How to Cook Tamales With Raw Masa

by Tricia Ballad

Tamales are a traditional fiesta dish served in many Latin American homes during the holidays. You don't have to wait until a special occasion to make tamales, although it is a good idea to enlist the help of a few friends, as they are labor-intensive. Start with raw or fresh masa, or corn, for the lightest, most flavorful tamales.

Prepare the Masa

Fill the large bowl with water and submerge the corn husks. Use a heavy plate or bowl to weigh down the husks so they remain submerged. Let them soak for 15 to 30 minutes, until they are soft and pliable.

Whip the lard, shortening, butter or a combination of solid fats with salt to taste in a mixing bowl or stand mixer. Use 1/2 pound fat and 3/4 teaspoon salt per pound of raw masa. Whip the fat and salt until it is light and fluffy, between 2 and 4 minutes, depending on your mixer. Do not use vegetable oil, which will not give the masa the correct consistency.

Add small golf ball-size lumps of raw masa to the whipped fat. Alternate with small amounts of broth until all of the raw masa is incorporated and the mixture has the consistency of a loose dough. A moister dough will result in moister tamales, but will be more difficult to work with.

Whip the dough on medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, about five minutes.

Form the Tamales

Fill the stock pot with water and set it over high heat to boil while you form the tamales.

Remove a single corn husk from the water and dry it on a clean towel.

Spread a 1/4-inch layer of whipped masa dough on the wide end of the corn husk. The masa should cover about half of the corn husk.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of prepared filling in a line down the middle of the dough.

Fold the two longer sides of the corn husk, with the masa dough, over the filling, creating an overlapping seam. Fold the narrow bottom end of the corn husk up so it is even with the top.

Tie a length of butcher's twine around the tamale to keep it from unfolding during cooking.

Cook the Tamales

Lay out the tamales in a steamer basket. You can stack them in two or three layers, but no more or they will not cook evenly. You may need to steam the tamales in several batches.

Place the steamer basket into a stockpot with boiling water. Cover and steam them for 30 to 60 minutes, or until the tamales pull away from the corn husks. The amount of time will depend on how many tamales you are steaming and the density of the masa.

Remove the steamer basket from the stock pot and carefully remove the tamales to a plate.

Check the water level in the stock pot. You may need to add more hot water before steaming the next batch. Return the water to a full rolling boil before adding another batch of tamales.

Items you will need

  • Large bowl
  • Dried corn husks
  • Heavy plate or bowl
  • Stand mixer or hand mixer and mixing bowl
  • Raw masa
  • Lard, shortening, or butter
  • Chicken or vegetable broth
  • Large stock pot with steamer insert
  • Tamale fillings
  • Butcher's twine


  • Resist the urge to overfill your tamales. If you add more than two or three tablespoons of filling, it will leak out of the corn husks.
  • Tamales take a significant amount of time and energy to make, so consider making several dozen at a time. Freeze cooked tamales in the corn husk and reheat them in the microwave.


  • Use caution when working with steam, as it can cause serious burns. Stand back from the pot when you remove the lid and use a potholder.

About the Author

Tricia Ballad is a writer, author and project geek. She has written several books including two novels, teaches classes on goal setting and project planning for writers, and loves to cook in her spare time. She is living proof that you can earn a living with a degree in creative writing.

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