As the days get longer, and warmer winds start to blow, I begin to crave all manner of smoked/grilled meats, fresh summer produce and Mexican food. In truth, I like to eat Mexican food year-round, but I always seem to crave it more during summer months.
To satiate these urges, I prepared a monstrous batch of Pulled Pork Tamales with Corn Salsa.
Succulent BBQ pork is encased in a tender masa shell and topped with a vibrant salsa made with corn, chile, red onion, cilantro and lime. Prepared in a slow cooker, the pork is simple to make, yet tastes like it’s been sitting in a smoker all day. The corn salsa is packed with fresh flavors accented by tantalizing hits of chopped serrano chile.
Making tamales at home might seem a bit daunting. However, none of the steps below are complicated. Plus, after learning the process, it’s easy to switch up the ingredients to fit any taste. Substitute pulled pork with braised beef, Buffalo chicken or roasted vegetables. When I make tamales, I like to invite friends over to help with each of the steps. Throw some margaritas in the mix, and you’ve got yourself a fiesta!
Pulled Pork Tamales with Corn Salsa
To make the slow-cooked pulled pork:
1/4 cup paprika
2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. dry mustard (preferably freshly ground)
6 lbs. largely boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt, country-style pork ribs or picnic ham will also work), cut into 3-inch chunks
1/2 cup hickory bottled smoke
Heaping 1/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
To make the tamales:
8-oz. package dried cornhusks
1 1/3 cups pork lard, room temperature2 tsp. fine grain sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 lbs. (about 4 cups) fresh coarse-ground corn masa
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. sugar, plus more to taste
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
Season the pork. To make the rub, add paprika, kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and dry mustard in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Measure out a heaping 1/4 cup and save the remainder in an airtight container. This makes enough rub for 2 batches of pulled pork. Sprinkle each chunk of pork with the seasoning, coating all sides.
Slow-cook the pork. Pour bottled smoke into the bottom of a large slow-cooker, then add the chunks of rubbed pork. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours until the pork shreds very easily. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the pork from the juices at the bottom. Shred pork and discard any bones. Measure out 4 cups of pulled pork for the tamales. Toss pork in BBQ sauce until each bit is well coated. Reserve remaining pork for another use (pulled pork sandwiches!).
Prepare the cornhusks. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place cornhusks in a large roasting pan (I used a 15" pan). Carefully pour the boiling water over the cornhusks. You’ll want to fill the pan up about halfway. Place a smaller baking dish (9 x 13") on top of the cornhusks to keep them submerged. Let soak for 2 hours until pliable.
After 2 hours, go through the cornhusks and find 24 of the largest and most pliable husks. They should be at least 6 inches across on the wider end and at least 6 inches long. If you can’t find ones that large, you can overlap two to make a large enough surface. Pat the corn husks dry with a towel. Tear some of the remaining cornhusks into 1/4-inch strips. Keep these strips in the water until you’re ready to form the tamales.
Prepare the batter. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add lard, salt and baking powder. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add masa in three additions, beating on medium-high until fully incorporated. Reduce speed to medium-low, then add 1 cup of chicken stock. Beat for another minute, then do a float test. If a 1/2 tsp. of the batter floats in a cup of cold water, then it’s ready. If your batter doesn’t float, beat for a little while longer and test again. Beat in additional chicken stock to give the mixture the consistency of soft cake batter. The batter should hold its shape in a spoon. You don’t want a runny mixture.
Set up the steamer. I cooked my tamales in a tamal steamer. Place several coffee mugs in the bottom of the steamer. Set a wire rack on top of the mugs. Fill the bottom of the steamer with water. The water should come about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the mugs. Line the rack with some of the leftover cornhusks. If you don’t have a tamal steamer, use the largest pot you have. You’ll need enough room to stand all of the tamales up inside with space between each. If you don’t have a wire rack, you can use a collapsible vegetable steamer insert.
Form the tamales. Lay out one of the chosen cornhusks with the narrow end closest to you. Spoon about 1/4 cup of batter on to the middle of the husk then spread into a 4-inch square. This isn’t an exact science - just make sure you don’t spread the batter all the way to the edges. Spread a small spoonful of BBQ pork down the middle of the batter. Don’t overfill! Bring the two long sides of the cornhusk up so the ends meet and the batter surrounds the BBQ pork filling. Roll both sides in the same direction around the tamal. Fold up the bottom tip, then tie with a strip of cornhusk (see images for process). Stand the tamal up, tied-end down, in the prepared steamer (the top end remains open). Repeat with remaining cornhusks. Be sure to leave a little space between the tamales in the steamer, as they will expand a bit.
Cook the tamales. Once all tamales are standing in the steamer, cover with a clean kitchen towel. Cover the kitchen towel with a plastic bag and then clamp on the lid. Steam over constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours, adding boiling water to the pot if needed. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let the tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up.
Serve and enjoy. Place a tamal on a small plate and peel back the cornhusk. Spoon corn salsa over the tamal, and dive in!
*Tamales and corn salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for several months. To reheat the tamales, cook them for 15 minutes in the steamer or for 2 minutes in a microwave wrapped in a wet paper towel.