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How to: Christmas tamales

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In New Mexico, the holidays signal tamale time, so we trekked to Albuquerque to learn how to wrap ’em just right. Patrick Hancock, executive chef at the iconic El Pinto restaurant, and Laticia Chavez, whose family makes tamales for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Pueblo Harvest Café, divulge the secrets to perfectly tender batches with tamales to spare—or, as tends to happen with tamales, hoard in the freezer.


makes 50


6 cups masa harina

3½ teaspoons salt

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ cup shortening or lard

3 cups chicken or beef stock

1 package dried corn husks, soaked in water 4 hours or overnight

red chile, prepared carne adovada or other filling (optional)


Both Hancock and Chavez dry and grind their own corn into masa harina for ideal tamale texture, but storebought masa harina works, too; buy the freshest available. Stir together the masa harina, salt and baking powder. In a stand mixer, beat the shortening 1 minute. Add the masa mixture 1 cup at a time, then slowly add the stock, using just enough to make a thick, sticky, yet creamy dough.


Roll 2 to 3 tablespoons of masa dough into a ball, then, picturing each corn husk in thirds, use your fingers to press the dough into the center third of the widest part of one husk, forming a rectangle against the husk’s edge. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough (optional). Fold the top third over the dough, then wrap the bottom third up over the top third, wrapping the tamale snugly. Fold the empty end of the husk up and over the filled half; one end should remain open. Repeat with the remaining dough and husks, and arrange the tamales seam-side-down on a large baking sheet.


Chavez’s San Felipe tribe bakes tamales in cedar-fired hornos (outdoor adobe ovens); they’ll come out just as tender after 1 hour in a 375-degree oven, or steam a potful, covered, with the tamales’ open side up, for 40 minutes. Cooked (never raw) tamales freeze excellently; place tamales in large plastic bags, squeeze out any air, and freeze up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator, and steam 20 to 30 minutes.

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