A pressure cooker is a fantastic steam-producing machine – the perfect tool to use to cook traditionally steamed foods, like tamales,  in minutes not hours.Some hip recipes are spontaneous are written and photographed just minutes after the ingredients are spotted at the market and smuggled home while others, like these tamales, require a lot of planning, research and actual smuggling.

I don’t have easy access to corn husks or masa in Italy, so when I visited the U.S. last summer I came back with a 4.4 pound pack of Masa Harina stuffed in my suitcase (along with corn husks, chiles, quinoa and other hard-to-find ingredients from the Americas). Italian airport agricultural inspection, unlike in the US, is just a pistol-packing carabiniere with a cigarette stub precariously hanging off his lips waving a gloved hand to teams of passengers either to the right or left velvet ropes.  If kids are within reach, the gloved hand reaches out and pats their heads goodbye – briefly stopping the heart of the American supermarket packing parent.

Pressure Cooking Time for Tamales

pressure cooker tamales

When looking for the right pressure cooking time for tamales, instead of just dividing the regular cooking time  by three I looked back at the polenta recipe. Ground corn under pressure cooks for an absurdly short amount of time (8 instead of 45 minutes for polenta). After all, tamales are all about steaming the masa, activating the fat that’s been folded into it and re-heating the pre-cooked filling.

I recommend pressure cooking tamales 15-20 minutes at high pressure with a natural open- a big leap from the 1 1/2 to 2 hours they would ordinarily need without pressure. Don’t believe it? Try it! If the tamales are not cooked to your satisfaction, all you have to loose is a few more minutes of cooking time under pressure – but you won’t !

Make a Meal of It

Pressure Cooker Mexican Meal
Want to make this whole delicious Mexican meal? You need to get started two days ahead of the actual meal. The tamales don’t need to be cooked fresh, they can also be fabricated and cooked a day, or more, before and kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Then, re-heated by pressure cooking for 5 minutes at high pressure with natural open. Here’s how….

Two days ahead:
-Put the dry spice rub on the Carnitas (Pulled Pork).

One day ahead:
-Cook the Carnitas (or your favorite filling), shred, reduce and cool cooking liquid to de-fat.
– Rinse and put beans to soak, for Frijoles (Re-fired Beans).
– Make Chocoflan Dessert.

The day:
-De-fat Carnitas cooking liquid and use to spice-up Masa.
-Make the tamales.
-Pressure cook Frijoles and keep in a covered dish (they will stay warm for hours)!
-Pressure Cook tamales and keep warm in the oven on low heat covered with a damp cloth.
-Just before serving, make Arroz (Spanish Rice).


Pressure Cooker Tamales, Mexican Rice and Refried Beans

Pressure Cooker Accessories Pr. Cook Time Pr. Level Open
5 L or larger  steamer    15-20 min.    High(2)  Natural

