A Tamale Troubleshooting Guide

Learn from my mistakes, lest you end up with dry tamales.

Izzie Ramirez
4 min readDec 30, 2020


I forgot to take a photo of my completed tamales because I was so tired. So here’s this instead.

Last week, I began my tamale journey, which felt insurmountable at the time, but in retrospect was an enjoyable project that helped me curb my school-related anxiety. Yes, I had to make salsa three times because I kept screwing up. Yes, my boyfriend and I spent two hours or so wrapping up the tamales. Yes, we made about 60+ tamales. No, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve been eating tamales every day for breakfast and lunch simply because there are too many tamales in my damn fridge. And that’s after I gave a quarter of them to my landlord and a classmate. But with every new bite, I am reminded of my tamales’ flaws. The fillings were just right, but the masa, dare I say, was a bit dry. Granted, I wasn’t even working off a recipe, just vague memories, but that’s not the point — I am an overachiever in everything I do. My tamales should have been perfect. Dear reader, I want you to avoid my fate the next time you make tamales, so here’s where I went wrong:


As I’ve already mentioned, my salsa just wasn’t hitting the mark. I just wasn’t in the right headspace, but I also didn’t give it the proper attention it needed. Be sure to make more than you think you need. You have to reserve some for the masa.

Peppers: If you’re doing a traditional red salsa, be sure to use guajillo and pasilla chiles. Maybe toss in an arbol chile or two if you want your salsa on the spicier side. Otherwise, stick to those two. Oh, and when you’re toasting the peppers, don’t use any oil or fat. Some folks do, but I think they make it easier to burn the chiles.

I haven’t made a salsa verde specifically for tamales, but I imagine I would toast jalapeños and serranos. Who’s to say!

Tomatoes: If you’re making a red salsa, boil roma tomatoes with your stock in water first and then toast. I had initially used tomatoes on the vine in my first batch, but they were way too sour, even after I cooked them. My theory is that they have way too much pectin (which is great for making jam or ketchup, not great for a silky salsa). Please fact check me on that, but not when you’re making a giant vat of salsa. You will regret it.



Izzie Ramirez

Writing about climate, culture & comida wherever I go. Work in: GEN, Bitch Media, VICE, Jezebel, and then some. Medium’s resident Gen Z kid.