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Mississippi Delta Tamales



  • 6 to 8 pounds boneless meat (pork shoulder, chuck roast or chicken)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin


  • Corn husks

Corn Meal Dough

  • 8 cups yellow corn meal or masa mix (available in most grocery stores)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 2/3 cups lard or vegetable shortening
  • 6 to 8 cups warm meat broth (from cooking the meat)


  1. Filling: Cut meat into large chunks and place in a large, heavy pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until meat is very tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove meat and reserve cooking liquid.
  2. When meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard any skin and large chunks of fat. Shred or dice meat into small pieces. There should be about 14 to 16 cups of meat.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin. Add meat and stir to coat with oil and spices. Cook, stirring often, until meat is thoroughly heated, 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Wrappers: While meat is cooking, soak husks in a large bowl of very warm water, until softened and pliable, about 2 hours. Gently separate husks into single leaves, trying not to tear them. Wash off any dust and discard any corn silks. Keep any shucks that split to the side, since two small pieces can be overlapped and used as one.
  5. Corn Meal Dough: Stir corn meal, baking powder, salt and lard together in a large bowl until well blended. Gradually stir in enough warm meat broth to make soft, spongy dough the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. The dough should be quite moist, but not wet. Cover with a damp cloth.
  6. To assemble the tamales, remove a corn husk from water and pat it dry. Lay husk on a work surface. Spread about 1/4 cup of the dough in an even layer across the wide end of husk to within 1 inch of edges. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of meat mixture in a line down the center of dough. Roll husk so that dough surrounds filling and forms a cylinder or package. Fold bottom under to close. Place tamales in a single layer on a baking sheet. Repeat until all dough and filling is used.
  7. Stand tamales upright, closed side down, in a large pot. Place enough tamales in the pot so that they do not fall over or unroll. Carefully fill pot with enough water to come just to the top of the tamales, trying not to pour water directly into the tamales. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until dough is firm and pulls away from the husk easily and cleanly, about 1 hour.
  8. If you prefer to steam tamales, stand tamales upright, closed side down, in a large steamer basket. Cover with a damp towel or additional husks. Steam tamales over simmering water until dough is firm and pulls away from the husk easily and cleanly, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
  9. Serve tamales warm, in their husks. Remove husks to eat.

Yield: 7 to 8 dozen

Recipe used with permission from Southern Foodways Alliance.

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