My method for the most fluffy, delicious Pork Tamales Recipe is here! Learn how to make tamales with the softest masa, tender pork, and rich mole coloradito. An essential Mexican recipe to have for the holidays. Watch the video!
This recipe was first published in December 2015. Last updated, December 5, 2022.
The holidays haven’t begun until the Red Mole Pork Tamales are steaming on the stove! This step-by-step recipe will walk you through exactly how to make the most luscious pork-and-mole-filled homemade tamales for your family this Christmas.
wait—what are tamales?
Tamales are a dumpling of sorts and a staple of Mexican cooking although they are made all throughout Mexico and Central America and even in parts of South America too, like Venezuela, where they are called Hallacas.
At their most basic they are dough (made with a corn flour called masa harina or ground field corn) wrapped in either dried corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. They can be filled or not, sweet or savory, tiny or enormous.
The ones we are making today are the savory kind made with masa harina dough, filled with pork and mole sauce, and wrapped in corn husks. This is the traditional method of making them (in a steamer). If you’d like to try making them in the Instant Pot, check out Isabel’s Instant Pot Pork Tamales recipe.
what’s in a red mole pork tamales recipe?
Before we dive in to how to make the tamales, let’s look at the elements that make up the tamales. Here’s what you’ll need to have ready before you actually get to assembling them, plus soaked corn husks too:
- Boneless pork butt or shoulder
- White onion
- Kosher salt
- Bay leaves
- Black peppercorns
Mole Coloradito Ingredients
- Dried New Mexico chiles
- White onion
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Dried oregano
- Dried thyme
- Pumpkin seeds
- Bittersweet chocolate
- Masa harina
- Baking powder
- Kosher salt
- Broth from cooking pork or chicken broth
tools you’ll need
Make sure you have everything you need before getting started. The last thing you want to do is realize you don’t have the right equipment halfway through.
- 2 large stock pots for cooking the pork and soaking corn husks. The large pot needs to be at least 12 quarts but if you have a bigger one, that’s better.
- Large colander
- A large (12-quart) heat-proof container for holding broth
- Large cast iron skillet or comal or griddle for toasting chiles
- Heavy-duty blender for mole sauce
- Fine mesh sieve
- Large mixing bowl for mixing masa.
- Tamalera or large pot lined with a steamer basket for steaming the tamales.
nice to have
These things aren’t absolutely necessary, but make preparing the tamales easier.
- Masa spreaders
- Stack of kitchen towels
- Stainless steel tongs
How To Make Tamales!
step 1: soak the corn husks
Dried corn husks need at least an hour to soak in boiling water before they become soft enough to use.
Most people put the dried husks in a large bowl and pour very hot water over them. I like to bring a large stock pot of water to a boil, turn off the heat, add the corn husks and submerge them under the water with a heavy plate.
step 2: cook the pork
Cooking the pork is the next step because you will use the leftover broth to make the mole sauce and the masa dough. Combine the pork shoulder with the onions, garlic, bay leaf, black peppercorns and salt in the largest stock pot you have. Fill it with water and bring water to a boil. It may seem like a lot of liquid, but you will need a lot of broth later for the other ingredients.
Simmer the pork until tender and falling apart, about 3 hours. Remove the pork from the pot and let cool. Strain the broth and set aside. Shred the pork.
step 3: make the mole sauce
This recipe makes a lot of mole sauce. Serve any leftover after filling the tamales as a sauce to spoon over the tamales.
Toast the chiles on a hot comal. Stir chiles frequently to keep from burning.
Soak the chiles and raisins in hot water. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add toasted chiles and the raisins. Remove from heat and let soak until softened, at least 30 minutes.
Char the onions and garlic. Place the onions and garlic on the same comal you used to toast the chiles. Keep turning until they are charred on all sides.
Char the tomatoes. Now do the same with the tomatoes.
