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Home ยป Can You Bake Tamales?

Can You Bake Tamales?

Tamales are full of flavor and are a beloved staple in Mexican cuisine. Mexican tamales are made from ‘masa’–a dough made from corn flour–lard, and other ingredients. The dough is then wrapped around a filling, usually spicy pork, but there are other tamale recipes with different fillings, including vegetables, chicken, and beans. The filled masa is then wrapped inside a corn husk and steamed until it is cooked through. 

Stacking tamales in a roasting pan.

You can serve tamales with different accompaniments such as salsa, guacamole, or sour cream. Tamales are gluten-free when prepared using traditional cooking methods. When it comes to cooking tamales, they are traditionally steamed until the masa is cooked through, resulting in delicious, moist, and tender tamales. 

Recently, home cooks and professional chefs alike have adopted different approaches to cooking tamales. If you’ve ever wondered if tamales can be baked, the answer is yes! In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of baking your tamales to perfection.

The Traditional Method: Steaming

Steaming is the traditional way to cook tamales. It preserves the texture and flavor of the tamale, preventing it from becoming dry or overcooked. When you steam tamales, the heat penetrates the corn husk to cook the masa dough and filling from all sides evenly, resulting in moist, tender, evenly-cooked tamales.

Tamales are typically steamed in a large pot using a steamer basket with some water at the bottom and covered with a lid. The pot should be deep enough to allow the tamales to sit upright on a rack without touching the water. This ensures there’s enough space for steam to circulate and thoroughly cook the tamales. 

The steaming process takes about an hour. After cooking, hot tamales will initially be extremely soft and you might think they are not done cooking. Let them rest for about 10 minutes. As they cool slightly, they’ll firm up. The best indicator that they are fully cooked is when you can easily peel away the corn husk.

Can you oversteam tamales? If you do not keep an eye on them and leave them for too long, they will oversteam, get soggy, and fall apart!  Check them regularly, making sure they cook through evenly but remain moist to the touch. 

Alternative Option: Baking

If you don’t have access to a steamer basket or don’t feel comfortable cooking tamales this way, baking them is a great option. This method is also advantageous if you want to prepare larger batches because ovens have more space than steamer baskets.

To bake tamales, start by preheating your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Add two cups of liquid to a turkey roasting pan to create steam and prevent the tamales from drying out. Next, place the tamales on the rack, ensuring they don’t touch the water below. For added flavor, you can use chicken or vegetable broth enhanced with a few teaspoons of vinegar or lime juice instead of water.  

Keep an eye on the water level while the tamales bake. If the water evaporates, the tamales can dry out. Make sure to add more water as needed to maintain moisture and prevent them from becoming too dry.  When the tamales are done, the husk will easily pull away from the masa.

Steaming Versus Baking: The Verdict

While baking is a viable option, there is a reason why steaming is the traditional method and is still preferred today. Steaming allows the tamales to be continuously immersed in moisture, which prevents them from drying out during the cooking process. 

When baking tamales in an oven, even with added water and a lower temperature like 250°F, the oven’s dry heat can sometimes cause tamales to dry out or their husks to burn, giving a bitter taste. In contrast, steaming tamales in a dedicated steamer provides a consistent moist environment, ensuring they cook evenly without drying or burning.

We recommend steaming your tamales, however they absolutely can be baked if needed. Cook them at 250 degrees, cover them, and add liquid throughout the cooking process to keep them moist. If you follow these steps, you should come away with delicious baked tamales!

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