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Hatch Red Chile Pork Tamales: A New Mexico Kitchen Adventure

How to make Tamales

The aroma of Hatch red chiles mingling with savory pork and warm masa is pure New Mexico magic. Making tamales takes time and effort, but the results – flavorful bundles of tradition – are well worth the reward. They’re perfect for gatherings or freezing for future feasts. Here’s your expanded guide to creating these delicious culinary treasures.

The Masa: Heart of the Tamale

  • Dried Masa Harina:
    • Follow the package instructions as a starting point for the water-to-masa ratio.
    • For a richer, softer masa, beat in lard or vegetable shortening. Using a stand mixer or electric beaters makes this process much easier.
    • Enhance the flavor by swapping some of the water for warm chicken or pork broth.
    • Season generously with salt! The masa makes up a significant portion of the tamale’s flavor profile.
    • Check for doneness: A small ball of masa should float in a cup of hot water.
  • Frozen Prepared Masa:
    • Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
    • If it feels too moist, add small amounts of masa harina or cornstarch until it reaches a manageable consistency.
    • The flavor is typically pre-seasoned, but it may need an additional touch of salt.

The Red Chile Sauce: Fiery Soul of the Dish

  1. The Chiles: Use dried Hatch red chile pods for the most authentic, complex flavor. Lightly toasting them in a dry skillet will enhance their aroma. Rehydrate them in warm water according to our Crimson Chile Concoction recipe [include hyperlink to the previous recipe].
  2. The Base: Blend the rehydrated chiles with garlic, onion, cumin, Mexican oregano, salt, and pepper, ensuring a smooth, velvety consistency.

For more information, be sure to check out our recipe to make red chile sauce!

The Pork: Tender and Flavorful

  1. Cut: Pork shoulder or butt are ideal, cut into large chunks. Keep plenty of fat for optimal flavor and lusciousness.
  2. Season: Generously coat the pork with salt, pepper, cumin, and some red chile powder.
  3. Cook: Several methods work well!
    • Braise slowly in a Dutch oven with a bit of your red chile sauce. This yields the most tender, flavorful pork.
    • Use a pressure cooker (like an Instant Pot) for a faster process.
    • For maximum caramelization, brown the chunks first, then simmer in the sauce until tender.
  4. Shred: Remove any bones and use two forks to shred the pork for a perfect tamale filling.

Assembly: Tradition in the Making

  1. Soak Corn Husks: Submerge dried corn husks in hot water until pliable. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
  2. Spread the Masa: Aim for a thin layer (about ¼ inch) over the wider part of the husk. A masa spreader tool helps, but an offset spatula works as well.
  3. Fill and Fold:
    • Add a generous spoonful of filling and a bit of sauce down the center of the masa.
    • Fold the sides of the husk together, then fold over the narrower end.
  4. Secure: Use strips of soaked husk to tie the tamales for steaming.

Steaming: The Final Step

  • A dedicated tamale steamer is ideal, but a large pot with a steamer insert works well.
  • Arrange tamales upright, ensuring the open ends face up.
  • Steam for 1-2 hours, checking water levels periodically to prevent scorching.
  • Doneness: The masa should pull away easily from the husk.

Unwrap and Enjoy!

Savor the reward for your labors – savory, satisfying bites steeped in tradition. Serve your New Mexican red chile pork tamales with extra sauce, rice, beans, and your favorite accompaniments. If you have people over, keeping a pot of tamales on the stove is a great way to show some Southwestern hospitality.


  • Make a big batch – tamales freeze beautifully! Reheat by steaming them again, or microwaving on a medium setting.
  • Enlist friends or family – tamale-making is a social event, and many hands make quicker and easier work. The best part is that everyone can have a full dinner, and take home some tamales for their effort too!
  • Customize: Use your favorite red chile recipe, or swap pork for shredded chicken or a vegetarian filling. You can also use green chile sauce, or a lot of different fillings. In New Mexico, our favorite tamales are red chile and pork, but there are a lot of different types of tamales!

In case you are looking for other ways to use your red and green New Mexico chile, be sure to check out our recipes section!