Blend and strain the chiles and raisin mixture. Drain the chiles and raisins and place in batches in the blender. Add 1/4 cup of the pork cooking liquid to each batch and blend until smooth. Push through a fine mesh strainer.
Blend and strain the onions, garlic, and spices. Now peel the garlic and add to the blender along with the onions, pepitas, canela, herbs and spices. Add 1/4 cup of the pork broth and blend until smooth.
Blend and strain the tomatoes.
Fry the sauce. Melt a couple tablespoons of lard in a large pot or Dutch oven then add the purees and fry in the lard.
step 4: make the masa
Mix the masa harina with baking powder, salt, and warm stock leftover from cooking the pork. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough sit for 15 minutes to rehydrate.
Beat fat (you can use lard, vegetable shortening, or even butter) in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add handfuls of the rehydrated masa to the fat in the mixer. With the mixer on medium speed, continue beating in the masa until all has been added. Check and see if you need to add more broth to maintain the right consistency of wet mashed potatoes.
step 5: wrap and steam the tamales
The last step is assembling the tamales by filling the soaked corn husks with the masa dough, pork, and mole sauce. Then steam them in the tamalera. Here are the steps:
- Lay a corn husk on a clean surface and dry with a damp paper towel and place it with the widest side facing toward you.
- Add about 1/3 cup of masa. Spreading the masa on the bottom half of the corn husk, leaving a border around the edge.
- Place a few pieces of pork in the middle—don’t over fill.
- Add a spoonful of mole on top.
- Then roll the long side of the husk up and fold the small end over the large end.
- Steam tamales upright until the masa is cooked through and bounces back when you poke it with your finger. This takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
step 6: Serving
The tamales will keep warm in the steamer for 2-3 hours. Cover with a damp towel or a layer of corn husks over the top of the tamales and turn the heat to low. Keep the lid on the pot to prevent from drying out.
You can also keep them warm in a slow cooker. Pour about 2 cups of water in the bottom of a slow cooker, place warm tamales, open-side up on top of the water, cover with a clean kitchen towel then the lid to the slow cooker and set on the warm setting.
If you are reheating the tamales in the slow cooker, you will need to give them about an hour on low heat to rewarm, then you can switch it to the warm setting. Serve with warm mole sauce for spooning over the top.
Any leftovers will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
more tamales recipes to try!
- Strawberry Tamales with Horchata Sauce
- Pork Tamales with Salsa Verde
- Mexican Chocolate Sweet Tamales with Hot Honey
- Apple Braised Beef Tamales
- Tahini Potato and Kale Vegan Tamales
- Chili Verde Shredded Chicken Tamales
- Chicken Tamales with Pumpkin & Mole Sauce
From Our Family To Yours
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Red Mole Pork Tamales
My method for the most fluffy, delicious Pork Tamales Recipe is here! Learn how to make tamales with softest masa, tender pork, and rich mole coloradito. An essential Mexican recipe to have for the holidays. Watch the video!
For the Pork:
- 4 pounds pork shoulder
- 2 large onions, quartered
- 8 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
For the Red Mole:
- 32 New Mexico Chiles, stem and seeds removed
- 1 cup raisins
- 2 large onions, quartered
- 16 unpeeled cloves garlic
- 4-inch piece canela or cinnamon stick
- 1 cup raw pepitas
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 tomatoes, cored
- 1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 50 dried corn husks
For the Masa:
- 6 cups Masa Harina (corn flour)
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 10-11 cups pork cooking liquid
- 2 cups lard or vegetable shortening
For the Pork:
- Combine and bring to a boil. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot. Fill the pot with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.
- Cook until very tender. Cover and cook until meat is very tender, about 3 hours. Remove pork from liquid and strain broth into a heatproof container; reserve broth. Let meat cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.
For the Mole:
- Toast dried chiles. Heat a dry cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat. Place chiles in the skillet and toast until darkened in color and fragrant (you may need to do this in batches).
- Soak chiles and raisins. Heat a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Place chiles and raisins in the hot water. Remove from heat and let soak for 30 minutes.
