Instant Pot Tamales filled with tender pork in a red chile sauce. Thanks to being cooked in an Instant Pot pressure cooker, they’re done in only half the time compared to the usual preparation on the stove!
If you’ve ever wanted to make tamales at home but were too intimidated and worried they’d take all day to make, then this Instant Pot Tamale recipe is for you!
I grew up making red pork tamales, green chicken tamales, and sweet tamales at home with my Mexican family the traditional way – on the stove in huge batches that made at least 100 tamales! It was always a big family affair that took all day, and was exciting since we only made tamales 1 or 2 times a year.
But making a huge batch of tamales that takes ALL DAY to make isn’t always practical for most people, especially if you’ve got a small family or don’t have people who can help you in the kitchen.
Luckily, this Instant Pot Tamales recipe solves both of those problems! Not only is the cooking time cut in half from 7 or so hours to only 4 thanks to the pressure cooker, but it also only makes a small batch of about 28-30 tamales that’s perfect for a family of 2-6!
How to Make Tamales in the Instant Pot
The first step is to cook the red chile pork in the Instant Pot.
Make the red chile sauce by rehydrating some dried chiles in hot water and then blending them up with some dried seasonings until completely smooth.
Then, sear big chunks of boneless pork shoulder in the Instant Pot on all sides. Add in the red chile sauce, a bay leaf, and then pressure cook on high for 40 minutes followed by a natural release of 15 minutes.
The pork shoulder will come out fall apart tender and will look like this photo below.
Once the pork is done, transfer it to a large bowl and set it aside. Then wash and rinse the Instant Pot to get it ready for cooking the tamales!
Next, make the masa by combing masa harina, salt, baking powder, vegetable oil, and broth. (Full instructions are located in the recipe below, but if you’d like to see step-by-step photos on how to make the masa, take a look at this masa for tamales post.)
Once the masa is done, it’s time to assemble! Using the back of a large spoon, spread out the masa onto one side of each corn husk, leaving about the top 1/3 of the corn husk clean. Try to spread it out so it’s not too thick, but not so thin that it doesn’t completely cover the corn husk. Just do your best! Tamales can be very forgiving.
Spoon a little of the red chile pork into the center of the corn husk, then fold it over once like a book, then once more, and then fold over the pointy edge so that there’s only one open edge in the corn husk.
Lastly, prepare the Instant Pot for cooking the tamales!
Fill the Instant Pot with 1 1/2 cups of water, then add the steam/trivet rack that it came with to the pot, and lay about 3 or 4 clean corn husks on top of the trivet to help raise and support the tamales so that they’re not touching the bottom of the pot.
Place the tamales in the Instant Pot open end facing up, making sure to lean them against the side of the pot so they don’t fall down. It will be a tight fit, but just squeeze all of the tamales in there.
Close the lid, seal the pressure valve, and pressure cook on high for 45 minutes followed by a natural pressure release of 15 minutes.
Carefully transfer the tamales to a baking sheet or serving platter with tongs and let them sit and cool for 10-15 minutes. They’ll be a little squishy when you first take them out of the Instant Pot, but will quickly firm up once they have time to cool.
Storing and Reheating
To store, place tamales in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week.
To freeze, place tamales in an airtight container or freezer-safe bag and freeze them for up to 6 months.
To reheat, heat them in the oven for 10 minutes at 350°F or in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
For corn husks
- 28-30 corn husks (½ lb bag should be enough)
- hot water
For the red chile pork
- 6 cups water, divided
- 1.5 ounces dried guajillo chiles, rinsed, stems and seeds removed
- 1.5 ounces dried ancho chiles, rinsed, stems and seeds removed
- 1-3 arbol chiles, stems removed (optional – only add if you want to add a little spice)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, excess fat removed and cut into large 4-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
For the masa
- 4 cups masa harina
- 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp canola oil (or corn, vegetable or any other neutral-tasting oil)
- 3 1/4 cups broth (chicken, beef or vegetable – low sodium preferred)
Prep the corn husks
- Soak the corn husks: Add the corn husks to a large bowl or pot. Pour enough hot water over the corn husks to cover them completely. Cover the bowl with aluminum foil and let them soak for 1 hour to soften them up.
