your Grandparents, they would be so happy! Tamales are one of my favorite dishes to order, there is just something amazing about them:-) Your tamales look so delicious, love love the secret ingredient too! Hugs, Terra

  4. I love your grandma's recipe and the way you described the memories.... (it made me tear up!) They look delicious and I can't wait to try them. Thank you for sharing such a heart felt post and receta.

  5. Great pictorial guide to tamal-making, Leslie. I love to make tamales when I can do it with a giggling bunch of friends! Having lived in Mexico for almost 25 years, I can say fairly that I have eaten my share of tamales (one of my favorite Mexican foods, if not my very favorite), but I have never had them with black olives. A must-try recipe! Thanks so much.

  6. Oh Leslie! I want them! I want to make them I mean haha. I have been looking for this for ages. Thanks for that, they look amazing. On a side note, I will make them with piggie for me =)

  7. WOW Leslie! Beautiful post! We all know how time consuming making tamales is. It’s not a simple process that’s for sure and to post about it is pretty darn impressive. Great job girl!!!

    I know exactly how you feel. Something about the fumes en la cocina while making tamales always makes me cry. I miss my gramm’s like crazy too. I’m so happy to see that you are keeping her recipe alive with your familia. Your kids will treasure the memory always. Feliz Dia de La Candelaria amiga.

  8. Wow so insightful with a finger-licking appeal!

  9. Yum this reminds me of my nana's recipe thanks for sharing amiga! i will be trying soon!

  10. I made these this weekend and they where great. Easy recipe.
    Shirley Cardozo

  11. Such a heartwarming post Leslie! thank you for sharing your memories and flavors!! sending you abrazos!

  12. Oh love how you've done it again..... Made these and they were so moist n fluffy, I was sure they were not done, so i cooked them to death.... cried..... broke down and served them to my Bay n the cousins we have inherited. To my surprise everyone was overly impressed n I got the my mothers recipe bit I hear every single time I serve your food...YAAAYYYY..... Without you I would still be being told im feeding them dog food. Thanks

  13. The masa looks great - I never thought of using the electric beaters! ^^ My family makes a similar type - except we use jackfruit instead of pork.

  14. Me encantan los tamales de puerco!! Gracias por compartir la receta!

  15. I'm Wiccan and our holiday on Feb. 1-Feb. 2 is Imbolc. In contrast to making fancy, labor-intensive tamales as the Catholic Mexican central dish for Candlemas, Wiccans traditionally eat simple candied flowers, especially violets, as the central dish to welcome in the spring. We too welcome the spirits of deceased to dine with us on the holidays, just much more literally.

    1. Actually in the center of mexico there's a lot of people who literally wait for their deceased loved ones to come back, and in some places it is custom to dig their bodies out of their graves and make them an altar with the food, and all the things the dead one loved, tamales is one of the typical food used that day but not the only one.

  16. I loved your comment "no son para vender" that´s exactly what my mom used to say when we were making tamales for the family, and she made really big ones!!.
    I'm from the north of mexico so this recipe is not really how we make tamales, here we use the chilly paste and water in the dough instead of the stock (that is more common in the south) so the tamales end up all red (their also named tamales rancheros or tamales rojos), also in my family tamales are usually from beef meat with chilly paste and we usually put a slice of preserved jalapeño (jalapeño en rajas) a slice of uncooked potato and a vinegar preserved olive.

    I love the south of mexico tamales called "tamales oaxaqueños" instead of using corn leaves they use banana leaves, the dough is exactly as you described it and the filling can be pork with chilly or pollo en mole, but the one i love the most are those filled with oaxaca cheese and slices of fresh jalapeño, when you´re eating them hot or wam the cheese melts and mixes with the dough and it has the spicy taste of the chilly is just delicious!

  17. I made tamales for the first time in my life last week using your recipe. They came out perfectly, and everyone raved how good they were. Thank you so much for the recipe!

  18. would love if you could do a recipe for tamales with potatoe and carrot inside--my tio's parents are from tecate and she used to add that in them, so good.

  19. I have never made tamales from scratch, but you made it so easy with ur instructions it was really easy. Thank u sooo much, they are soo good. Your site is comforting just hearing the stories about your abuelos.

  20. I really love reading and following your post as I find them extremely informative and interesting. This post is equally informative as well as interesting . Thank you for information you been putting on making your site such an interesting. I gave something for my information. Wow Cooking Guide