Best Tamale Tips

pork tamales

Photo by Leela Cyd

I had a blast last week at the Tinsel and Tamales Workshop hosted by the Four Seasons Biltmore. Thank you who all attended, it was a fun change of pace to interact with real people instead of me talking out loud to my laptop.

making tamales

Tamales are such a part of the Santa Barbara holiday season. Yesterday, I shared recipes for my beloved Tamales de Puerco. Today, I’m giving you my best tips to help you make the best tamales on the block (wait — you don’t live on my block, do you?).

tamale filling

Three types of chiles, toasted cumin and fresh garlic make for an amazing filling.

#1 Make sure your filling is delicious and flavorful. You are using about one heaping tablespoon per tamale, so be sure it is tasty and well seasoned.

#2 The best tamales have the right proportion of masa to filling. The masa shouldn’t dominate, but rather act as a shell to seal in all that goodness.

homemade tamales

The spoon route makes for a pretty picture, but bumpy masa. Photo by Leela Cyd

#3 The best way to get the right thickness for your masa is with a dough scraper. A spoon will leave it uneven and clumpy. The dough scraper will create a flat and smooth surface every time.


With the real deal scraper, not quite as glamourous…

#4 Wrapping your tamales in deli paper will help keep your tamales moist and the filling from spilling out the end. Just peel off the paper before you serve them, please.

#5 If you are making more than one type of tamale tie them differently so you can tell the difference in filling easily. This is better than the post-cooking poke and peek inside to see what’s there.

homemade tamales

See how the rajas tamales (top right) are wrapped differently than the pork (bottom). Photo by Leela Cyd

#6 Look like a pro by doing the work to find the smooth vs. bumpy side of the pre-soaked husk. This tip is what separates the niños from the hombres. If you place the masa on the smooth side of the husk, then when you unwrap it, it will roll out perfectly and not get stuck in the husk.

homemade tamales

See that crispy goodness on this reheated tamale?

#7 Don’t reheat already steamed tamales in the microwave. Grab your cast iron skillet instead. Turn up to medium-high heat, keep it dry and then scorch that tamale until hot. You will get the most amazing crunchy texture and smoky flavor.

#8 My favorite sauce for tamales is sour cream mixed with a squirt or two of Sriracha. So good.

homemade tamales

Tamales make for incredible appetizers, just cut into bite size pieces and serve with my magic sauce.

#9 This is the most important tip of the bunch. Making tamales is not a solo endeavor. For your tamales to truly taste divine they must be made alongside people you love.

Photo by Leela Cyd (thank you!!).

Photo by Leela Cyd — Thank you for capturing this moment with my girls. I will treasure it forever.