Tamales are one of those Mexican dishes you don’t find in many restaurants. This is because they are labor intensive. However, with proper planning, you can make your own tamales that are better than most any you can buy commercially. This is our guide to Instant Pot Tamales.
The good news is that by planning ahead, making tamales can be significantly less labor intensive. For this article, we made all the fillings and the tamales in a single day. However, usually, we make large batches of filling and dough and put them in the freezer for when we want to make tamales.
This article is more a guide to the process. For a full recipe see our Vegetarian Tamales. Just note this is one of only many fillings you can use for tamales.
There are all kinds of fillings you can use in tamales. For this batch, we did two types of shredded chicken, beef barbacoa and a vegetarian filling with corn, cheese, and peppers. Our carnitas recipe would also make a great filling.
Whatever filling you use, the two main ingredients for tamales are corn husks and tamale masa. At our local grocery store, they carry corn masa, especially for tamales. Corn husks are sold in bulk and you can get a package of over a hundred husks for under $5. If you can not find these ingredients in your store they are available in bulk from Amazon.
Once you have your ingredients the process is fairly simple. Just follow these steps.
1. Prepare Fillings
As mentioned, there are all kinds of fillings you can use for tamales. We like to make batches of meat fillings ahead of time and freeze them. This allows us to make several types of fillings. For this article, we made everything on the same day, but that is not our standard practice. For filling ideas see our recipes for Chicken Tinga (shredded chicken), Shredded Beef (Barbacoa), Carnitas and our corn and cheese vegetarian tamales (if you don’t use lard in the dough).
2. Soak Corn Husks
Simply place the corn husks in a big pot or container filled with water. Weight them down with a plate and let soak for an hour or so.
3. Make the Dough:
Make sure and check out our recipe. The dough is easy to mix by hand (our stand mixer keeps breaking down). It does contain a hefty amount of lard…tamales are not really low-fat food.
The assembly is pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
- Lay individual corn husks down on a flat surface. We did four at a time
- Spread about 2 tablespoons of dough on each husk. Spread it into a square-ish type shape. Leave plenty of room at the bottom to fold the tamale up but don’t worry too much about reaching the edges. It may not seem like a lot of dough but it will expand significantly. An issue I have with many tamales is they are way too heavy on the dough. I like to go light on dough and heavy on filling….even if my tamales are almost bursting!
- Fold sides of husk together so each side of the dough meets to surround the filling. It will look kind of like a burrito. Pinch the dough together to form a seal but don’t worry too much if there are some cracks.
- Fold up the skinny triangle-shaped end of the hulk. Tear some corn husks into thin strips and use this to tie together the bottom of the tamale. At this point, you can cook the tamales or freeze them for cooking at a later time.
We use the Instant Pot but you can also use a steamer. For the Instant Pot, we add a cup of water and the steam rack. We arrange the tamales vertically and let cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. We then let natural release for 10 minutes. Many Instant Pots have a steam setting, but in most cases, this simply cooks at high pressure for 10 minutes.
We have not tried cooking tamales in a regular steamer or pot. Our basic understanding is that you add about an inch of water to a pot. Place the tamales vertically into a steam basket and let simmer for about an hour. This article has some good ways to improvise cooking tamales without an Instant Pot. If you do not have an Instant Pot I would follow their advice!