cooking tool


I grow really fond of my cooking tools. Most of the Mexican ones have come straight from Mexico. Some have been passed down from my family, like the comal my mom gave me in hopes I would become a good cook. Some I have shamelessly taken, like the lime squeezer, which comes from her kitchen, too. The many wooden spoons I have come from different regions in Mexico and have come tucked in my suitcase. As for the molcajete, I asked my father-in-law to get me one from the Mexico City market, and he lugged it for me in his carry-on bag (he reminds me to this day…). Yet, I found my tamalera, a special pot for steaming tamales, here in DC!

When my dad visits from Mexico, ever since we moved to the U.S., he has brought some for me. And I didn’t start making tamales at home, until I had kids. First, I used a vegetable steamer. Once I moved to DC, I found this one at Panam, the mostly Mexican (Latin) grocery store on the corner of 14th Street and Parkwood.

Yes, you can improvise and steam tamales in a seafood or lobster steamer, a Chinese steamer, any steamer, or even a pasta pot if it has an insert that sits above the bottom. However, the tamaleras are one of a kind. No wonder: Mexicans have been steaming tamales since pre-Hispanic times, so it’s no surprise the Mexican tamalera outdoes all other steamers when it comes to cooking tamales.

the three parts of the tamalera: pot, lid and stand

See above, the tamalera has three parts: the pot, the lid and a stand. The tamalera is tall for setting the tamales upright. It has a removable, perforated platform or stand to place the tamales on so they sit above the water. It is sturdy: if you pack it up with tamales it gets heavy!

tamalera with the stand in

Most cooks line the platform with soaked corn husks or any other husks or leaves you will use in your tamales, like banana leaves. That ensures not much water bubbles through the perforations. Some larger tamaleras have vertical dividers that allow for cooking three different kinds of tamales at once and also helps to set the tamales upright; mine doesn’t, because it is rather small…

Tamaleras are also fitted with lids for keeping the steam in, which is so vital for even cooking of tamales. Yet, I tend to pack it up with tamales and cover it with extra husks or leaves, so many times the lid won’t close tight, so… I wrap a towel through the handles, so there will be no steam escaping.

tamalera with towel

But if I did what I need to do: get a bigger tamalera, I wouldn’t need to worry about that towel.


27comments inTamalera

  1. Tammy

    Aug 19

    Hi Pati! What size Tamalera would you recommend? There seems to be a huge variety of sizes online. I would like one that would hold the whole batch of chicken in green salsa tamales. Thank you!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Aug 23

      I think 28 qt is a good family size, but if you are planning on making lots of tamales often, I would go for the 80 qt. Good luck!

  2. Mary from Terry

    Oct 24

    I love the improvisational lid solution. I didn’t realize how important it is to tightly seal the pot during steaming. I use an ancient cast iron flat griddle pan from my husband’s Louisiana Cajun ancestors as my “comal”. I’m sure it’s an antique but I think it works great. I’ll have a chance to use a real comal on my upcoming trip to Mexico so I can compare the two. I’m so excited! Thank you, Pati, for educating me so much about what I’ll see and eat there.

    1. Pati

      Oct 25


  3. Susanna Toscano

    Nov 29

    I need to know how to stack them in the tamalera and how long to cook the tamales in the tamalera?
    can you help please.

    1. Pati

      Dec 01

      Here are some instructions that will help! http://patijinich.com/pati_2020/2014/01/chickengreensalsatamal/

  4. Cat Wright

    Mar 06

    Hi Pati,

    While looking through the PBS channels, I discovered your show. Love it! You inspired me to try making my own tamales after reading your recipe. Followed your directions and used seasoned vegetable oil the first time using a vegetable steamer. The taste was surprisingly good but the consistency wasn’t quite right. I threw caution to the wind and purchased organic leaf lard to use the second time. Used my pasta pot with the insert thinking the cooking would be much more even. This time the flavor was awesome but the tamales again weren’t cooked perfectly. I know I’m doing something wrong but just don’t know what. I’m hoping you’ll do a tamale making episode or have made one I can watch because I really want to get these right. So looking forward to season #4!

    1. Pati

      Mar 06

      Yes I am! There is a TAMAL episode. Stay tuned.

    2. Cat Wright

      Mar 07


  5. Michele

    Apr 12

    Hi Pati,

    I love watching your program. And I like your rustic dishes too. Are all of your dishes from Mexico? I would love to have some of my own. I do have a molcajete that I had since 1990 and it is well seasoned. I am going to make your fried red snapper over salad and salsa dishes soon. It looked so good. I can’t wait to try it. And I am very passionate about the food I cook too. I am not Hispanic nor Italian, but I come from a long rich family line of wonderful cooks. And because I live in a rich multi-cultural community, I’m learning new ways too cook and experimenting with different ingredients all the time. I have so much fun cooking. When I cook for the one’s I love, their enjoyment of the dishes I make, gives me so much pleasure. And I can see that in you when I watch how you cook and when I listen to your wonderful history of family and home. You are a treasure!
    Michele H.