4.5 from 8 reviews
Quick Pressure Cooker Tamales
Recipe type: pressure cooker
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
The instructions for making the masa use stand mixer (and I did), but you can certainly knead the dough vigorously by hand for about 15-20 minutes. If you're lucky enough to live near a Mexican market, you may be able to purchase already mixed masa dough that is ready to go in your tamales!
For the Masa: (or follow ingredients/instructions on package
  • 3 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening (or other fat such as olive oil, corn oil, butter, lard)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 2 cups liquid (water, stock or a portion of the carnitas cooking liquid)
  1. Rinse the corn husks and put them in a large shallow dish, like a casserole, and pour enough boiling water to cover. Use a heavy object, like the top from a pan, to keep the husks immersed.
  2. In the bowl of your mixer add masa harina, shortening, baking powder and salt. Using the paddle attachment, slowly incorporate the ingredients and pour in about half the water into the bowl of a stand up mixer. With paddle going slowly, drizzle about 1½ cups of the liquid. Masa should have a very soft “play-doh” type consistency - combined and sticky to the touch, not runny or crumbly. More or less liquid can be added to achieve the desired masa consistency.
  3. Lay out your work area with corn husks, filling, masa and either the cooking liquid from Carnitas or chile sauce.
  4. Just before starting to construct the tamales, flip the corn husks around so the ones that were soaking on the bottom are now on the top.
  5. Lay out one or three corn husks and wipe them down with a kitchen towel to dry and spread an even layer of masa in the middle top ⅔ of the husk.
  6. Place a small amount of meat (or filling of your choice) in the middle. Wet with carnitas cooking liquid or chile sauce.
  7. Carefully fold closed, and then fold the bottom part, without squeezing. Leave the tops open.
  8. Add 2 cups of water to the pressure cooker, add the steamer basket, and place the tamales open-side up. It may take a bit of arranging and some may be diagonal but no horizontal tamales!
  9. If not all can fit, cook in two batches. If you have just a few, tie them together in groups of threes with kitchen string (Alton Brown -style) so that they form a bit of a tripod can stand up on their own.
  10. Close the lid and set the valve to pressure cooking position.
  11. Electric pressure cookers: Cook for 20 minutes at high pressure.
    Stovetop pressure cookers: Lock the lid and cook for 15 minutes at high pressure.
  12. When time is up, open the pressure cooker with the Natural pressure release.
    Electric pressure cookers: Disengage the “keep warm” mode, or unplug the cooker, and open the lid when the pressure indicator/lid-lock has gone down (about 20 to 30 minutes).
    Stovetop pressure cookers: Move the cooker off the burner and wait for the pressure to come down on its own (about 10 minutes).Serve hot tamales in their wrappers.
    Makes 36-40 tamales - depending on the size.

Getting things ready for Pressure Cooker TamalesFilling Tamales for Pressure CookingFilling the pressure cooker with tamales

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  1. YES TAMALE TIME! I have been wanting to make these since I watched the Good Eats “Tamale Never Dies” episode. Now I don’t have to make a deal with Ol’ Scratch for them. Thanks. Dave

    1. Though, definitely press the neighborhood kids into servitude for the assemblage!



  2. Can’t wait to try this. Maybe when you are in san francisco you can visit the Rancho Gordo store and get some real posole (hominy). It is another corn product that could benefit from pressure cooking. It has a 2 hour cook time. Rancho Gordo also has fantastic quinoa.

    1. Theeersasaaaa! You’re already planning my next smuggling operation.

      I didn’t know Rancho Gordo had a store in San Francisco. I’ll definitely be stopping there. My husband told me to stop bringing English children’s books back with me (we really have alot)so you know what that means. MORE room for food!! ; )

      Hominy. Check!



    2. I second the recommendation for Rancho Gordo products, especially the heirloom beans. The original store is in Napa if you are up for a drive in wine country. If you go, save time for lunch and shopping at the nearby rOxbow Market and Fatted Calf charcuterie/deli.

  3. Just curious where you are in Italy. I spent almost 3 years at Camp Darby, near Pisa. Back then the Carbinaris carried sub-machine guns!
    Now to the recipe. Lived in Chicago back in the 1960’s, early ’70’s. Tamales were all over the place and I loved them! Have found they are not so common in other places I’ve been in the US. Can’t wait to try your recipe.

    1. Tony, I’m in Anzio (RM) – on the coast south-west of Rome. I was describing the Ag check at Fiumicino Airport – but yes, there was also military personnel which had semi-automatics hanging off their shoulders and swaying side to side they walked!



  4. Me and my husband made tamales last year using Rick Bayless’ method. His recipe called for big fat ones that we decided to pressure cook by the time we made it through the whole batch to the last ones. They took about 45 minutes to cook in the pressure cooker but they came out great and in a lot less time than the 2 hours it was taking to steam them. Leftover tamales freeze great and are easily reheated in the microwave or pressure cooker without any loss of taste or texture.

    1. Michelle, Juchitán-style tamales made in Banana leaves sound like a great idea in the pressure cooker- they probably need alot less time to be constructed, too! Thanks for sharing your pressure cooking time for these giant tamales!!


  5. These sound great Laura. I have not made tamales in years! Of course when you live in Southern California, you can get good ones many places. Still, homemade is always best. I’ll do chicken in mine. I had to smile reading about your smuggling operation. We take much for granted, what we can buy in stores here. Rancho Gordo has been one of my suppliers for years. I must have 10 pounds of beans in the pantry now. Hmm, time for a batch of beans in the PC. Thanks! Last time I was i Italy I smuggled home truffled pecorino cheese and of course some wine not available here!

