Making tamales can be an all-day affair. First you make the fillings -- beef, chicken, pork or beans -- then you soak the corn husks. You blot the water off the husks and assemble the tamales according to the method you know -- everyone has a slightly different approach. Some tamale makers tie the corn husks with twine, others don't. Once you set the tamales on the stove to steam, you can sit down and relax, but do it in the kitchen because you need to keep an eye on the pot.
Watch the Steam
You need a steamer to make tamales; ideally, use one that allows you to stand the tamales upright. Put water in the bottom of the steamer, but make sure it doesn't touch the tamales in the basket. Set the steamer basket over the water and cover the whole pot. Bring the water to a boil and then turn the heat down to about medium, which generates a slow steady steam; the water will evaporate too quickly if you leave the stove on high. Keep the pot covered -- this aids cooking -- and let the tamales steam. Begin checking the tamales for doneness after about 30 minutes of steaming, although it takes about 45 to 120 minutes, depending on your stove, the type of steamer you use, and whether you're steaming raw frozen or freshly prepared tamales. When the dough feels firm, the tamales are done.