    1. Pati

      Apr 16

      Hola Michele, Thank you so much for your message! My dishes are foods I grew up eating in Mexico City, traditional Mexican dishes, and some are modern dishes I create using Mexican ingredients. Keep cooking…

  6. Laura G.

    Mar 17

    Hola, Pati!!
    I have to say that my tamalera is sacred. Although I don’t make tamales very often but when I do, it’s a special treat for my boys (I have three boys too). I also stuff my tamalera with tamales but I invert my molcajete over the lid and it keeps it nice and snug. I absolutely love your show and look forward to it every week! It brings back so many memories of sitting in my grandmother’s as well as my mom’s kitchen watching every ingredient they used to make such wonderful dishes. 🙂

    1. Pati

      Mar 17

      Thank you, Laura! Nice tip, with the upside down molcajete!

  7. Bev

    Feb 23

    Hi Pati,

    Speaking of cooking tools, can you please tell me where in the world you got the triple-spout glass measuring cup? I’ve been looking everywhere for one like the one you use on the show. I’m right-handed and my mother is left-handed. That measuring cup would be awesome for us both.

    1. Pati

      Feb 23

      Hola Bev,
      It was a gift from a dear friend, a long time ago…. It is VERY handy though! Have you tried looking online?

      1. Bev

        Mar 04

        Thanks for the response. I’m still looking.

  8. Betty Moreno

    Feb 11

    I married into the Spanish community, my first Christmas was something else. My mother in law, who couldn’t speak very much English, ushered me into the kitchen to find two nescos on the table. I know your smiling now, yes one had a pigs head and one had a cows head. What did I get into. I loved every minute of the time I spent there. unfortunately my husband passed a few years later and I did not learn all I wanted to. So now I watch your show, Rick Bayles’s show to learn all I can. I have attempted Tamales by myself turned out so so. I do a wicked Menudo. and have just got the hang of chicken mole.
    Keep the shows coming I love watching you…

    1. Pati

      Feb 11

      Thanks Betty! You made me hungry for Menudo…

  9. ann p.

    Feb 01

    Once again, this site excels. Pati’s recipes and descriptions are treasures themselves, and then things get better with all the other great responses here.

    Thank you all.


  10. Laura gtz

    Feb 01

    i just finished watching your show here in chicago and I love it ¡¡¡ specially because you are bringing our culture over by the way i am going to make that grill pineapple margarita for my husband nadamas le voy a poner mas chile he loves spicy his from Michoacan and i am from guanajuato anyway thanks for what you do and i am looking forward to see more of your shows greeting from us…

    1. Pati

      Feb 01

      Hola Laura! Thank you for your message and I hope your husband loves the Grilled Pineapple Margarita

  11. Gerald

    Jan 31

    Years ago I bought a small tamalera at Violeta in Oaxaca that is my great friend. It is galvanized and has a small port near the bottom so you can add hot water when the level gets low. Thus you can leave the top closed when adding water.

  12. Karen Wood

    Jan 31

    I love when you tell stories like this. You are so lucky to have your nice family. I like your tamalera and how you use the towel to keep the lid tight. It is so rustic and old fashioned that way. I have a pan a lot like that that I distil water into from my stove top distiller. I use binder clips to keep the lid tight so I don’t loose steam. The lid and rim on my pan are just like that on your pan so you might want to try out some binder clips on yours. Of course it wouldn’t have the old fashioned charm and ingenuity of using the towel but it might be quicker if you need or want quicker. I got this kind from amazon and have used them for six months now and they don’t have any rust or any paint chipping. They are just like new still, and all the extra ones come in handy for so many things especially for bag clips. http://www.amazon.com/ACCO-Binder-Clips-Medium-72050/dp/B0035OQGA6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391192270&sr=8-1&keywords=binder+clips

    1. Pati

      Jan 31

      Thank you so much for your message and thank you so much for your recommendation on the clips! I will try them out!

  13. irene

    Jan 31

    i add chile to my masa and it adds more flavor to the tamales. My Nana was from Sonora so we say, tamales, estilo de Sonora. LOL I also put a black olive in each tamal, and use half California, half New Mexico chile. I make a mix of pork and beef for the filling. That’s how my mom taught me. I’m going to try your version. from sunny Southern Cal!!

    1. Pati

      Jan 31

      Your tamales sound delicious! I love adding chile to the masa as well. So many possibilities! Hope you like this one, which is very popular in Central Mexico.

      1. irene

        Jan 31

        My mother used to steam her tamales on Christmas Eve in a huge pressure cooker. She’d put a pie tin upside down and hojas on the bottom and somehow the steaming worked!… Neighbors came throughout the evening, an unofficial “open house”, helped “embarrar”-make tamales , eat some, take some home and my mom kept on making them all evening! Great memories. My kids help make them now and each Christmas Eve, whomever comes over, puts on an apron, and helps too. The first timer always gets to soak the hojas! LOL…I use a huge steamer that I found at the swap meet one year! I love hearing your stories about your life cooking and eating with your familia! THx….Irene Vz

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