Twelfth Day of Christmas Tamales

For the past five years I have celebrated today; Epiphany; January 6th; the day when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus by making tamales. This year, I ended up in a 3-day-long tamale making marathon (Saturday to Monday). I tried a few new techniques, including incorporating some tricks from this Pernil. I used a bone-in pork shoulder (instead of a boneless butt roast), crisped up the skin afterwards and chopped it up and added it to the pork filling. In the end, this year resulted with 4-1/2 star tamales. Of course, my favorite part of this tradition is to deliver the tamales to my friends’ houses as a small gift (who have no idea that the plate of tamales were 3 days in the making).

The finished tamales were best yet

The finished tamales were best yet

In Mexico, the 12th day of Christmas is commemorated by eating Rosca de Reyes and searching for the hidden muñecitos (little baby Jesus dolls) within the cake. According to tradition, anyone who finds the tiny dolls hidden in their cake slice must make a Tamale dinner on February 2nd. In a slight variation of the Mexican tradition, I have been making and delivering Christmas tamales on the Twelfth Day of Christmas. BTW, my first years of making tamales were a disaster. Again this year, I also made some homemade tomatillo sauce.


  1. These pork tamales take at least 9 hours to make, but can easily started the day before all the way up until you make the dough. You will have to divide the tamales up between two pots, which I made one after the other. I make the second batch of tamales on the next day.
  2. Because I don’t have a steamer basket, I made my own out of Coke cans cut to half-height and collapsible colander (or a flattened disposable aluminum pan with steam holes poked all over, but use bamboo skewers to support the flattened disposable pan so that it wouldn’t collapse under the weight of the tamales).
  3. The spices for the filling are based upon a 4-lb boneless or 6-lb bone-in pork roast. Adjust the seasoning based upon your roast size.
  4. If you have any leftover pork you can use it to make tostadas or taquitos.
  5. In all, the thirsty masa will need 9 cups of broth. 7 cups of pork broth and 2 cups of chicken stock (for softening the grits).
  6. The best way to re-heat tamales in the microwave is to wrap them in a damp paper towel before microwaving for about 1-1/2 minutes per tamale.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $20 for 3 dozen.
How much work? High.
How big of a mess?  High.
Start time: 9:00 AM. Dinner time (First batch): 6:00 PM.

Tamales Filling:
6-lb bone-in pork shoulder (or 4-lb boneless pork shoulder )
2 onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon salt
6 springs of thyme
Dried corn husks (3 to 4 ounces; about 40 husks)
8 ounces of shredded Monterrey jack cheese

  1. Nine hours before dinner, set a rack to lower-middle of your oven and pre-heat to 450-degrees. Pour 9 cups of water into a large roasting pan, adding the other ingredients listed under the Tamale Filling. Place pork in pan with the skin-side down in the water. Cover pan tightly with extra-wide aluminum foil and roast at 450-degrees for 90 minutes.
  2. Turn down the oven to 375-degrees. Continue roasting, covered, for 2-1/2 more hours.  Meanwhile, take your dried corn husks out of the package and put them in a large Pyrex casserole dish filled with hot tap water. This will soften them so they are pliable enough to be easily folded. Use a dinner plate set on top to submerge the husks and allow to soak for a minimum of 3 hours.
  3. Prepare a V-rack by spraying it with non-stick vegetable oil spray.
  4. Remove entire pan from oven. Gently slide metal spatula under pork to release skin from pan. Using two clean, folded dish towels (or wads of paper towels) to grasp both ends of pork and put on V-rack with the skin-side up. Use paper towels to wipe the skin dry. Place V-rack with pork in roasting pan. Return to oven and bake for another 1 hour until the pork registers 195-degrees. (If needed, keep adding water to prevent the pan from drying out; you will eventually need 7 cups of broth.)
  5. So that the top of the roast is level with the top of the oven, create a ball of foil to support the narrow end. Return to oven, and broil for 10 minutes; rotating halfway through cooking. It will be done when the skin becomes well browned and crispy, and you can tap it lightly using tongs and it should sound hollow.
  6. Allow pork to rest for 30 minutes on a carving board. Remove frozen corn from freezer and allow to thaw.
  7. Meanwhile, pour broth through a strainer into a large bowl. Allow to settle for 5 minutes and skim off any excess fat. You will need a total of 7 cups of pork broth, so augment with tap water as necessary. Set pork broth aside for making the dough.
  8. Remove crispy skin from pork in large pieces. Chop skin finely into small pieces and set aside.
  9. Trim and discard any excess fat from pork. Remove the pork from the bone and coarsely chop then shred using two forks (or your fingers once it’s cool enough). As you shred the pork you will find bits of extra fat or unappetizing bits to discard. Because I don’t have enough large bowls, I use a Pyrex casserole dish to hold the shredded pork. Mix in 8 ounces of shredded Monterrey jack cheese and chopped pork skin from Step 8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to prevent the meat from drying out.

Filling Paste:
1/2 cup corn oil
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper.

  1. While pork cooks, mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl, then add it to the shredded pork. Mix until incorporated, and allow to marinade until ready to assemble the tamales.

Tamales Dough (Masa):
2 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 cups quick grits (not instant); 9-1/2 ounces
10 ounces frozen corn, thawed
7 cups masa harina (1-lb 15-ounces)
3 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1-1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 ounces raisins
2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening)
7 cups quarts of the pork broth (from filling recipe)

  1. Bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil, remove from burner and add quick grits. Allow to soften for 10 minutes, then empty softened grits and corn into food processor and pulse until smooth.
  2. In a separate large bowl, add grits/corn from food processor, 7 cups masa flour and all spices and raisins. Use a wooden spoon to combine.
  3. Add 2-1/4 cups of corn oil (or vegetable shortening) to masa and 7 cups pork broth (1 cup at a time), mixing well after every cup.  It should be the consistency of peanut butter. It is important to evenly distribute the liquid; every year some of my tamales are dry because I am not successful.
  4. Shake the excess water off the corn husks. Separate and place them on a wire rack to allow them to slightly dry.
  5. Lay the husk flat and spread about 3-1/4 oz masa (about 1/3-cup) in a rectangle in the center of the husk to about 1/4″ thickness. Put as much shredded pork in the middle of the masa will fit; for better flavor. Push filling flat and so that it works its way slightly into the masa. Use the corn husks to work dough into a cylindrical shape, with the dough on the outside and the filling is on the inside. Fold and roll your tamale, and set aside in a stack. See some helpful hints on rolling below.
  6. Fill the pot with water; being careful that the water level is below the bottom of steamer basket. I used a colander fitted inside my Dutch oven, and also used soda cans cut in half (with holes punch in bottom) to elevate my collapsible steamer.
  7. Fill the steamer basket with prepared tamales so that gravity will hold their seam closed. Most likely the tamales will not all fit in one pot and will need to be steamed in two batches.
  8. Cover your steamer and bring the water up to a boil. Then turn down the heat down (but maintaining a boil) and steam for about 1-1/2 hours. Cover pot with aluminum foil to better seal the pot, then cover with lid. If you see a lot of steam escaping, add water if necessary so that the pot doesn’t boil dry. The tamales will be done when the masa is firm and easily pulls away from the husks, also try tasting a bit of the masa.
  9. Preparation time is 9 hours. Makes 36 tamales, and use the remaining filling to make tostadas.

Lesson in Tamales Rolling:

3 Responses to Twelfth Day of Christmas Tamales

  1. Sonya says:

    Wow, what a NICE surprise for your friends! Yum!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great idea about using cans to allow more water under the steamer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: