If I had to choose one food that is the exact opposite of fast, easy, and uses readily available ingredients, it would be Tamales. Just about every Hispanic and Latin culture has a form of tamales, but most people are most familiar with the delicious Mexican Tamales which are a corn mixture stuffed with a filling and wrapped like origami in a corn husk and then steamed for hours. They are a labor of love, emphasis on labor.
However, Cuban Tamales, even though originally brought to Cuba from Mexico, are much easier, quicker, and just as delicious. Specifically, my Great Grandmother Teadora’s recipe that was passed down to me by my father Carlos Horruitiner. he actually came over and helped me make the Tamales in this blog, so you are getting instructions straight from the master himself!
When my great grandmother came to the United States, she made a few adjustments to her recipe (because if you know anything about the Cuban people, we know how to adapt and use what we got!). First, she realized that the type of corn they grow in Cuba and the Caribbean is very different from the corn grow in the States. In Cuba, her recipe used nothing more than pureed corn for the masa and she corn husks to wrap them in. However, when she came to the States she added Instant corn masa mix to thicken the corn puree and she used foil to wrap the tamales.
In this recipe I am going to include both the foil wrapper method as well as the corn husk method. The Cuban way to wrap the tamales is very easy as well. You use kitchen twine and wrap them like a package. This way you do not have have them standing upright in the Pressure Cooker because they don’t have an opening in the top. This way you can stack a lot more and no balancing act.
Another reason that makes these tamales easy is that the meat is mixed into the corn mixture instead of stuffed and folded into the middle of the tamal. So this way you just mix and scoop. ( Tip* You can also use any cooked meat or vegetable mixture you have on hand. You can even use leftovers! Picadillo, Rotisserie Chicken, Pork, whatever! Experiment and go crazy.)
Instant Pot Easy Cuban Pork Tamales
Recipe by Lana Horruitiner Perez, Carlos Horruitiner, and Abuela Teadora Martinez
Pork Mixture: (You can combine the ingredients listed for the pork ahead of time and cover and place in the fridge to marinade for 4 to 24 hours.)
1 1/2 lbs Pork cut into 1 inch chunks (use a fatty cut, I like the boneless Country Ribs which are very inexpensive)
1 1/2 Tbl Garlic Powder
1 1/2 Tbl Onion Powder
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground All Spice
1 Tbl Salt
6-8 Grinds of Black Pepper
1 1/2 cup Chicken Broth
2 lbs Fresh Sweet Corn Kernels (Since corn varies in size, I like to use weight. However, it’s approximately 6-7 cups of kernels which is about 8 ears of corn. You can also use frozen sweet corn kernels if that is all you have. Just thaw them first.)
1 cup Reserved Liquid from Meat (This will be explained in the recipe)
3/4 cup Vegetable oil
1/4 cup Sugar
1 1/2 Tbl Salt
3 Cup Maseca Instant Corn Masa Mix
18-20 Squares of Foil, cut 10×10
40 Large Corn Husks
20 pieces of 24 inch long Kitchen Twine
Hot Tap Water to Soak Husks
-First thing to do is rinse and put the corn husks to soak. I like to use a 9×5 baking dish and adding enough water to cover them. Soak for at least 20 mins until soft.
-If you are making the pork from scratch and not using leftovers or your own meat mixture, it’s best to cook the meat early enough that it will have time to cool. You do not want to add hot filling to the corn mixture.
-Cut the pork into 1 inch pieces and place in a bowl or you can use the Instant Pot pot. (I am going to continue the recipe as if you do not have time to marinade the pork ahead of time. However, it comes out much better if you pour all the ingredients over the pork and let marinade for 4 hours or even overnight. )
-Add the 1 1/2 Tbl Garlic and Onion Powder, 1/2 tsp Cumin, 1/2 tsp Allspice, 2 tsp Salt, 6 Grinds of Black Pepper, and 1 1/2 cup Chicken Broth to the Pork.
-Place the Pot with the Pork in the Instant Pot. Lock the Instant pot lid into place and make sure the valve is set to Sealed. Pressure cook on High for 20 mins and Natural Release for 15 mins.
-Strain the pork and keep the liquid in a separate bowl to use for the corn mixture. Use a spatula and cut up the pork into whatever size pieces you want in your Tamales. Set both the liquid and pork aside to cool.
-Time to start the corn mixture and the first thing to do is husk the corn. This used to be one of the things I hated to do because I could never get all the corn silk off. However, my father showed me the trick he learned in Cuba to shuck the corn in seconds. I am including a video of this here in case, like me, you are a terrible corn shucker.
Easy and Quick Way to Shuck Corn
-Once you have shucked all the corn, remove the kernels. My father’s tip is to set a small bowl upside down in a baking dish. Stand the ear of corn on the dish and making sure to keep your fingers clear, use a chefs knife to slice the kernels off the ear of the corn from top to bottom. Go all the way around. Be careful not to cut too deep in to the ear of corn. ( You can also use a mandolin.)
-Once you have cut all the kernels off the ear. Place 2 lbs of Corn Kernels into a blender. This is about 6-8 cups.
-Add 1 cup of the cooled liquid you saved from cooking the pork. (If you are using leftovers and don’t have reserved liquid, you can use chicken broth or half chicken broth and half milk.) Also add 3/4 cups Vegetable Oil, 1/4 cup Sugar, and 1 1/2 Tbl Salt. Blend for 30 sec to 1 minute depending on the blender you have. It should look like a watery corn smoothie.
-If you have a stand mixer, pour this corn smoothie into the bowl of your mixer and attach the paddle. If you don’t have a stand mixer you can do this by hand. Then with your mixer on low, slowly add 3 cups of the Masa Mix until you have a mixture that looks like wet porridge. It should be just thick enough to keep a spatula standing up.
-Now add the pork or whatever meat or vegetable mixture you want. Again, unlike Mexican Tamales where the mixture is folded in a way to create a stuffed tamal, in Cuban Tamales you stir the meat into the entire corn mixture. Just make sure to gently fold it into the mix so you don’t break up the pork any more than it is.
-Now it’s time to wrap them up.
Instructions for Using Foil Including a Video
-Get all your 10×10 foil squares and the 20 pieces of twine together where you can reach them easily.
-Using a standard ice cream scoop, take one scoop of the tamal mixture and place it toward the bottom middle of the foil square.
-Fold the bottom edge of the foil over the mixture and pull towards you. Then roll the foil like a cigar. Twist one end tight and then twist the other end. Fold down the edges. You know what? Just forget this and watch the video of my dad doing it. It’s so much easier then I make it sound.
Instructions for Using Corn Husks Including a Video
-Take the corn husks that you have been soaking out of the water and slightly dry them with a paper towel. You want to pick out the largest husks that have no tears. If you have a few smaller ones you can just double them up.
-The folding is really easy to do, but hard to explain so I think I’ll just let my dad show you how it’s done in the following video.
-Now you should either have about 18 foil or corn husk Tamales ready to cook!
-Place the trivet in the Instant Pot and add 1 cup of water. Place the Tamales on top of the trivet. You can stack these laying down and on top of each other. If you made both foil and corn husk Tamales, you can cook them at the same time.
-Lock the Instant Pot lid into place and make sure the valve is set to Sealed. Pressure Cook on High for 30 minutes and Natural Pressure Release for 15 minutes. You can eat them right away or store in the fridge for a week or the freezer for a month. The best way to reheat is to steam either in the Instant Pot for 1 minute or on the stove top. Enjoy with hot sauce, Queso Crema, ketchup, or may favorite (because I’m weird) Honey!