    1. When I lived in the US I brought four fresh truffles -highly illegal because they are dusted with dirt that the U.S. agricultural inspection is worried will get from my house to a nearby farm -never-mind that the closest was 100 miles! Back then, though, there was no fancy machinery and we only had to fool SFO’s Beagle Brigade. No matter how tightly closed or wrapped in my husband’s dirty socks I had to move quickly because my suitcase had a delicious scent wafting behind it. We got through, though and shared our delicious loot with friends and family!

  6. As someone who has lived in New Mexico his whole life and was very intimidated with the preparation of Tamales you have made me a very happy man. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Richard, though I’m sure you can get some pretty delicious tamales where you live already there is nothing like making them at home! I hope you will try it.



  7. Thanks for the tip. For the masa, I followed the directions on the side of my package (using bacon and guanciale renderings) and filled with some leftover smoked pork butt, cheddar, chipotle, and hatch chili. But the genius here is steaming in the pressure cooker. These came out amazing-best-ever.

    1. Oh wow… sounds fantastic. Next time, take a picture and post it on the Facebook page (or your blog) so we can all see the deliciousness!



  8. Does anyone know how to make the small tamales you get in Guatemala?

  9. Laura – I live in Southern Ontario in Canada – close to a great farm. Do you know how I could make my own dried corn husks? It seems silly just to throw them away & buy ready-made ones. I haven’t tried my pressure cooker yet, but with the hot weather coming, I’m planning ahead! Thanks :)

    1. I live in GTA. I think I’ve seen them in Highland Farms, but I don’t get there very often anymore. Google maps aslo shows a couple latin markets in the 905–one in Brampton and one in Mississauga. I know my TO friends are able to get latin ingredients–Kensington Market I think,

      I’ve also seen tamales made with squares of parchment rather than the corn husks. Maybe not the most authentic, but I think I might try it, rather than running all around the town. I just don’t have the time for that.

  10. Once the carnitas is cooked it has very little fat left on it and can be removed by hand. I am afraid that these tamales will come out very dry. Traditionally, some cooks prepare chile colorado as a filling which most often uses beef. For carnitas, a simple enchilada sauce (easy, easy , easy) made from chile powder (1Tbs. per cup of water/broth used), chopped onion, cumin, oregano, salt and a flour roux would be great for flavor and keeping the filling moist. I simmer my sauce for about 30 min. and it is also used as our enchilada sauce. Some cooks add a little cocoa powder which gives the sauce depth and body. I use a mild chile powder available at our grocer mixed with a little Kashmiri chile and some Hungarian paprika for sweetness. Not exactly traditional in the old world sense but delicious. A little of this sauce mixed with the carnitas will add moisture and a more authentic flavor. I use no spices when cooking our carnitas. Also, like some other Hispanic cooks, an olive or two in the center of the tamale is a great treat. Some use green and hubby likes the black olives. It depends on the region the cook is from.

    1. Great tips from an expert. I can assure you that these tamales were not dry, but quite moist!

      1. Terrific! I remember the first time I made tamales and they were very dry. I think the juices from cooking must keep these very moist. Live and learn. I like using the chile sauce though because it adds so much flavor. Thanks for your recipe! : )

    2. Measurements of all spices?

  11. Finally, I made tamales with a friend who is from Mexico. I have 5 dozen in the freezer..but we cooked a dozen using the pressure cooker. My friend doesn’t even own a pressure cooker and was not to sure about this method. However, 20 min. Later..and 10 min. Of cooling we had perfectly cooked tamales. Vs 1 1/2 hours of steaming. Why in the world would anyone use anything except a pressure cooker for tamales, beans..etc. etc. A million thanks for your recipes, suggestions and this web site.

    1. Allright, Carla! I think you just converted someone else to the pressure cooker. Thanks for sharing your tamles story.



  12. I just want to echo what everyone else has said, this is absolutely the best way to steam tamales!!! I will never do it any other way… Thanks again for all the great pressure cooker recipes and ideas….

