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Kalua Pork Tamales

Making tamales is  a family tradition that goes back for many generations.  We usually make a lot of tamales and solicit the help of the entire family to make these.  Through the years, we have ventured to make not-so-traditional tamales and Kalua pork tamales was a no-brainer!  Salty, smokey pork, with a slightly spicy chile sauce, wrapped in a warm blanket of corn masa.

Posted By: M. Fuentes
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Prep Time: 60 | Cook Time: 90 | Ready In: 3+ hours
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  • 1 1/2 oz chile pasilla or California pods
  • 1/8 cup cooking oil (corn)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon salt, divide


  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 4-6 small to medium sized Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 pound Kalua Pig (I use frozen Ono Brand)


  • 3/4 cups vegetable shortening, slightly softened but not melted
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1-pound package dried corn husks, soaked in warm water to soften

Cooking Process:


Clean the chile pods by cutting them open with a knife, removing the stems and scraping out the seeds.

Heat the cooking oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the clean chile pods for a few minutes (be careful not to let them scorch!).

Place the chiles in a blender, add the water and blend until smooth.


In a large blender or food processor (or working in batches), combine the filling ingredients except the pork. Cover and blend to a smooth puree. Transfer mixture to a pot and add pork. Cover and cook on low for 20 minutes. Once done, remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle with your hands or forks.


In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed the shortening with 1 teaspoon salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1/2 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light). Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think necessary.

* For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding enough additional broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

Preparing the corn husks

Soak the dried corn husks in warm water to soften and make pliable for filling.

Setting up the steamer

Steaming tamales can be done in batches in a collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan. It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover scraps of softened corn husks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between leaves so condensing steam can drain off.

Forming the tamales

Cut twenty thin strips of soften corn husks. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out a husk, smooth-side up, and spread 1/3 cup of the batter into an 8x4-inch rectangle over the middle section. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling over the left side of the rectangle of batter, then fold in the right third of the leaf so that the batter encloses the filling. Fold in the uncovered third of the leaf, then fold in the top and bottom. Loosely tie the tamales with husk strips and set them in the steamer.

Steaming and serving the tamales

When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of corn husk scraps or leftovers. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 hour. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.

Tamales are done when the leaf peels away from the masa easily... about 45 minutes to an hour Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.

Working Ahead: Both filling and batter can be made several days ahead, as can the finished tamales; refrigerate, well covered. Re-steam (or even microwave) tamales before serving. For even more flexibility, batter, filling or finished tamales can be frozen. Defrost finished tamales in the refrigerator overnight before re-steaming.