Can you freeze tamales before steaming?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you freeze tamales before steaming?”, and how to freeze and reheat tamales?

Can you freeze tamales before steaming?

Yes, you can freeze tamales before steaming. For steaming, leave the corn husk on so that the tamales do not cling to the steamer. You can use a special tamales steamer for this purpose. Make sure you let the tamales thaw before steaming.

“Tamales” is the Spanish plural of tamal, from Nahuatl; tamalli means “wrapped cooked masa” and is a starchy dough, usually corn-based. The term is used in Mexico and most South and Central American countries. Today, in Mexico, production of tamales begins with a masa made from nixtamalized corn or flour (dry masa) mixed with lard or vegetable shortening (1).

Mexico produces 23 million t of maize and ranks fourth in producing countries in the world, after the United States, China and Brazil, with 224, 146 and 42 million t respectively. The maize tortilla industry plays a significant role in the Mexican economy, accounting for 1% of Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product (2).

How long can you freeze tamales?

Stored in an air-tight container or plastic wrapped in a freezer bag, tamales will last 35 months in the freezer. Tamales remain safe to eat even after 35 months but the flavor and the texture won’t be as good (4). 

A study showed that tamales stored for 2 months in frozen conditions at -18°C underwent changes of color, texture and loss of moisture, which significantly decreased the quality of the food, especially the texture, and hardness of the dough was observed (3).

How to freeze tamales?

Leave to cool: Let the tamales sit on the cooling rack for about 1 hour. Tamales need to be at room temperature before you attempt to freeze them. Do not leave them out for too long or it could lead to spoilage. 

Pack them: Put the tamales into an air-tight container or a freezer bag. Air-tight containers will naturally take up more space and you will have to defrost the entire lot at once.

Freezer bags, on the other hand, fit into a small space and you can defrost as many tamales as you want at once. Wrap the tamales individually in a plastic sheet before popping them in the freezer bag.

Label: Label is important to identify the frozen product. It also helps with stock rotation. Besides, it tells you how long the tamales have been frozen. 

Therefore, put a clear label, with the date and name of its contents, on whatever freezing medium you are using. 

Freezing uncooked tamales 

Masa, the dough used to make tamale, is categorized as perishable. Therefore, masa does not freeze well. You can freeze uncooked tamales but it is not recommended. To do it safely, follow the steps below:

  1. Prepare the tamale filling and let it cool. 
  2. Pack the filling in corn husk wrapping or transfer it as-is to an air-tight container. The air-tight container will prevent the formation of ice crystals which ruin the texture of the filling after thawing.
  3. Label and freeze.

Cooking frozen uncooked tamales 

Before cooking frozen tamales, you need to thaw them first. The safest method of thawing is to leave the frozen tamales in the fridge overnight and then steam cook them. 

If the filling was stored separately from the dough, defrost both of them in the fridge overnight before packing in the corn husk and steaming. Generally, completely thawed tamales take about 25 minutes over medium heat to steam cook. 

The cooking time will vary with the number of tamales you are steaming at once and their size. Wrapped tamales can be directly cooked from frozen in the steamer. 

How do various fillings affect freezing?

Tamale filling that contains meat and shrimp adapt well to the freezing environment. If there are any veggies in the filling, freezing will degrade its quality. The FDA recommends that cooked meat and cooked vegetables should be consumed within 2-4 months, with the exception of cooked poultry, which can be stored for up to 6 months when frozen.

Freezing ruins the crunchy texture of the veggies and makes them mushy. Therefore, it is recommended to use undercooked or uncooked veggies in the filling.

Dairy fillings like cheese lose their moisture and tend to become crumbly. Cheese-filled tamales are best consumed within 3 months, depending on the type of cheese. 

The shelf life of each frozen filling can be found on the website of the US Department of Agriculture.

How to reheat tamales?

After thawing, there are several ways like steaming, microwaving, frying, and baking to reheat the tamales. 

Microwaving: This is a rather quick and easy way of reheating tamales. Simply place the tamale on a microwave-safe plate along with a cup of water. 

The water will provide adequate moisture to the tamales during heating to make sure they are soft and tender. Microwave for 2-5 minutes and check after regular intervals.

Frying: Grease a frying pan and fry the tamales for 5-10 minutes until golden brown from both sides. Remove the corn husk before frying.

Baking: Grease a baking tray with some butter or cooking spray. Place the tamales and bake for 30 minutes at 425℉ in the oven. Make sure you remove the husk before baking.

How to steam Tamales without a steamer?

A rice cooker and an instant pot can be used as a makeshift steamer to reheat your Tamales. The following method works best If you are reheating 4-6 Tamales at a time or else they will be too congested to reheat evenly. 

To protect the Tamales from the water, the bottom of the rice cooker must be covered with rolled-up aluminum foil or a round metal rack.

  1. Fill the rice cooker with an inch or two of water. Make sure your Tamales do not touch the water and are placed in a standing position with the open end facing upwards.
  2. Check for the doneness and the internal temperature of the Tamales after 20 minutes. Cook for a few more minutes If needed.

Other FAQs about Tamales that you may be interested in.

Can you freeze tamales?

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question “Can you freeze tamales before steaming?”, and how to freeze and reheat tamales?

References

  1. de Dios Figueroa‐Cárdenas, Juan, et al. Effect of processing procedure on the formation of resistant starch in tamales. Starch‐Stärke, 2016, 68, 1121-1128.
  2. Salazar, Rodrigo Valdes. Measuring market integration and pricing efficiency along regional maize-tortilla chains of Mexico. Rev Facult Cienc Agrar UNCuyo, 2018, 50, 279-292.
  3. Machado-Velasco, K. M., and J. F. Vélez-Ruiz. Study of physical properties in Mexican foods during freezing and frozen storage. Rev mexic ing quím, 2008, 7, 41-54.
  4. Leftovers and Food Safety. US Department of Agriculture. 2020.