  13. I made Nacatamles which are larger and wrapped in banana leaves. Saved so much time using the pressure cooker that I now consider it something I can prepare more than 2 or 3 times a year. Having said that, I’ve been looking for was to reduce the calorie count by using some substitute for the butter/oil in the masa. Not the entire amount but at least 1/2 or 1/3. I’d give it a test run with 1/3 broth but since it’s not so easy for me to buy masa, I don’t want to waste any.

  14. Hi
    I like the look of these, but cannot get corn husks, any suggestions to an alternative available here in uk?
    Great site, keep up the good work!

  15. Lmcfood – Greetings! Although corn husks are traditional and part of the experience, I certainly understand your predicament. I suggest looking online for a vendor who sells them. You may find them on eBay. Also, it is possible to cut parchment paper to wrap the tamales in. I am not sure, but I would use two pieces in order to make the parchment sturdier. In the U.S., we are able to buy Reynolds parchment that has foil on one side and parchment on the other side. I would put the foil on the inside, the side that the masa is spread onto. You could buy the foil and parchment separately and use them together as well. I hope I am making sense. Please let us know how this worked out for you.

  16. Hi Lmcfood: In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have a large Latino population. Many don’t use corn husks, opting for a parchment-type of paper instead. It’s less expensive, there are no size variations and you don’t need to soak & wash it before use… I’m pretty sure it would work ok in a pressure cooker.

  17. I make tamales in Australia in my PC with parchment paper frequently. I_Fortuna is right, though. Parchment paper is not as sturdy as corn husks or banana leaves. I make and shape the tamales in parchment and then wrap them in foil. Also, they are very soft when the come out of the cooker, but will set to a nice pudding constitution when allowed to cool off just a bit. Don’t remove the foil and paper before they set.

  18. Can I use the fat that comes off the top of the Carnitas liquid as the fat that goes into the Masa mix?

    1. Hi Greg, You can, but when I PC a roast I am lucky to get a 1/4 cup of fat rendered. What I do is collect the fat I cook with, strain it, put it in a jar and refrigerate it. When I cook bacon, for instance, I cook it in coconut oil, I strain the bits out and collect it. You can certainly collect more fat this way. Fat collected this way may not take that long depending on your cooking style.
      Certainly the liquid used in cooking the pork can be and is often used in place of water or other types of broth. I would separate the fat out first before using the liquid for measurement sake. This way you can measure out the fat precisely and also the liquid. Hope this helps : )

  19. I finally got around to cooking these yesterday. Absolutely loved them. I am suffering a little today though. However that may have been the frijoles I had with them. Or the chile sauce – I tried about 5 different types. Amazing variations there, but I only scratched the surface of the several hundred types available in my local – well same country – specialist Mexican providore.

    I used about 2/3rd of the mixture – 2 Cups masa harina as I was only cooking for three.
    I only ended up with 12 tamales though. Perhaps I spread the dough too thickly. I used fingers to spread it out. Next time I will try a spatula or knife. Or perhaps the flour I used was too coarse. It was specialist “masa para tamales” and was more like a fine semolina than flour.

    The other thing of note was that keeping them in the oven to keep warm seemed to dry them out too much. Perhaps that is normal and correct. I have never eaten, much less cooked, tamales before, but I got worried. In the end I put them back in the PC to steam on low pressure for 4 minutes to warm them back up. It seemed to work well. Luckily I have two PCs as the little one was busy with the arroz. But the big beast was free for this task.

    Anyway I will be trying them again. Probably very soon as I still have a LOT of the pulled pork left over.

    A final note to fellow Australians. I see in the messages above that getting the corn husks are an issue, and I certainly found it so. In the end I found two stockists: Fireworks Food in Sydney. and Guaca-Mall-e in Melbourne. Both have an online presence. I visited the Sydney mob.They were out of stock when I tried and said they were having trouble getting them but were still trying. I am not surprised. Australian quarantine officers make the Americans look like Italians ;) Luckily the Melbournians had a few packs in stock.

