Mississippi boasts a Hot Tamale Trail. Yes, you read that right. Tamales ― those delectable packets of corn-based dough stuffed with pork, beef, chicken, cheese or vegetables and cooked in a corn
husk ― are usually more associated with Mexican culture. But the trail was created by the Southern Foodways Alliance to celebrate this ubiquitous dish, which finds its way from Tunica in the north, all the way to Lumberton in the south.
No one is really sure of the tamale’s origins in this area of the country. Some say U.S. soldiers brought them back from Mexico after the Mexican-American War which took place in the middle of the 19th century. Others think African-Americans adopted the recipe from Mexicans who labored alongside them in cotton fields early in the 20th century. Hot tamales are usually made with pork rather than beef or chicken, and are spicier than their Latin-counterparts.
Tamales are certainly labor intensive but this recipe makes a ton and they freeze beautifully. You can also make the meat on day one, and then make the dough and simmer them the following day. More hands make light work so grab a friend or two and make it a tamale party.
If a road trip to Mississippi is in your future, check out Southern Foodways Alliance Hot Tamale Trail Map.
- 7-8 lb. pork shoulder
- Vegetable oil
- 2 onions, sliced thickly
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- ¼ cup chili powder
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 3-6 cups chicken stock
- 2 sticks of butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons, baking powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 5 cups MaSeCa brand masa harina
- 5-6 cups reserved cooking liquid from meat
- 16 oz. package, dried corn husks
For the filling: Take pork shoulder and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large heavy pot on medium heat, heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil. When hot, add the pork, searing on all sides until well browned. Remove the meat and set aside. Add onions and cook until softened. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Return meat to pot, and then add enough chicken stock so that meat is covered. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until meat is very tender and falling off bone, about 2 1/2 hours.
While meat is cooking, take corn husks and separate them. Place in a large bowl. Add enough hot water so that they are completely submerged, adding another bowl on top of them if necessary to keep them underwater. Let corn husks soak for about 2 hours.
When meat is done, remove from it the pot and reserve cooking liquid, discarding skin, fat and other solids. When meat is cool enough to handle, shred meat from bone, again discarding fat and bone. Dice meat into smaller pieces. Add spices (chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, cumin, salt, oregano and cayenne pepper) and stir until well coated. Set aside.
For the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add baking powder, then add salt. With mixer on low, add masa harina gradually, alternating with half cups of reserved cooking liquid. To test if done, drop a pea sized ball of dough into a glass of cold water, the ball should float to the top. If it does not, add a ¼ teaspoon of baking powder and continue mixing a few minutes more to incorporate more air into the dough.
To assemble: Remove a corn husk from the water and pat until dry. Fan out so that wide part is closest to you. Take ¼ cup of dough and spread thinly in an even rectangle, leaving about an inch of space on the left side of the husk. Add 2 tablespoons of meat in center of dough rectangle. Carefully fold the husk over so that the right side of rectangle meets the left side. Gently press to seal closed and then flatten tamale slightly to ensure even cooking. Tuck the thin end over. Stack tamales on a sheet pan and continue until you run out of filling or dough.
To steam tamales: Add one or two inches of water into a large pot. Add steamer insert. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low so that water is simmering. Stack tamales vertically, open end up, folded side toward the water, making sure they are not crowded. Place a few extra corn husks on top and cover with a lid. Steam for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, keeping an eye on the water so that it does not evaporate. Tamales are done when they easily peel away from the husks.