Pork Tamales with Salsa Verde- authentic Mexican Tamales filled with tender pork shoulder and tangy tomatillo salsa, perfect for your holiday feast! These are time consuming, but can be made in stages, or even better—with friends!
What’s your favorite kind of tamal?
This is kind of an impossible question, I mean what’s not to love? Fluffy, soft masa wrapped around just about anything is wonderful, but these pork tamales verdes are definitely the most requested in our house.
Tamales are traditionally enjoyed during the holidays in Mexico and here in the United States.
Making them is such an undertaking that the tamales themselves are a reason to celebrate.
Tamaladas are festive occasions where family and friends gather together to make and eat tamales.
With this recipe, we can use pork as a passport to turn our kitchens into a Mexican tamalada, so grab whoever is near, throw on an apron and let’s get started!
what you’ll need to make these pork tamales
If you’ve never made tamales before, it may seem like a daunting task, but I’ve got you.
We’re going to take this step-by-step and the most logical place to start is figuring out what we need. Get all your ducks in a row by gathering your goods:
- 2 large stock pots. One large pot for soaking the corn husks and one for cooking the pork. They need to be at least 12 quarts each.
- 1 large saucepan. For making the chili verde salsa. At least 4 quarts big.
- Blender. For blending the salsa.
- Stand mixer with paddle attachment. For beating masa.
- Several large bowls.
- Several large spoons.
- Steamer pot. Also called a tamalera or vaporera. You could also use a large pot (at least 12 quarts) with a lid and steamer basket.
- Boneless pork shoulder. This well-marbled cut of pork stays tender and juicy even when it has been cooked for a long time and shreds into bite-size strips making it perfect for this recipe.
- Dry corn husks.
- Freshly ground corn masa. Also called masa quebrada or masa sin preparar. Not masa preparada. (more on this later).
- Fresh pork lard. Look for this at the butcher counter of your local Latin market. Sometimes labeled manteca de puerco.
- Baking powder
how to make pork tamales
There are several components that go into making tamales. The nice thing is that each component can be made on its own over a series of days.
Breaking it up this way makes the process more manageable. That being said, if you did want to make them start to finish, you can do that as well, it takes about 6 hours.
I’m going to go through each component in the order they should be made as if you were to make the pork tamales all the way through.
I’ll give notes along the way as to how to do the steps in advance and how to store the ingredients until you’re ready to assemble.
step 1: soak the corn husks
Dried corn husks are the wrapper that the tamales get steamed in. You don’t actually eat them.
When you buy them they are very stiff and need at least an hour in hot water to be soft enough to fold around the masa without breaking.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Turn heat off and place about 1/2 pound of corn husks in the hot water. Weigh down with a bowl so they are fully submerged. Soak at least 1 hour.
Drain well before filling.
You may not use all these corn husks, but it’s better to have too many, than not enough. Many are too small or broken and can’t be used. You will use those to line the tamalera or you can overlap two smaller ones to make one bigger corn husk for filling.
If you do have leftovers, you can freeze the soaked corn husks and use them again later after they’ve thawed out.
Make ahead: Corn husks can also be soaked overnight in the refrigerator.
step 2: cook the pork
The second step is to cook the pork. It takes 2 hours for the pork to become tender and you also need the pork broth to make the masa dough. So this step is next.
Combine all the pork ingredients in the other large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and gently cook the pork until it easily shreds with a fork.
Make ahead: Pork can be made up to 3-4 days in advance. Save the broth!
step 3: make the salsa verde
This is my go-to salsa verde recipe that I almost always have in the fridge.
It is a tad bit spicy on it’s own, but becomes more mild when mixed with the pork and other ingredients.
Mix two-thirds of the salsa with the shredded pork. Save a third for serving with the tamales.
Make ahead: Salsa can be made 3-4 days in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.
step 4: make the masa dough
For these pork tamales we are using fresh ground nixtamilized field corn instead of masa harina or corn flour to make the dough.
