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Authentic Pork Red Chile Tamales

For many Mexicans and Americans alike, nothing represents Christmas more than sitting around a table making batches and batches of tamales with loved ones. The tamalada, or tamale making party, has long been a Christmastime tradition of bringing together large groups of family and friends to spend the whole day making tamales. The process of making tamales isn’t difficult, but it is time and labor-intensive, so it’s important that the tamalada is fun and festive, complete with snacks, drinks, holiday music and laughter. 

While the prize of the tamalada is often seen as the tamales, I believe the ultimate reward is the happy memories made and togetherness of family while creating these amazing little bundles of joy. These tasty tamales are memory-making in their own right, though, because this recipe is truly unforgettable. Happy holidays!

Pork ingredients:

3-4 lb. pork shoulder

8 c. water

2 onions, quartered

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. oregano

3 tsp. cumin

Salt and pepper

Red chile sauce ingredients:

15-20 large dried guajillo chiles

6 cloves garlic

2 tsp. cumin

1 Tbsp. shortening

1 Tbsp. flour

Salt and pepper


6 c. pork broth (reserved from the cooked pork)

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. salt

¾ c. shortening

6 c. masa harina

Dried corn husks, 50-60 ct.

Start by making the pork the night before you plan on assembling the tamales. Add the pork shoulder, onions, garlic, water, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper to a slow cooker. Set on low and cook overnight for 10-12 hours.

In the morning, take the pork out of the slow cooker. Do not throw away the liquid in the slow cooker. Shred the pork with two forks and discard fat. Set aside in a large bowl. Strain the broth and set aside the broth. 

To make the red chile sauce, remove stems and seeds from the dried peppers. Place them on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from the oven and soak in a large bowl of hot water for about 30 minutes. Do NOT throw away the soaking water. Place the peppers, garlic, cumin and 2 ½ c. of the soaking water into a food processor until smooth. 

Make a roux in a saucepan over medium heat by melting the shortening and whisking in the flour until the mixture is smooth. Pour in the chile mixture and simmer for 5 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more soaking water until desired consistency is achieved. Add salt to taste.

Add shredded pork to the saucepan and simmer in the red chile sauce for 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.

Soak corn husks in hot water for about 20 minutes to soften while you make the masa. To make the masa, add shortening to the bowl of an electric mixture. Beat on medium for about 1 minute or until fluffy. Add one cup of masa harina, salt and baking powder while continuing to mix. Then add one cup of pork broth, alternating until 6 cups of each have been mixed together. The masa should have the consistency of a thick, creamy paste.

To assemble the tamales, spread about 2 Tbsp. of masa on the center of the husk into a thin layer. Place about 1 Tbsp. of the pork in the center of the masa. Fold the sides of the husk together until the masa comes together (like a taco). Then fold the button up and wrap. Tie with extra pieces of corn husks. 

Now it’s time to steam the tamales. Bring water to boil in a large pot with a steamer insert. Place a layer of leftover corn husks at the bottom of the steamer and then place the tamales on top of the husks, open side up, and somewhat tightly packed. Reduce heat to medium low and steam for 40 minutes. Add water as necessary during the steaming process. 

Unwrap tamales and serve with red chile sauce, green chile sauce or just plain! 

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