- Char vegetables and toast canela and pepitas. Place onions and garlic in the dry skillet and char, turning occasionally, until darkened on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. Add canela to the skillet and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes, remove and add pepitas. Toast until they begin to pop and darken.
- Char tomatoes. Finally add the tomatoes to the skillet and char on all sides until darkened and skin is cracked, about 10 minutes.
- Blend chiles. Strain chiles and raisins and place them in a blender (you might have to do a few chiles at a time depending on the strength and size of your blender) with a 1/4 cup or so of the pork cooking liquid. Blend until smooth, adding more liquid if necessary to get the blender moving. Push through a fine mesh strainer and set aside.
- Puree vegetables. Peel garlic then add them to the blender along with the onions, canela, pumpkin seeds, oregano, salt, thyme, and pepper to the blender with about 1/4 cup of the pork cooking liquid. Again, do in batches if your blender is small. Blend, adding more liquid if necessary, until smooth. Strain into the bowl with the chile mixture.
- Puree tomatoes. Peel the tomatoes and add to the blender. Puree until smooth. Strain into a separate bowl.
- Fry mole sauce. Heat the lard in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once shimmering add the chile mixture (be careful, it will spurt and sputter) and stir constantly until darkened and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook 5-10 minutes more. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Taste and add more salt as needed. If the mole seems very thick add 1/4 cup or so of the pork stock, but not too much, the sauce should coat the back of a spoon, but not be clumpy.
- Soak corn husks. Cover the husks with hot water and let soak at least 2 hours before beginning. You may need to weigh them down to completely submerge in the water.
For the Masa:
- Mix dry ingredients. Combine masa harina, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Add pork broth. Add cooking liquid and mix it into the flour with your hands until the dough is uniformly wet and soft. It needs to be easily spreadable but not runny, like the consistency of fluffy mashed potatoes. Add more cooking liquid if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and let rehydrate for 20 minutes.
- Beat lard. Working in 2 batches, beat 1 cup of the lard or shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the blade attachment until lightly and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With mixer on medium-low speed add small handfuls of masa harina mixture letting each one beat in before adding the next until half of the masa has been added. Masa should be easily spreadable, like very fluffy mashed potatoes. If it is too thick, add more broth, 1/4 cup at a time, until you have a smooth mixture. Repeat with the second cup of lard and remaining masa.
- Prep tamalera. Fill a large tamalera with enough water to reach the rack where the tamales will sit. If you don't have a tamalera you can fill the bottom of a large stock pot with water and place a wire rack in the bottom.
- Fill corn husks with masa. Dry one corn husk on both sides with a clean kitchen towel. Hold the widest part of the husk closest to you and use a large soup spoon to spread about 1/3 cup of masa from about the middle to the bottom and out to the sides, leaving about 1/2-inch on each side (but not the bottom).
- Add meat and mole sauce and roll up. Place about 2-3 tablespoons of meat in the center and top with about 1 tablespoon of sauce. Fold one clean side over the the other clean side and roll tightly to secure. Fold the pointy end up towards the top and place open-side-up on the rack of the steamer. Continue until all the masa and meat have been used. Use remaining mole for serving.
- Steam. Place the steamer over medium heat and cook tamales until firm and no longer doughy in the middle, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove from husks and serve with salsa, extra mole, or guacamole.
This recipe is very involved but most of the steps can be made ahead. If you break it up into chunks it's not too bad.
The pork and mole can be made up to 3 days in advance and the husks can soak overnight.
Call some friends over to help you assemble; tamales taste better if they are made by those you love. A 15-Quart Tamale Steamer makes quick work of cooking the tamales. You can find them at most Mexican markets or online here.
Tamales will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
Reheat by placing in a frying pan with 1/4 cup or so of water, cover and steam until hot.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1706Total Fat: 112gSaturated Fat: 40gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 61gCholesterol: 560mgSodium: 368mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 159g
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