You’ve seen tamales on the menu at your favorite Mexican restaurant, but this masa-based dish is actually popular throughout Central and South America and it’s not hard to understand why: Inside each wrapper is a fluffy dough enveloping a moist filling that’s chock full of flavor. And if you’ve ever made your own tamales, you know that cooking up these beauties is a labor of love, which is why they’re almost always made in big batches to be enjoyed on special occasions. Whether you whipped up your own and now find yourself with a fridge full of tamales or skipped the work and carried some home from a local eatery, here’s how to reheat tamales so the filling is steaming hot and the masa melts in your mouth.
How to Steam Tamales
This method is tried-and-true and the way my Colombian mother-in-law taught me how to reheat tamales. Although it does take a little time to steam them (especially if the tamales are frozen), it’s worth the effort for a dish that retains its moisture.
1. Fill a large stockpot with 2 to 3 inches of water. Note: The water level will depend on your pot and steaming basket, but the idea is to have as much water as possible without the liquid touching the bottom of the steaming basket. (You don’t want your tamales sitting in water while they warm up.)
2. Place your steaming basket into the stockpot, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
3. Once the water is boiling, grab a pair of tongs and use them to gently lower the tamales into the steaming basket.
4. Cover the pot again and turn the heat down to medium so the water is no longer boiling, but still maintains a vigorous (i.e., steam-producing) simmer.
5. Thawed tamales from the refrigerator will be piping hot and delicious after about 30 minutes of steaming. If you’re working with frozen tamales (which is how they’re often sold), you don’t need to defrost before you reheat. Send them straight from the freezer to the stockpot and let them steam for approximately 90 minutes—just be sure to lift the lid periodically to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated and add more as needed. When the time is up, plate and unwrap your prize.
How to Reheat Tamales in a Skillet
Don’t have time to wait around for a steamed tamale? According to the tamale experts at Frelard Tamales, it is common in Mexico to toast tamales in a skillet for a tasty snack without the wait. Just keep in mind that this method only works for thawed, pre-cooked tamales (i.e., previously steamed) and the masa will have a crispier texture on the exterior after pan-frying, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you want a tamale fix and want it fast, here’s what you do.
1. Heat a skillet over medium until it’s nice and hot.
2. Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan. Vegetable oil works great because of its neutral flavor and high smoke point, but any oil you prefer will work just fine.
3. Carefully unwrap the tamales from the corn husk and gently place them in the hand. Note: This takes a little skill and a light touch since masa is quite delicate and you don’t want your tamale to fall apart. (Don’t worry though, it will still taste just as good.)
4. Flip the tamales—again, carefully—with a spatula every 1 to 2 minutes and cook until the surface of the tamales turns, light golden-brown.
5. Remove the tamales from the pan and devour them as soon as they are cool enough to eat.