    1. Hi Greg, it may be the way you are cooking your beans. Are they from scratch? If so, they should be soaked overnight or longer and the soaking water poured out and the beans rinsed with fresh. They should be soaked to the point of of almost sprouting. You will see the bean ready to split. Some soak them until they sprout completely. This is to rid the beans of phytic acid. Phytic acid interfers with digestion and can block valuable nutrient absorption. Then the beans should be cooked a very long time to rid them of the rest. Phytic acid is in all nuts, seeds, beans, all legumes and pulses as a matter of fact and most vegetables.
      If any of these are undersoaked or undercooked people can have an unpleasant reaction.
      Hope this helps. : )

      1. Thanks for that, I_Fortuna.
        I followed LP’s Frijole recipe. Beforehand I soaked the dry beans for almost 24 Hours, changing the water in the middle. Then rinsed them. Neither of the other participants suffered except at one remove. ;) I believe some people are particularly susceptible. I seem to be one of the lucky ones. Sigh. Still the meal was sufficiently delicious that it will stay on the menu. Probably three or four times a year. I used a mixture of pinto and red kidney beans – mostly pinto – if that makes a difference.

        1. Hi Greg, the more you eat of beans, veggies and the like your body gets used to it. If you don’t mind, I would like to suggest having some kefir or live yogurt around to soothe the digestive tract. Not too much of fermented food though until you get used to them too. My motto: “Things in moderation.” from my grandma! : )

  20. I don’t mind at all. Good to know.
    I usually have yoghurt when I cook/eat Indian, and was almost going to have some with the meal, but when I was in the Sydney store, I was given some Horchata. This is basically a sweetened rice drink. And decided to try that instead. It certainly tamed the fire, but not the after effects.

    With Indian I have a Lassi if eating out. At home I make a quick raita.

    I don’t know “kefir”. Not by that name anyway. Can you explain?

    And yes I agree with your Grandma. Though I got it from some Buddhists I know.

  21. Hi Greg, I am glad you asked about kefir. Milk Kefir is known by this name worldwide I believe. It is a probiotic food/drink similar to yogurt only it has about 3 times the probiotics. It is much more tart than yogurt. It is more easily made at home than probiotic yogurt and needs no appliance or special heating method to produce.
    It can be flavored, sweetened, made into cheese, and has many other applications.
    Milk kefir has the most probiotics. Water kefir is less potent but still more potent than yogurt I believe.
    We use it regularly for digestive health.
    You can buy it ready made at your health food store or make your own by purchasing or being given milk kefir “grains”.
    The little resultant clumps that look like cottage cheese are not actually grains in the true sense of the word. Thay are called that because of the way they look and grains sounds better than clumps I guess.
    They reproduce, grow into more grains and can be used again and again. Extra grains can be passed on to friends and family.
    If you wish to buy them, I would get the rehydrated or hydrated grains instead of the freeze dried which are a little more work. I hope this answers your question.
    I suggest you check our Donna Schwenk if you want to know more and learn about lacto-fermented veggies. She sells a book, that I have but she has a lot of free info and free recipes on her site too.
    Hope you try it. I love lassi too, mango is my favorite!

  22. I have a question about cooking times. Friends made tamales and then froze them, uncooked. Tonite they gave me several of those frozen tamales. They recommended I cook them straight from the freezer. Can you recommend how long I should cook them under pressure?

  23. Delia,
    I make 5 or 6 dozen at a time and freeze them uncooked. I defrost overnight and then pressure on high for 20-25 min. Then let the pressure drop on its own. After cooling a bit…so they are warm, not cold..they are perfect. If you start with frozen, I’d cook them a bit longer. Worst case, you can always bring back to pressure and cook a little longer if needed. Corn is so forgiving, you really can’t mess it up!!!! Enjoy!!

  24. Hi Laura, Ithis is my 1st time ever cooking with the power pressure cooker xl I don’t want to sound dumb about my question but I want to make sure I understand. For cooking tamales its says once you load the tamales in the pc close and lock lid then it says to turn heat up to high to reach pressure and when it reaches pressure lower heat and cook on high pressure my question is; how low do I lower pc and once I lower pc will the tamales still cook on high pressure. Pls help

    1. Theresa, don’t worry. Those are instructions for stovetop pressure cookers, you just need to punch-in the cooking time at high pressure in your pressure cooker and it will do all the heat regulation by itself.

      I’m glad you asked!



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