Rooted in the heart of Latin American cuisine, tamales have evolved from a humble sustenance to a celebrated delicacy. In this article, I’ll instruct you on how to cook tamales – both fresh and frozen – using the traditional steam method. Moreover, we’ll explore methods to cook tamales even without a steamer.
1. How To Cook Tamales (Steam Method)
- Tamales (homemade or frozen)
- Corn husks (soaked and drained)
Fill the bottom of the pot with water, ensuring that the water level is below the steaming insert. You don’t want the tamales to touch the water directly.
Stand the tamales upright in the steamer, with the folded end at the bottom and the open end facing up. This helps the filling stay in place during cooking.
Pack the tamales closely together to prevent them from falling over while steaming then cover the tamales with a damp cloth or additional soaked corn husks to trap steam. Place the lid on the pot.
Turn on the heat to medium-high. Once the water in the pot starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium to maintain a steady steam.
Allow the tamales to steam for about 1.5 to 2 hours with homemade tamales. For frozen tamales, allowing an additional 20-30 minutes to the cooking time.
To check if the tamales are cooked, carefully open one of them. The masa should be cooked through and not mushy. It should have a firm texture. If using meat fillings, ensure that the meat is fully cooked and tender.
Once the tamales are cooked to perfection, carefully remove them from the steamer using tongs or a fork.
Let them rest for a few minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld and the masa to set. Serve the tamales with a variety of toppings.
2. How To Cook Tamales Without a Steamer
- Tamales (homemade or frozen)
- Pot with a lid
- Heat-safe plate or bowl
Fill a large pot with water, leaving enough space for the tamales to be placed without touching the water. You’ll want to use a pot that is deep enough to accommodate the tamales without crowding them.
Place an upside-down heat-safe plate or a heat-safe bowl in the bottom of the pot. This will create a base that elevates the tamales slightly above the water and prevents direct contact.
Stand the tamales upright on the plate or bowl in the pot. Make sure the open ends of the tamales are facing up to prevent water from getting inside.
Place a heat-safe plate or a few layers of aluminum foil over the tamales to create a makeshift lid. This will help trap the steam inside the pot. Put the pot lid on top to further seal in the steam.
Turn on the heat to medium-high and bring the water to a simmer. Once you see steam escaping from the makeshift lid, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Make sure the water doesn’t boil vigorously, as this could cause the tamales to get wet.
Allow the tamales to steam for about 1 to 1.5 hours with homemade tamales. For frozen tamales, allowing an additional 20-30 minutes to the cooking time. Check occasionally to ensure that the water hasn’t evaporated completely and add more hot water if needed.
To check if the tamales are done, remove one carefully and let it cool slightly. The masa should be cooked through and have a slightly firm texture. The tamales should easily come out of the husks.
Once the tamales are cooked, carefully remove them from the pot. Let them rest for a few minutes before serving.
3. What To Serve Toppings With Tamales
Salsas are a quintessential accompaniment to tamales, offering a burst of flavor and a touch of heat. You can choose from a range of salsas, including:
- Salsa Verde: A tangy and mildly spicy green salsa made with tomatillos, green chilies, and herbs.
- Salsa Roja: A rich and smoky red salsa made from tomatoes, dried chilies, and aromatic spices.
- Pico de Gallo: A fresh salsa made with diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeños, and lime juice.
- Fruit Salsas: Try mango, pineapple, or peach salsa for a sweet and spicy twist that complements the savory tamales.
Creamy guacamole adds a luxurious element to tamales. Mash ripe avocados and mix them with diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, and a touch of salt. The coolness and richness of guacamole balance the flavors of the tamales.
Drizzling crema Mexicana or sour cream on tamales lends a smooth and slightly tangy contrast to the masa and filling. It’s particularly great for tamales with spicier fillings.
Grated cheese adds an indulgent touch to tamales. Queso fresco, cotija, cheddar, or Monterey Jack are excellent choices. Sprinkle the cheese over the hot tamales so that it melts and creates a savory layer.
For those who crave extra heat, an array of hot sauces awaits. Choose from various levels of spiciness and flavors to suit your preference.
Whether you’re using homamade tamales from scratch or indulging in the convenience of frozen tamales, the steam – cooking technique enwraps each morsel with authenticity and tenderness. Even if you don’t have a steamer, I have a way for you to enjoy delicious tamale at home.