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Morning Shift

Comfort Food: All About Tamales

What’s your go-to comfort food? 

Morning Shift has been exploring favorite comfort foods this chilly season, from beef stew with red miso to savory meat pies to caramelized pears in a warm cream sauce. And during this time of year, with the holiday season in full swing, tamales, too, can be a go-to comfort food. The weeks heading into Christmas are, for many Mexican families, a time to gather in the kitchen and take part in a tamalada — or a tamal-making party. 

Morning Shift talks to Dayna Calderón about her family’s tamalada tradition ahead of Christmas.

Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia makes tamales with his mother and oldest sister, Alida. (Courtesy of Tony Sarabia)

Tamales De Los Calderón Y Los Reyes

By Dayna Calderón

This recipe is for 15-20 pounds of meat. This should make about 200 small tamales.

Note: Use 5 lbs less of meat than masa.  For example:  30 pounds of masa = 25 pounds of meat. This will always be trial and error – you may have too much or too little meat for your tamales.

Try 8 pounds of meat with 10 pounds of masa as an experiment.


Courtesy of Dayna Calderon

Chile Ancho – 1 pound (Seed, rinse, and toast.)

This chile is used for color and flavor, not necessarily for spice. Removing the seeds makes for better blending and eliminates bitterness.

Wear gloves — latex/vinyl surgical gloves are best — because the chiles are hot and can burn your fingers while de-seeding.

Toasting is optional, but adds flavor!

Let anchos bake in oven on cookie sheet for 5 minutes at 350 degrees; turn once halfway through.

You can also toast these on the stove top on a cast iron skillet: keep turning, don’t burn!

Chile Mulato (sometimes called chile negros) – this chile is used for its full flavor!

Open and clean seeds as you did with the anchos, but do not toast.

Use 3-4 mulatos for every pound of ancho

Cooking your chiles

In a large pot combine your chile anchos and chile mulatos. Cover with water.

Add 6-8 cloves of chopped garlic.

Cover and bring chiles to a boil.

Leave covered and turn off heat, let chiles cool.

Ladle chiles into blender with water from pot.

Strain your mixture into another pot. Discard excess skins and seeds.

Hot Peppers


  • ½ pound hot peppers (serranos, japones, or jalapenos – or mix all 3) – these are used for spice! Cut tails from chiles. Do not remove seeds. These will be strained out later, but you need them now for their “heat.”
  • 2 lbs tomatillos
  • 2 cans (1lb, 13 oz size) tomato sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped

Bring to a boil.

Cool for a minimum of an hour.

Blend in a blender.

Strain this hot mixture – removing all seeds/skins.

Courtesy of Dayna Calderon

Add your chiles slowly to your ancho mixture. You will want to test the spiciness as you go along. Remember that once the sauce is combined with the meat you will lose some of that zest.  So, it is OK to go a bit overboard.  It’s to your own taste!

Add to taste:

  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1-2 tablespoons cumin powder

Bring mixture back to stove and simmer. The chile must cook down to lose moisture and gain thickness.

Prepare the pork

Courtesy of Dayna Calderon

This recipe is for 15-20 pounds of meat

Meat: A boneless pork loin roast will have much less fat and will be easier to use. It is, however, more expensive. Or you can use a pork shoulder – fattier = tastier.

Trim fat and cut into small pieces for easier cooking.

To prepare  (for every 5 pounds of meat)

Season to taste:

  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic (may use crushed)
  • Black pepper

Braise (brown) cubed meat on stove top.

Transfer meat to large roasting pan with onion and garlic.

Add about 1 cup of water.

Seal tightly with foil.

Roast in oven for approximately 2 hours.

Once meat is cooled, break meat into smaller pieces (by hand) – this should be small enough to easily stuff your tamales. Discard the onion and garlic.

Add ancho mixture to meat until it is completely covered.

Cook uncovered and bring to a boil – approximately 2 hours or until sauce reduces.

Wrapping your tamales

Corn husks

Masa preparada (with salt) — “Masa preparada” is prepared so you don’t have to do anything to this.  It’s ready to go!

You can mix this up more to make a lighter, fluffier tamal, you can add leftover pork fat to add flavor to the masa!

Spread your husk with the mass, fill with meat, wrap left over right and pull the pointy side down!

Steam for 1- 2 hours, depending on the size of your pot.

Courtesy of Tony Sarabia

Test your tamale: Take one from the top, set it out for about a minute or two.  If the tamale rolls out of the husk easily, it is done!  If it’s sticks to the husk, keep cooking!

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