Make the red chile pork
- Soak the chiles: Bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Remove from heat and add the guajillo, ancho, and arbol chiles to the hot water, then cover with a lid. Set aside for 15 minutes to let the chiles soften.
- Make the chile sauce: Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chiles to a large blender. Add garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, ground cumin, 1 cup of the chile soaking water and 1 cup of fresh water.
- Blend the chile sauce: Blend on high until completely smooth, about 3 minutes depending on the power of your blender. Set aside.
- Brown the pork: Season the pork with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt on all sides. Press the sauté button on the Instant Pot and add the cooking oil. When hot, add the pork and sear until browned on all sides.
- Cook the pork: Add the red chile sauce and bay leaf. Cover with the lid, seal the steam release vent, and pressure cook on high for 40 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then open the steam release valve to release any remaining pressure.
- Shred the pork: Carefully transfer the pork and the red chile sauce to a large bowl and shred the meat with two forks. The meat will be fall-apart tender and shred easily.
- Rinse the inner pot: Carefully rinse the inner pot of the Instant Pot under warm water. Give it a quick dry with some paper towels and set it back in the Instant Pot.
Make the masa harina
- Mix the masa harina: In a very large mixing bowl or pot, add the masa harina, salt and baking powder. Combine with a whisk or a fork.
- Add the oil: Add canola oil and mix together with your hands, working the dough through your fingers until everything is well combined and incorporated. The dough should feel a little crumbly, almost like wet sand, and should lightly hold it's shape when pressed together.
- Add the broth: Add broth and mix for about 3-5 minutes until the dough is fairly wet and well saturated. The dough should be soft and spreadable like thick hummus. If the dough is too dry, add more broth. If it's too wet, add more masa harina. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap until ready to assemble the tamales.
- Finish prepping the corn husks: Drain the water from the corn husks and pat them dry. Lay them flat onto a baking sheet for easy access.
- Spread the masa onto corn husks: Grab a corn husk and identify which is the smooth side and which is the side with ridges. Place the smooth side face up into your palm or on a plate. Using a large spoon, grab a heaping spoonful of masa and place it in the middle of the corn husk. Using the back of the spoon, spread the masa in a thin layer to create rectangle shape, leaving the top 1/3 of the corn husk empty. (see post above for step-by-step photos)
- Add the filling: Using a different spoon, place a heaping tablespoon or so of the red chile pork into the center of the corn husk. Don't put too much filling or it will overflow when you close it.
- Fold: Fold together the long edges of the corn husk like a book, and then fold it once more. Fold the pointy edge over so that only one side of the corn husk is open and exposed, and lay it against the side of a large bowl so that it stands upright and the filling doesn’t spill out.
- Prepare the Instant Pot: Fill the bottom of the Instant Pot with 1 1/2 cups water and insert the steam/trivet rack that came with the Instant Pot. Lay a few corn husks flat over the rack (see photos in blog post above.)
- Fill the Instant Pot: Place the tamales in the Instant Pot on the rack with the open end facing up, making sure to lean them against the side of the pot so they don't fall down. You may need to hold them up with one hand while filling the pot with more tamales with the other hand at first. I was able to fit all 24 tamales in my Instant Pot. It’s a tight fit, but it will fit!
- Cook: Cover the Instant Pot with the lid, seal the steam release valve, and pressure cook on high for 45 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then open the steam release valve to release any remaining pressure.
- Let cool: Carefully transfer the tamales to a baking sheet or serving platter and let them sit and cool for 10-15 minutes. They’ll be a little squishy when you first take them out of the Instant Pot, but will quickly firm up once they have time to cool. Serve and enjoy!