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My Grandmother Nanni’s Tamales with Pork & Ancho Chiles

Tamales Angela Mexico

These Christmas tamales with pork and ancho chiles are made every year in the home of Familia Kitchen’s social media director Angela Pagán. Angela, her grandmother Nanni, and mom crowd into the kitchen to make their family-famous recipe for these masa-stuffed delicacies for their familia’s Navidad feast. 

“In my 25 years of life there has not been a single year I did not have these tamales,” says Angela. ”These tamales were and will continue to only be made on Christmas Eve, Noche Buena. We do not make them one day sooner.”

This Christmas Eve, the traditional tamales will again be prepared—but only by Angela and her mother. They lost Nanni this fall after a brief illness and miss her beyond words. Nanni had just celebrated her 86th birthday this past June. 

Though still grieving, Angela and her mother plan to honor Nanni’s life and legacy by going into their kitchen as they have every Christmas Eve and making Nanni’s recipe in her honor, says Angela.

Nanni would have liked that.

Her grandmother was the family cocinera, known for her magical way with so many traditional Mexican dishes. Nanni has been cooking for her family since she was a small child, says Angela. “My grandma was born and raised in Linares, Nuevo León, but her adult life was spent in Monterrey. As the oldest of 10, she left school at a very, very young age to help raise her nine siblings. She learned to master traditional, homemade meals. Everyone always looked to her as a mom, a caregiver.

My mom and I will continue making this recipe every year because it’s a piece of Nanni that is still with us. This tamales recipe is something she left behind for us and we’re going to keep that tradition going for her.”

Angela Pagán, Familia Kitchen Social Media Director and a Mexican-Puerto Rican cocinera

”Nanni showed her love by feeding you,” says Angela.

“My Nanni and my mom have made these tamales my entire life. I asked my mom and she said the same applies to her. Nanni made them by herself, until my mom was older and started helping. Then I came along and started getting my hands dirty, too.”

tamales
Making tamales will continue to be a Christmas Eve tradition for Angela Pagán’s family.

“Tamales Are a Labor of Love”

”At the center of Mexico’s culinary history we find corn, and if you look a little closer, you’ll see the sacred bond that ancient cultures in Mesoamerica created between their gods, maiz and tamales,” writes Emilly Olivares in her Familia Kitchen report on the history of tamales and other masa-filled dishes. “Delicious, filling and as prized today as they were by our Mesoamerican ancestors, tamales are one of defining dishes in comida Latina … Most recipes follow the same three-part formula: savory meat filling + corn-based dough + corn husk or banana leaf wrapping.”

Nanni’s recipe stays true to this tamales trinity with its pork and chiles filling, corn flour masa, and corn husk wrapping. The result is memorably special, says Angela. She and her family look forward all year long to feasting on Nanni’s tamales on Christmas Eve—everyone together.

“The simplest way to explain why these tamales are so special is: They’re a labor of love,” says Angela. “All the work we put into making them for our family each year. The ritual of making these tamales has always been reserved for that day alone. I think that’s part of what makes this dish stand out above others for me and my family.”

Yes, the ritual must continue, says Angela. Of course. For all the traditional reasons tamales are made—and one bittersweet new one.

This year, next year and forever: ”we will be making them on Christmas Eve, and we will be thinking of Nanni the whole time,” says Angela.

”She’s always there with us when we make them, and she always will be. My mom and I will continue making this recipe every year because it’s a piece of Nanni that is still with us,” says Angela.

”This tamales recipe is something she left behind for us and we’re going to keep that tradition going for her.”

A Celebration of Tamales Around el Mundo

Curious about tamales around el mundo—and the many names they go by?

In honor of the festive holiday season this year and every year, Familia Kitchen is honored to spotlight special family-famous recipes of masa-stuffed wonders across Latino cultures. Whether they are called tamales, pasteles, hallacas, humitas, check out these beloved family-famous recipes:

Luis’ Guatemalan tamales;
Liliana’s Venezuelan beef, pork and chicken hallacas;
Michelle and Pat’s Puerto Rican yuca, plantain, green bananas & pork pasteles;
• Doña Paula’s Belizean tamales;
Lisa’s Panamanian chicken & pork tamales
• We even celebrate legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s favorite red pork tamales!

If you want to go deeper, check out our history of tamales and corn in Mexico and across Latinx cultures, and Angela’s culinary inquiry into why so many Mexican families eat tamales every Candelaria feast on February 2!

Is Your Family Ready to Make Holiday Tamales?

