Freshly made or frozen for later, these tender beef tamales with spicy jalapeño-mulato chili salsa will be your new favorite Mexican dinner. A dollop of crema and chopped cilantro takes them over the top!
Why You’ll Love This Beef Tamale Recipe
The fluffy masa just melts in your mouth while the spicy, tomatoey sauce coated shredded beef makes you want to take bite after bite. Here’s why you will love this recipe:
- Family-friendly: They’re not too spicy, but you can always tone down the heat for the little ones by using less chilies.
- Authentic: This recipe tastes just like the tamales street-vendors make in northern Mexico!
- Great for the holidays: If you’re hosting a Mexican-themed holiday party, impress your guests by serving these homemade tamales.
- Freezer-friendly: Keeping some in the freezer will save dinner on hectic weeknights.
What Are Tamales?
Mexican tamales are a traditional meal consisting of sweet or savory steamed corn dough (masa) bundles. Savory fillings can range from Rajas to shredded beef with salsa. They share the same kind of dough as tortillas, so locals usually buy pre-made masa to save time.
Tamales aren’t normally served with toppings, but no one will judge you for adding creme or more salsa. They’re a popular breakfast dish that can also be enjoyed for lunch or dinner, especially right around the holidays.
The foundation of any good tamales are a fluffy cooked masa, spicy salsa, and well-seasoned filling. Check the recipe card at the bottom of the post for exact amounts.
- Chuck Roast: Another name for this cut is “pot roast.”
- Olive Oil: Feel free to use corn, vegetable, or canola oil instead.
- Tamale Spice Mix: This is a Central American spice packet that’s also called “relajo.” You can buy it in most Mexican supermarkets.
- Beef Bouillon: I prefer low-sodium ones.
- Seasonings: Coriander powder, cumin, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder.
- Roma Tomatoes: Heirloom tomatoes are good swaps if you remove most of the seeds.
- White Onions: You can use yellow onions instead.
- Jalapeños: Swap them for serrano peppers for extra heat.
- Mulato Chilies: These are optional. Dried ancho chilies are great too.
- Cilantro: Make sure it’s fresh. Don’t use parsley.
- Chicken Bouillon: You can skip it, but it adds lots of savoriness.
- Garlic: I prefer fresh garlic, but garlic powder works too.
- Seasonings: Coriander powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt.
- Maseca Harina: It’s Mexican corn flour, used for making tamales, tortillas, etc.
- Lard: Lard will have a little more flavor, but vegetable shortening works too.
- Beef Broth: Use the one from the beef’s cooking liquid or store-bought.
- Beef Bouillon: This is optional.
- Salt: Kosher salt is best.
How to Make Beef Tamales
You can get a head start by preparing the filling a day before and soaking the husks in the morning before making the tamales. I suggest gathering your family or friends to help assemble the tamales. Check the recipe card at the bottom of the post for detailed instructions.
- Husks: Gently separate the corn husks and soak husks in a large bowl of warm water until softened.
- Beef: Season and cook the beef using the instant pot or crockpot method (shown in the recipe card), then shred it.
- Salsa: Simmer the chilies in a pot, roast the veggies in the broiler, and blend everything with the seasonings.
- Combine: Pour half of the salsa into the shredded beef. Stir to combine.
- Masa: Incorporate the maseca harina, beef bouillon, salt, melted lard, and beef broth in a large bowl until smooth.
- Assemble: Drain the soaked husks. Spread a thin layer of masa on a husk. Add 1/3 cup filling to the center. Fold the sides of the corn husks over with the bottom ends upwards to wrap it up, leaving the top open. The masa and filling should be inside. Repeat this for all the masa.
- Cook Tamales: Place a steam basket in a large pot, layer with more husks, and arrange the tamales inside. Add cold water and bring to a boil. Steam for 45 minutes, add water as needed. Remove and place on a plate to cool. Enjoy!
Tips for Making Tamales
While it might seem overwhelming, I promise it’s not hard to make this beef tamale recipe! Here are some tips to help guarantee success:
- Pre-Made Masa: Tortillerías (Mexican tortilla stores) often sell already prepared masa for tamales. It’ll save you prep time!
- Test Batch: I recommend making a test batch of 3 to 4 tamales and cooking them before making any more. Doing so will allow you to taste and see if the filling or masa harina needs more salt, or if the masa is too dry and needs more lard.
- Keep It Hot: For the fluffiest masa, make sure the broth is hot when you mix it in. It’ll help the lard melt into the mixture a lot better.
- Add Liquid: If you are struggling to spread the masa easily onto the husks, add hot water or broth a little at a time until it is softer and spreadable.
- Swap The Protein: Shredded pork and chicken are wonderful swaps for the beef filling in this recipe. You could even try my chicken tinga.
- Change The Salsa: My salsa verde, salsa morita and restaurant style salsa can be used instead of the salsa in this recipe.
