Variety, flavor, convenience! The tamale has it all— but there can be too much of a good thing. How to reheat tamales if you have leftovers?
A while ago I took some tamales home from a Mexican food party a friend threw (they were so delicious I could not help myself!), and I stored them in the fridge. Over the next couple of days, I tried different ways to reheat them— some more successful than others.
As I know many of you may have encountered this same problem, I decided to share my experience with you. If you read through, I’m sure you will be well prepared!
Tamale fillings: a whole wide world
It’s no wonder this ancient food has spread so far and wide and is today one of our favorite dishes. Originally from Ancient Mexico, tamales have spread through international cuisine and developed into many different types!
You can find tamales that are purely vegetarian, such as those filled with corn and peppers, a wok-like mix of veggies, cheese, or even caramel!
There are also many tamale options for the meat lovers among us: chicken, pork, beef, lamb, or any combination of these.
Why is knowing your fillings important? You need to know what your tamales contain in order to know how to store and reheat it!
How to store tamales to keep them safe and tasty
As I always say, you should be very careful with the storage of any sort of meat dish (no matter if it is chicken, pork, etc.). Bacteria love meat and, if you are not careful, you could get very sick!
You should not leave meat tamales at room temperature for more than 2 hours— or even less if it is hot outside. You should cover them in aluminum foil or plastic wrap (taking as much air out as you can), place them in a sealed container and keep them in the fridge, away from any uncooked ingredients. This way, they will last up to 2-3 days.
Vegetable based tamales are generally less of a fuss to store. Though you still want to be careful, you can leave them out of the refrigerator for up to 4 hours. When you place them in the cold, follow the same instructions as for the meat. They’ll last up to 4 days.
You can also freeze any of these foods indefinitely!
However, if they contain eggs, cheese, or other dairy products, you are safer following the same rules as with meat products. I don’t like freezing these sort of fillings— the texture changes too much—, but it is up to personal taste.
Okay, you’ve stored your tamales properly to keep them safe to eat and tasty, now what?
When you want to eat them— always make sure you have kept them only for the safe amount of time— it is time to consider how you will reheat them!
You can warm up tamales by steaming them, sticking them on a pan or in the microwave or— always my favorite option— baking them in the oven until they’re crispy.
The best way to reheat tamales
My favorite way to do this is to reheat tamales in the oven: it’s healthy, it makes the tamales crispy, golden, and you can even add cheese! What’s not to love?
- Make the oven hot! Tamales do not take a long time to heat up, so you don’t risk burning them. Anything between 400 and 450 degrees is fine.
- You can choose to wrap them in aluminum foil (some people prefer to leave the foil out when heating food up).
- Place the tamales on a baking tray and put them in the oven. Be careful to leave space between them!
- Check on them and turn them over at the 10 minutes mark.
- After 20 minutes total, or when you see they’ve turned gold, take them out.
- If you used aluminum foil, let the tamales sit for five minutes before unwrapping them with care.
Now you know how to cook tamales in the oven— my very favorite way to do it!
How to warm up tamales using a steamer
I also experimented steaming some tamales using my trusty pot and a steam basket. As this is the way they are originally cooked, it will give you the most authentic tamale taste.
- First, set your tamales out and calculate how many pieces you want to reheat: they should fit in the steamer vertically.
- Pour some water into the pot. You want it to be enough to last the whole process, but not so much it will reach the bottom of the steam basket.
- Heat up the pot to medium temperature (not boiling!).
- Put the tamales in the steam basket vertically. They should have enough space to move, as you want the steam to reach every corner.
- Place the basket inside the pot and cover with the lid.
- If you notice the water running out, add more boiling water using a kettle.
- Bring the water to a boil. After some time, take the steamer basket out and let it cool before you serve the tamales.
If you are wondering how long to steam tamales: 15 minutes or a bit longer! It depends on whether you like the crust softer or more firm.
How to heat up tamales in a pan
To reheat tamales on the stovetop, you will need a couple of things:
- Some oil: I recommend using olive oil (so yummy!), but you can pick whichever you like— canola, coconut, sunflower, etc.
- A deep pan with rounded edges. It needs to be non-stick so the tamales can slide around easily. Think of the sort of pan you would make pancakes in.
- Frying tongs (silicone are usually the best).
- A plate covered with paper towels.
- Any spice or extra ingredient you would like to throw into the mix (because why not?)
- Put the pan on the stove and set the heat to medium.
- Add the oil to the pan and make sure it covers all the surface.
- This is the only time I will recommend taking off your tamale husks. They take up too much space in the pan and could easily get burnt and spoil the fillings.
- Place the husk-less tamales on the hot pan. Each of the pieces should have space to slide around. If needed, you can cook them in more than one go.
- Cover the pan with its lid.
- Every few minutes, uncover to check on the tamales and turn them over using your frying tongs.
- Do this several times, until the surface looks crispy.
- Turn off the heat and, with the tongs, grab the hot tamales and place them on the paper-covered plate.
This method of reheating will give you crunchy, golden tamales. However, I do not like it as much as I do the oven because it takes a lot of oil— not great for the health— and it forces you to remove the charming husks.
How to cook premade tamales
When you get your tamales at a store, they are usually pre-cooked but frozen. When you take them out of the freezer to heat them up, you should first let them thaw for about 5-10 minutes.
If you are going for the authentic tamale experience, steam them!
You can follow the same instructions as for reheating them. Only extend the steaming time to 20-25 minutes, and make sure to add enough water.
You can also use any of the other cooking methods, but extend all the time estimates about 10 minutes.
NOTE, especially for reheating frozen tamales, but can apply to the refrigerated ones as well: if you are not sure your tamales are cooked, use a kitchen thermometer.
You can insert it through the husk and read it easily: they should be at least 165 F. If they are not there yet, keep cooking! This note is particularly important if your tamales contain any kind of meat or animal product.
Serving and enjoying tamales
This dish, with its many delicious varieties and very long history, brings us exotic and comforting flavor. It’s to be enjoyed best surrounded by your community!
So invite all your friends or family over, get some tamales, and use any of these methods to heat them up.
When you serve them, make sure to accompany them with dips, cheese, and salt and pepper. This way, each guest will be able to customize their tamales to their own taste!
And you, the cook, will be able to relax, shine, and enjoy along with everyone else.
A quick recap
Long story short, you can keep premade tamales in the fridge or freezer. If they are in the freezer, you might want to thaw them before reheating.
When you choose a method to warm up the tamales, you have the option to do so in the oven (crispy and simple, my favorite!), in a steamer basket (to retain the authentic texture and flavor), or in a pan (fun and fast, only a little bit oily).
How to reheat tamales? Whichever path you take, the results will always be delicious!