My Grandmother Nanni’s Tamales with Pork & Ancho Chiles

4 from 2 votes
Recipe by Angela Pagán Cuisine: Mexican
Servings

100 to 125

servings
Prep time

1

hour 
Cooking time

1

hour 

30

minutes

Ingredients

  • 10 lbs 10 pork shoulder or pork butt

  • 10 lbs 10 masa harina for tamales

  • 2 packs 2 ancho or guajillo chiles, 6 oz total

  • 1 to 2 tsp 1 to 2 garlic powder

  • 1 to 2 tsp 1 to 2 garlic salt

  • 1 to 2 tsp 1 to 2 adobo seasoning

  • 1 packet 1 sazón

  • 2 Tbsp 2 vegetable oil

  • 3 to 4 tsp 3 to 4 salt, or to taste

  • 1 to 2 tsp 1 to 2 pepper, or to taste

  • 16 oz 16 manteca or lard

  • 100 to 125 100 to 125 corn husks

  • 1 1 disposable aluminum pie tin

Directions

  • Prep Step (the Day Before)
  • Soak the corn husks in warm water, preferably overnight.
  • Make the Meat
  • Boil the meat in a pot with garlic powder, garlic salt, adobo seasoning and water to cover until fully cooked.
  • When the meat is cooked, take it out of the pot and shred it. Set aside.
  • Keep the broth it cooked in and set aside for use later.
  • Prep the Chiles and Make the Salsa
  • Boil the dried chiles (your choice: ancho, which Angela’s family prefers, or guajillo) in water to cover in a separate pot.
  • Once the chiles are boiled, take them out and place on a flat work surface. Reserve the chile water.
  • De-stem and peel the chiles. Take out some of the seeds, but leave in some, depending how you like spiciness. Customize to your family’s heat tolerance.
  • Place the peeled chiles, salt, pepper and about ½ to 1 cup of water (depending on the consistency you like your salsa) from the boiled chiles in a blender. Pulse the salsa. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, as needed. Add a little bit of water if you like your salsa less creamy. Set aside.
  • Finish Your Pork and Chile Filling
  • Add oil to a frying pan and turn heat to medium.
  • Add the shredded meat to the pan and heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add most of the chile salsa to the pan, but hold back about a ½ cup of sauce for the masa.
  • Add salt, pepper and sazón, to taste.
  • Let the beef filling simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.
  • Make the Masa (Hands on and Messy!)
  • Pour the masa in a large bowl or container into which you can easily fit your hands.
  • Grab a handful of manteca or lard and work it into the masa with your hands. Knead the masa for about 5 minutes.
  • Add a pinch of salt to taste and knead for a last minute or two until it starts to feel smooth.
  • If the masa feels too thick, add a little water to soften and knead it into the mix.
  • When the masa feels like it’s at the right consistency—not too wet, not too dry—add the remaining 1/2 cup of blended chile salsa. Knead it into the masa so that its color changes throughout.
  • Putting It All Together: Make Your Tamales
  • Set out plates or bowls with your three tamale elements laid out in front of you for easy assembly: the masa, pork filling and corn husks.
  • Take a corn husk in hand and spread about a three-finger scoop onto the wider end of the corn husk.
  • Press it to spread evenly. Take a pinch of the meat (as much or as little as you like but remember the corn husk needs to be able to close) and make a vertical line with it in the masa.
  • Roll up the corn husk so that it’s sealed. Tuck the husk tail underneath it. Set it aside on a large plate and repeat until all the tamales are stuffed, sealed and stacked on the pate.
  • Steam Your Tamales
  • Take the aluminum disposable pie tin and stab it a few times with a fork or knife to create a half dozen small holes.
  • Place the punctured pie tin at the bottom of a large steamer pot. Arrange the sealed tamales on top of it. The tamales should all be standing up, packed into rows that are not too tight but not too loose, in layers. Leave at least 1 inch or 2 of space at the top of the tamale pot before it reaches the rim.
  • Pour 1 to 2 cups of the broth leftover from the boiled meat over the tamales. Cover the tamales with extra corn husks or a damp kitchen towel. Firmly place the lid on the pot.
  • On medium high, bring the pot a boil and immediately lower the heat to low.
  • Steam the tamales for a minimum of 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Let them drain and serve the steamed tamales you will eat. Freeze the rest for later feasting. Feliz Noche Buena, from Nanni, Ángela and her mom’s familia to yours.

Notes

  • This recipe makes anywhere between 100 to 125 tamales, depending on how generous you are with the meat filling.

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