- Make A “Guajolota”: Slice open a Mexican bolillo and spread it with refried beans. Fill it with a tamal. Add crema, cotija cheese, and more salsa to taste. Enjoy! This is a common breakfast in Mexico City.
What to Serve with Beef Tamales
Beef tamales are savory bundles of joy on their own, but pairing them with sides like my Mexican rice and refried beans can also elevate the meal. If you just want to have tamales, I recommend adding toppings like crema, guacamole, and even salsa ranchera.
Can You Freeze Tamales?
Yes! Tamales are easy to store or freeze for dinner another time. Here are your storage options:
- Fridge: Store the leftover tamales in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.
- Freezer: Place the tamales on a baking tray and freeze them for 1 hour or until firm. Add them to a freezer-friendly container and freeze for up to 6 months.
- Thaw: Transfer frozen tamales to the fridge a day before serving to thaw. Then reheat as usual.
- Reheat: Sprinkle the tamales with 1 teaspoon water and slightly unwrap the husk. Microwave them for up to a minute or until warm. You can also reheat them straight from frozen by adding 2 teaspoons of water and microwaving them for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Soak Corn Husks: 2 to 3 hours before you plan to assemble the tamales, remove the corn husks from the bag and somewhat separate them. Place them into a clean sink or into a large bowl. Cover completely with hot water and let them set to soften.
- Instant Pot Method: Drizzle olive oil into the bottom of an instant pot. Add all of the beef chunks then sprinkle the seasonings on top (including the relajo spices and beef bullion). Fill the instant pot 2” to the top with water. Place the lid on and seal. Cook on manual pressure for 90 minutes. Once cooked, let the pressure release naturally for about 20 minutes. Once pressure has released, remove the lid.
- Crockpot Method: Add all the beef, seasonings (including the relajo spices and beef bouillon) to the crockpot. Fill the instant pot 2” to the top with water. Place the lid on and let cook on low for 8 hours, until tender.
- Strain Meat and Shred: Use a slotted spoon and remove the beef and place into a large bowl. Place a strainer over a large bowl and strain the spices from the beef broth, saving the broth for later. Shred the beef by hand, or use a stand mixer or hand mixer. Set aside.
- Salsa: Place the chilies into a saucepan and cover them with water. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat.
- In the meantime, place the tomatoes, jalapeños and onion halves onto a large baking sheet. Turn the broiler on then place the pan into the oven. Let broil until everything has started to blacken on top. Use metal tongs to rotate everything on the pan then return to the oven. Continue broiling and rotating until all sides of the tomatoes and jalapeños have blackened but not burned. Remove from the oven.
- Strain the chiles from the water and add them to a blender. Then add the blackened vegetables, spices and cilantro. Blend until smooth. Add salt to taste.
- Add about half of the salsa to the shredded beef and stir to combine. If more sauce is needed, add more. It should be saucy but not soupy. Set aside while you make the masa.
- Masa: Fill a mixing bowl halfway with the maseca flour. Add the beef bullion and salt and stir to combine. Next, add about half of the melted lard and half of the beef broth. Use a hand mixer (or by hand with a wooden spoon) to slowly bring it together. Slowly continue adding the maseca flour, lard and beef broth until smooth and well combined. The masa should be like wet sand. If it feels like play dough it needs additional broth or water. It should be easily spreadable.
- Assemble: Once everything is prepared, remove the husks from the water and drain. I like to work with batches of about 10 husks at a time to be sure they stay soft. Open a husk until it is flat. Use a spatula or an offset spatula to spread about 1⁄3 -1⁄2 cup of the masa on the wider section of the husk. Try to spread it as evenly as possible over 3⁄4 of the husk, about 1⁄4” thick. If there is any excess masa, just return it to the bowl.
- Next, place about 1⁄3 cup of filling on the center of the masa and and spread slightly. Fold on side of the husk over the center then fold the other side over so that the filling is completely encase. Fold the bottom skinny ends up towards the center. If a corn husk is to thin, layer an additional one or two together to make a proper sized husk. Continue making tamales until all of the masa is used. Leftover filling can be refrigerated and used in other things.
- Cook: Once ready to cook, place a steam basket into the bottom of a large pot or use a tamale steamer pot. Add water to the pot until it reaches the base of the steam basket. Layer extra corn husks into the pot on top of the steam basket in a single layer. Place tamales in two on opposite sides of each other. Place two more on top of the other two except on opposite ends, as if you were building a log cabin. The two tamales on the bottom are the top and bottom of the square and the two on top are the sides of the square. Continue layering in the tamales until you’ve reached the top of the pot. Layer a few more husks on top then place the lid on.
- Place over medium heat to steam for 45 minutes. Add additional water to the pot, as necessary, to prevent it from burning. After 45 minutes, carefully remove the tamales from the pot and place them onto a baking sheet or plate. Continue cooking all of the tamales in batches.
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