Pork and Red Chili Tamal


  • 4 medium dried ancho chiles or 6 dried New Mexico (red) chiles, stemmed and seeded.
  • 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 slice (1 1/2 inches thick) white onion
  • 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup chilled rich tasting lard (or shortening)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups Masa Harina for tamales mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water, then allowed to cool
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cool beef broth, divided
  • 1 (2-foot) length banana leaf, if available (thawed if frozen)


  1. One at a time, toast the chiles on an ungreased skillet over medium heat. To do this, tear the chile into flat pieces. Use a metal spatula to press the pieces flat against the flat surface, then in a few seconds (when they crackle and change color, even send up a wisp of smoke), flip them and press down to toast the other side.
  2. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and rehydrate them for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Strain, reserving the soaking liquid.
  3. In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic, black pepper and onion with chiles and just enough of the soaking liquid to barely cover everything. Process to a smooth puree, then press through a medium mesh strainer into a medium (2-3 quart) saucepan.
  4. Add the pork cubes, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, cover partly, and let gurgle away over medium low heat about 1 hr. or until the kitchen is filled with a rich, spicy aroma and the meat is fall-apart tender.
  5. With a slotted spoon, remove the meat to a plate and shred with two forks (or let cool and shred with your fingers). Taste and season the sauce with salt (usually about 1/2 teaspoon), then let sauce cool completely. There will be about 1 1/2 cups shredded meat and 2 cups sauce.
  6. With an electric mixer, beat the lard with the baking powder about 1 minute or until light in texture. Continue beating as you add the Masa Harina mixture in three additions. Slowly pour in a generous 1/3 cup broth, beating all the while. Beat in 3 or 4 tablespoons of the cooled sauce. Beat in additional broth (2 to 3 tablespoons) if necessary to o give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; It should softly hold its shape in a spoon. Season with salt (usually about 1 scant teaspoon) depending upon the saltiness of the broth.
  7. For the lightest textured tamal, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding enough additional broth (up to 1/3 cup) to bring the consistency it had before. Add salt to taste, if necessary.
  8. If you have the banana leaf, slowly run it across a gas or electric burner set on medium (you're moving at the right speed when the leaf becomes shiny and limp as it crosses the heat). Cut a 9-inch section of the leaf. Put the leaf in a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan to line the pan, pressing it snugly against the sides and bottom, leaving the flaps hanging over the sides (the ends will still be exposed). If you are unable to find banana leaves, just omit these steps. Scoop half of the batter into the pan, then distribute the shredded meat over the batter. Splash with several tablespoons of the sauce, spoon in the remaining batter, and smooth it to cover the filling evenly. If using banana leaf, fold the flaps over the top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, even if not using banana leaf.
  9. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for about 30 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 1 hour. Peel back the foil and the banana leaf. The tamal should feel nearly firm in the center. If it still feels soft (like there is still uncooked batter in there), cover and return to the oven for a few more minutes.
  10. Let tamal stand for a few minutes to firm up while you warm up the remaining sauce. Gently turn out the tamal onto a cutting board. Peel off the banana leaf if you used one. Cut into thick slices (it's rustic - somewhat crumbly - so the slices won't be perfect). Serve on warm plates with a little sauce spooned over the top.

Yield: 8 first course servings; 4 to 6 main course servings.

Source: recipe by Rick Bayless

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