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Secrets for Perfect, Fluffy Tamales Shared

By Jane Butel  October 3, 2023

One of my Mother's favorite foods was tamales.  Oftentimes when I mention that ,people look at me as though my Mother must have been "loco" or something.  As a very young child, born in Corpus Christi, TX, she was nurtured by a Mexican Nanny as her Mother was quite ill.  From that very early beginning, my Mother grew quite fond of well prepared tamales of all kinds.

Have you ever had a flavorful,  non-greasey, fluffy tamale?  I find most people have not.  There are several hints and tips for making them wonderful that my Mother had mastered and I learned from her.

As a young child, I have very fond memories of our family getting together on the first cool October weekend and rolling tamales.    I learned right then that tamales are not to be made by yourself, although lots of Mexican and Pueblo Indian women do roll them by themselves for selling.  (They have mastered the skill.)

If you would like to have some fun next Monday, October 9, sign up for our Tamale Rolling class.  It is a daytime class offered at 11 AM after the Mass Ascension of the Ballooh Fiesta.  And you will get to take some tamales home.

The history of tamale making is quite old, probably from the cave men, who would take something prescious from the hunt, flavor it well with chiles and herbs and roll it up in something they had a lot of--corn--and tuck the concoction in something that was waste--the corn husks.  This treat was then quite portable and could be heated before eating by tossing them into a campfire.

Throughout Mesoamerica, down into south America, there are many traditions, types and flavors of tamales.  There are various fillings, some "blind tamales" withouit fillings, various ways to steam or cook them and sauces for some of them.

Tamales can be for an appetizer, main course or even dessert.  Tamale making is actually a process. It is taking a special morsel and wrapping it with some kind of corn concoction and wrapping that in a nonusable commodity, such as a corn husk or banana leaf.

In general, if dried corn masa is used, they will keep a long time and can be successfully  frozen.  I have even had "lost" tamales that somehow got tucked in behind a food in my freezer that were over five years old that were still very good.  By the way, always freeze tamales before steaming.  They will have mosr flavor and a much better texture.

My next day class will be a brand new class on Mexican Regional Favorites on November 2.  In the meantime, I am teaching a week long class October 23 through October 27.  I am puitting it on a three  day special of $250 off for the entire 5 day full participation cooking class where  you receive 5 full participation classes on the favorites of the Souithwest and Mexico plus an apron, cookbook and diploma that has been recognized by Universities for advance study. 

The next three day weekend class will be November 10-12, 2-23.

Here my favorite Fajita recipe and Pico de Gallo to go with it.



 Chicken breast is perfect with the traditional fajita marinade.  I have always preferred the fresh pure flavors of lime and garlic to the “foreign flavors” such as soy sauce and monosodium glutamate.  My favorite way to serve these chicken fajitas is with grilled rather than sauteed vegetables.  Select large red onions and the biggest bell peppers you can find.

 Yield:  6 to 8 servings

 2 pounds lean boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Juice of 2 limes

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 large red onions, halved crosswise

1 each large red, green and yellow bell pepper, cut into strips

Pico de Gallo,

Dairy sour cream

Guacamole, optional

6 inch diameter flour tortillas, warmed


  1. Cut each breast in half, following the natural division of the cartilage and removing any fat. Pound between sheets of plastic wrap to uniform thickness. 
  1. To prepare the marinade: Combine lime juice, garlic, salt, black pepper, and oil in a bowl.  Dip each side of the chicken breast into the mixture and marinate 30 minutes at room temperature or up to 1 hour in the refrigerator.

 Preheat the grill, allowing enough time to get hot. Use mesquite wood or chips to flavor the to give a real authentic flavor. Lightly brush onion halves and bell pepper strips with oil. Start vegetables 20 25 minutes before starting the chicken. When they are done, cut into ½ inch wide strips and mix together. Keep warm. 

  1. Grill chicken about 3 inches from coals for about 4 minutes to the side. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide when done. 
  1. Serve the grilled chicken over the grilled onions and peppers. Serve with bowl of Pico de gallo and sour cream and guacamole if desired. Pass napkin-lined basket of hot tortillas. 

VARIATIONS:    Pan-saute the onions and peppers, cutting them into strips before cooking using minimal oil, cooking only until slightly crisp.


As hot as the top of a cock’s comb is the literal translation of this dish’s name.  The salsa originated in northern Mexico and was originally made with chipotle chiles.  I have found that fresh jalapeno chiles with a pinch of pequin chile substitute quite well, if chipotles are unavailable.  This salsa is a staple with fajitas.

Yield:  1-1/2 cups

3 chipotle chiles or fresh jalapeno chiles, finely chopped
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
1 Spanish onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pequin chile or to taste (omit if using chipotle chile)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
¼ cup fresh lime juice

Combine all the ingredients in a medium-size bowl, cover, and marinate at least 1 hour to develop natural juices before serving.



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