May 1, 2014

Pressure-Cooked Fresh-Corn Tamales

Tamales are a true comfort food. Warm pillows of ground cornmeal surround both sweet and savory fillings. The dough of these steamed bundles is made from course-ground corn flour called masa harina. Inside, a bounty of different fillings can be found: cheeses, pork, chilies, cinnamon and raisins, and roasted vegetables.

The corn husks of tamales hide another secret: science. To make masa harina, corn is boiled and then steeped in lime water, an alkaline solution, in a process called nixtamalization (from the Aztec word nixtamal). The etymology of this word reflects the ancient roots of the process, which developed across Mesoamerica over 3,000 ago. The earliest evidence of the process was discovered in Guatemala and dates back to around 1,500 BCE.

The development of nixtamalization made corn a viable ingredient for cultures throughout the Americas. The process makes it easier for humans to digest corn and extract nutrients, particularly niacin. The alkaline lime water breaks down the kernel’s cell walls, making nutrients accessible. The reaction also intensifies the cornmeal’s flavor, giving it a distinctive roasted taste.

For many tamale recipes the filling is the star; however the focus of this recipe is corn. Our fresh-corn tamales are more like a delicate steamed cornbread, good enough to eat alone. We think they make a marvelous side dish, however you can easily turn them into an entrée with fillings of shredded meat, like carnitas.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Fresh corn tamels final

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Step 6 batter in husk

Place a dollop of batter into the natural curl of the corn husk to enclose the batter.

Step 6 batter in husk

Fold the top of the husk down to seal the package.

Step 6 batter in husk

Tie your tamale with a narrow strip of corn husk or a piece of string, if necessary.

Tips & Substitutions:

For the Tamales:
  • After gradually adding and alternating your ingredients in step 3, test your batter to make sure it’s properly whipped. Drop a dollop into a glass of water—it should float.
  • Corn husks naturally form a cup shape. Troubleshoot tamale construction in step 6 by placing the batter in this cup, using the husk’s natural curl to enclose the batter, and then fold the top of the husk down to seal the package. Tie the tamale closed with a narrow strip of husk or piece of string, if necessary.
  • Removing a pressure cooker’s lid while its contents are hot can splatter boiling water or food all over the kitchen—or you. Before opening the cooker, let it cool, or run tepid water over the rim, to depressurize it. The pressure valve will sink down fully when the cooker is safe to open.
  • Reheat your tamales by steaming them. Alternatively, microwave a few tamales at a time on high power for 1–2 minutes.
  • To make these tamales into more of an entrée, substitute the fresh-corn batter with carnitas, short ribs (page 221), or adobo (page 224). Experiment with non-traditional fillings like vegetables or grated Cortija, ricotta, or white cheddar cheese for even more variations.
  • Add even more flavor to your tamales by substituting rendered pork, bacon, or chicken fat for lard.
  • We like to garnish our tamales with pickled chilies and Salsa Verde (page 111), or use your favorite store-bought salsa.
  • Leftover tamale batter keeps on giving. Follow steps 2-5 of this recipe, then deep-fry small (15 g/ 1Tbsp) balls of the batter in 175 ˚F/ 350 ˚C neutral frying oil until they turn brown and crispy, 3-4 minutes. Try lightening up the hush puppy batter by whipping 108 g/ ½ cup of egg whites, and then stirring them in after step 5. For an extra-crunchy crust and an extra burst of corn flavor, grind freeze-dried corn into a powder, and then roll the batter in it before frying.
  • The recipe for Toasted Corn Stock can be found in the Basics Chapter of our App.
  • Download the entirety of Chapter 21 for $4.99 on

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  1. Roberto N. May 1, 2014 Reply

    You guys have to try fresh corn tamales made without masa.

    • Caren May 2, 2014 Reply

      Absolutely- we’ll have to do some experimenting.

  2. Mike K May 3, 2014 Reply

    Great recipe-we made them today with 2 fillings-

    • Caren May 5, 2014 Reply

      So glad to hear it, Mike. What fillings did you end up using?

  3. Lita Waston June 6, 2017 Reply

    Pressure-Cooked Fresh-Corn Tamales not only tastes good but also easy to make . Thank for your instructions and variations, they help me to have much experience of doing tamales. keep up your talent.

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