Look for this at your local Latin market, they will have it or be able to grind it for you if they make their own tortillas.
There could be several varieties of this masa, which can make things confusing.
What you want is coarsely ground corn that has nothing else added to it. It is usually labeled: Masa sin preparar quebrada para tamales, meaning: Coarsely ground masa for tamales without any added ingredients.
They could also have masa preparada which has the baking powder, lard, and salt already added and masa para tortillas which is a more finely ground masa for making corn tortillas.
If you can’t find fresh masa, follow the instructions in this Red Mole Pork Tamales recipe for making masa with masa harina.
The secret to making fluffy, tender tamales is to beat the lard for a really long time until it is light and really whipped, at least 5 minutes.
After the lard is airy, add hunks of the masa bit by bit, continuing to beat until the dough itself is super soft. Slowly mix in some pork broth until it has a spreadable consistency, like peanut butter.
Depending on the size of your stand mixer, you may have to do this in batches. My mixer is only 4 quarts and I do two batches to give the masa plenty of room to mix. If you have a 6 quart mixer or similar you can probably do it in one batch.
step 5: prep the steamer pot
The water in the steamer needs to have boiling water in it before you put the tamales in there.
Fill the bottom half of the steamer pot with water. Place the steamer insert inside the pot and line with corn husks that are too small or torn for filling.
Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so it’s just simmering.
step 6: assemble the tamales
Now we can finally put everything all together!
Take one corn husk that is about as wide as your hand on the bottom, dry both sides with a kitchen towel.
Spoon about 1/3 cup of masa on the wide end of the corn husk. Spread in an even layer on the bottom half of the corn husk, leaving about 1/2-inch border on the right, left, and bottom sides.
Place about 2-3 tablespoons of the pork filling in a line down the middle.
Fold the right side of the corn husk over the left side and pull as tight as you can without the filling spilling out the top. Roll up.
Fold the triangle tip over the wide bottom. Tie with corn husk strips if you’d like.
Repeat with remaining masa and filling.
Make ahead: Tamales can be frozen at this point for up to 6 months. Place a dozen or so tamales in gallon-sized plastic sealable bags and freeze. Steam from frozen (for an extra 20-30 minutes) when ready to eat.
step 7: cook the tamales
Place tamales, vertically, open-side up in the tamales steamer. Lean the tamales against the side of the pot to keep from falling until you have enough in the pot that they support each other.
Place over medium high heat so there’s lots of steam. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and then the lid.
Steam until masa is cooked through, about 40-50 minutes. Check occasionally to add more water to the steamer if needed.
To see if the tamales are ready, remove one from the pot and let cool for a few minutes. Unwrap and see if the masa is cooked in the middle. It should be firm, fluffy, and spring back when you press on it.
If they are ready, unwrap, top with remaining salsa verde and enjoy!
how to store
As I mentioned, tamales can be frozen before or after they are cooked.
Let cool completely, then place a dozen in a gallon-sized freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
They also keep for 4-5 days, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator.
how to reheat
You can reheat in the microwave, but I don’t recommend it. The edges tend to get hard and rubbery.
The best way to reheat tamales is to place a few in a skillet, add 1/4 cup or so of water, cover and heat over medium heat until warm all the way through, about 15 minutes.
more pork recipes to try!
- Red Mole Pork Tamales
- Instant Pot Pork Tinga
- Crispy Pork Milanesa
- Three-Ingredient Pork Flautas
- The Best Crispy Instant Pot Pork Carnitas
- Crock Pot Mexican Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- Instant Pot Pork Chili Verde with Cheese
a tamales recipe to make for the holidays
This pork tamales recipe with salsa verde is the kind of delicious commitment we love. Make it a holiday family tradition! If you try it, let me know how you like it. Share a photo and tag me on Instagram @holajalapeno and #holajalapeno or leave me a comment below!
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