How Long Does It Take To Cook Tamales On The Stove? Easy Guide

How long does it take to cook tamales on the stove? People often look for shortcuts, but the options are limited.

I’ll show you how to cook these delicious savory snacks on a stovetop with a traditional tamalera or a makeshift steaming basket. We will also explore cooking times, determining their doneness, and how to complete the cooking process if they are not done.

Tamales on a plate.

What Are Tamales?

Tamales are similar to Dominican Pasteles En Hoja, which I have also covered on my blog. 

Essentially, these savory snacks are made using three elements. The first is the masa dough. This dough is made from masa harina (a corn meal), water, fat, and seasonings. There are many different recipes, but they are all supposed to create a flavor-packed savory dough with a relatively stiff consistency.

Next, you have the filling, where you have various options. Traditionally, it’s either chicken or beef. But you will also find vegetable-based, pork, and fish tamales. The filling is what arguably adds the most flavor to these small meals.

And finally, you will also need corn husks. While pasteles are cooked in a plantain leaf parcel, tamales are cooked in a corn husk parcel. 

Now, you don’t eat the corn husk at any point. It’s functional and will help keep the pocket together while ensuring the dough cooks evenly and thoroughly.

If you want to try making Pasteles En Hoja, I have a Chicken version and a Beef recipe you can try.

Tamales On The table

How Are Tamales Cooked On The Stove?

The cooking method for tamales is fascinating. This cooking technique is rarely used, but it plays a crucial role in developing the best texture and flavor for these pockets.

As previously mentioned, you will wrap the dough and filling in a corn husk and secure it with a butcher’s twine (optional).

Once assembled, the pockets are steamed on the stove in a special pot called a “tamalera.”

Many other steaming techniques can be used to cook these delicious treats today.

Cooking Tamales On The Stove

How Long To Steam Tamales On The Stovetop

Generally speaking, tamales take roughly 2 hours to cook on the stove. However, there is a very specific steaming technique that has to be used.

First, you can use a traditional vessel (the tamalera) or make your make-shift stovetop steamer. 

Fill the bottom with water (enough to last for 2 hours) and add the steaming basket over it. The basket shouldn’t touch the water, and the lid should be able to close tightly. If it doesn’t, more heat (and steam) will escape, causing the tamales to cook unevenly and much longer.

Place the tamales in the steamer. Secure the pot with a lid and heat the water until it reaches a rolling boil. After it begins to boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer. If the water boils too rapidly, the tamales will be wet, ruining their consistency.

Allow the tamales to continue cooking for a minimum of 2 hours. You may need to top up the water to prevent the pot from drying. 

Tamales On The Stove

When Are Tamales Finished Steaming?

If you are unsure about the cooking time for tamales, you can always check their progress.

The tamales finish cooking on the stove when the masa dough becomes firm and no uncooked dough remains. Assemble the tamales with pre-cooked filling, eliminating concerns about the filling’s doneness.

To test this, remove one tamale from the steamer when the minimum recommended time has elapsed. Let it cool down to room temperature until it’s safe to touch.

Open the husk. The dough should effortlessly peel away from it. The dough’s exterior should also exhibit a completely smooth texture.

You can also cut through the tamale to see if the dough is cooked and spongy.

Tamales cut in half on the table

How To Make A Steamer For Tamales

You can also create your version if you don’t have a traditional tamalera or stovetop steamer.

There are naturally a couple of different options you can try. The aim is to establish a shield between the water and the tamales.

In my opinion, the easiest method is to turn a colander or strainer upside down.
Confirm that the lid can be fastened tightly. The holes in the strainer will allow the steam to cook the tamales while still elevating them above the water level.

You can also use an aluminum pie dish. Create some perforations in the foil to allow the steam to come through. Place it inside the pot, upside down, and add the tamales over the top.

Guatemalan Tamales in a basket.

Can You Use A Bamboo Steaming Basket To Cook Tamales On The Stove?

Of course, you can! But you must ensure that the basket seals tightly so no steam escapes. 

The bamboo steaming basket is ideal because there are many different sizes and layers. This will enable you to steam many tamales simultaneously, possibly avoiding having to cook multiple batches for hours!

Plus, a steaming basket has many functions. So, if you invest in one, it’s a tool that can last you a lifetime!

Tamales Bamboo Steaming Basket

How Long Does It Take To Cook Tamales In A Pressure Cooker?

You can steam your tamales quickly using an instant pot or pressure cooker. While it’s not ideal, it’s still an option in a pinch.

The authentic tamales’ cooking time will depend on the appliance, heat setting, and size of the pockets.

To use this appliance, add some water to the inner pot. Add the steam rack as a barrier between the water and the tamales. Next, add the assembled tamales, leaving space between them to prevent them from sticking.

Next, close the lid and ensure the steaming valve is closed. If it’s open, the tamales won’t steam.

Set the pressure cooker or instant pot to high pressure and leave them to cook for 20 minutes.

After finishing, allow the steam to release until the pin drops, indicating the chamber has depressurized. If the tamales aren’t fully cooked, close the lid and steam valve, and allow them to cook for 2-4 minutes.

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