John and Matt’s Tamales

Growing up in California, about three miles from the Mexican border, we were spoiled with authentic Mexican culture and cuisine. Every holiday season brought one of our favorites: tamales. Tamales weren’t just delicious, they were a kickoff into the holiday season. Kitchen tables were surrounded by entire families telling stories as they spread masa on corn husks with the precision of a surgeon. The recipe we share has been passed through the Acosta family for generations and is most definitely the “real deal.” Since it was mostly written in Spanish and was riddled with “a little bit of this” and “a little bit of that,” it took us a while to decipher, but was well worth the work.
November 24, 2015


Place pork in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Add onion, garlic, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours.

Transfer pork to a large bowl and shred, reserving stock. Strain stock into a large bowl or measuring cup, discarding solids. Place 3–4 cups stock (reserving the rest for preparing masa and steaming tamales) into a saucepan. In a small bowl, combine flour with water making a slurry. Whisk slurry into stock and cook over low heat until slightly thickened.

To assemble tamales, spread masa on ½ of a soaked husk (do not let the husks get dry). Scoop shredded pork over masa and place an olive on top. Fold husk over and secure with strips of the husks. Repeat with remaining husks and filling.

To cook, place remaining stock into a steamer with water. Stack tamales into basket. Bring to a fast boil, then lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes–1 hour. Serve with sauce.

Place lard in a standing mixer and beat until light (like creaming butter for a cake). Add baking powder, salt, and a spoonful of the stock, beat until combined. Add, in 3 additions, remaining stock and masa flour, adding water as needed. A piece of masa should float in water when done—light and airy.


  • 1 boneless Boston butt (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ⅔ cup chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½–1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • Prepared Masa (see recipe)
  • 1 package corn husks, soaked in water for 1 hour
  • 1 can medium pitted olives
  • 8 ounces lard
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups reserved stock from pork, divided
  • 4 cups Masa flour, divided
  • 2 cups water, as needed
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