Classic South Texas Recipes: Homemade Tamales - The Bend Magazine

Classic South Texas Recipes: Homemade Tamales

Just in time for the holidays, this recipe for homemade tamales is a classic savory version using simple, local ingredients and timeless techniques.

homemade tamales

Photography by Jason Page | Props provided by 20/20 Vintage & Sweet Life Bake | Styled by Jarred Schuetze

Though the history is tricky to nail down due to the lack of written words in prehistoric times, cave drawings of women making tamales can be traced back to the Toltecs as early as 950 A.D. Their delicious preparation has truly stood the test of time to make homemade tamales a South Texas staple in modern-day kitchens, especially around the holidays. They exude warmth in both spirit and flavor. 

Perhaps it is the inventive nature of the dish, which uses everything from the corn husk to the kernels, or the reward of enjoying a long labor of love after slow-cooking the pork and delicately enveloping it in the masa, that makes it a meal embraced by the masses. Regardless, this homemade tamale recipe is a classic savory version using simple, local ingredients and timeless techniques.

Recipe by Vianney Rodriguez


Yields 4-5 Dozen Tamales


  • 1 package dried corn husks

For chile sauce:

  • 5 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups reserved water from boiling chiles
  • 2 tablespoons pork lard

For Pork:

  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork butt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup red chile sauce

For Masa:

  • 4 cups masa harina (Maseca)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cups lard
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups pork broth
  • 1/4 cups red chile sauce

For Corn Husks: Soak dried corn husks in a bowl of hot water. Use a molcajete to keep them submerged for at least 2 hours or overnight.For Chile Sauce: In a large saucepan, place chiles and cover with water. Boil until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserve the water. Place the chiles, garlic cloves, ground cumin and 2 cups reserved cooking water into blender. Blend until smooth. Heat lard in a saucepan over medium high heat, add chile sauce, reduce heat to low and cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, reserve chile sauce for masa and pork. For Pork: Place pork butt in stock pot. Add the bay leaf, garlic, salt, pepper and cumin. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until pork is fork tender. Remove pork from the broth, reserving broth. Shred pork and mix with 1 cup of the chile sauce. For Masa: Mix masa, salt, baking powder, lard and 2 cups pork broth until the batter is light and fluffy, adding additional broth if needed. Stir in chile sauce, mix well.

To Assemble Tamales: Place a corn husk smooth side up on the palm of your hand. Place a heaping tablespoon of masa onto middle of husk. Using the back of spoon, spread masa over husk creating a rectangle shape, leaving the top end empty. Add heaping spoon of pork filling over masa. Fold one side of the corn husk over the filling, then fold in the other long side, overlapping the first. Fold the bottom of the husk up. Place on baking sheet, cover with damp paper towels. Repeat this process until all tamales are assembled.

Prepare steamer: Fill bottom of the steamer with water, then cover with steamer insert. Place the tamales standing upright, with their open end up, leaning tamales against each other so they do not fall over. Place leftover soaked corn husk over tamales and cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours, or until tamales begin to pull away from husks, adding additional water if needed. Remove steamer from heat, allow to stand for 10-15 minutes, serve warm.

Next, a recipe for frozen margaritas.