One important question that I usually get asked is ‘How to Freeze Homemade Tamales?’
And the answer would be: of course, you can freeze Tamales. I mean, I do it all the time!
If you personally know me, then you know how much I love Mexican cuisine. It always just warms up my heart whenever I have an authentic Mexican dish, and it doesn’t get any more authentic than some warm Mexican Tamales!
What are Tamales?
They are these delicious starchy, corn-based Mexican treats that are stuffed with all the different ingredients you can imagine, cheese, bacon, vegetables, or even chilies, resulting in a whole savory meal. These amazing rolls are steamed in either banana leaves or corn husk and are usually enjoyed in times of celebrations with big get-togethers and large numbers of people.
That’s why we usually find ourselves with the dilemma of whether or not we can freeze either the leftover cooked Tamales or even the uncooked ones, since Tamales are usually made in batches and we can’t just make everything on the same day. That would be chaotic!
I am going to share with you the exact and detailed steps to properly store your Tamales in the freezer, all while retaining their amazing texture and all their luscious flavors for up to 6 months.
How to freeze cooked Tamales:
People love to freeze cooked Tamales instead of uncooked ones, and I wouldn’t blame them honestly. It is much easier to just pop all the leftovers in the freezer. In fact, it will even take much less time to, later on, reheat the already cooked Tamales than the uncooked ones. In addition to the fact that you are basically freezing the ingredients of the Tamales when their flavors are at their peaks so very minimal chance of any variation in taste when they are frozen.
If you already set your mind to storing your extra cooked Tamales in the freezer, then you have to separate the ones that are going to be frozen from the ones that are going to be served once they are cooked. And that’s because the first step will be cooling the freshly cooked Tamales.
Cooling the Tamales:
The first step is always the most important, and here the first step will be cooling the tamales.
Never skip cooling the Tamales to room temperature before placing them in the freezer, as this will prevent the water vapor from condensing in the container they will be stored in that have the potential to turn them soggy.
All you need to do is just to leave them on the counter once they are cooked, for an hour or so, but not for too long so that the bacteria are encouraged to grow and spoil your precious Tamales.
Storing the Tamales:
Now that the Tamales are cooled down to room temperature, time to move them to the fridge. But before we do that, we need to make sure they are tightly snuggled either in an airtight container, or in, what I prefer, a freezer bag. After tightly wrapping each separate Tamale in a plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
I like to store them like that, generally because the freezer bag takes less space inside the freezer and the individual wraps aids in retaining the flavor and freshness by ensuring that no air is in contact with the Tamale.
Just make sure to release as much of the air from the container or the freezer bag before you store the tamale.
Label the Container/Freezer Bag
This is the final step that basically helps you in organizing your freezer and separating all its contents. All you need to do is just label each freezer bag or airtight container with the date you stored your tamales at, and their filling flavor. So that you can get to choose whatever flavor you are craving to eat in case you have different batches stored in the freezer.
Flatten your Tamales to freeze evenly and let them be!
How to Freeze Uncooked Tamales:
I know some people are usually discouraged to freeze the raw uncooked tamales, that’s probably because masa, which is the essential doughy part of the tamales, have a high tendency to fall apart if exposed to low temperature as in the freezer. This can cause the whole thing to fall apart and for the tamale to lose its filling once it is thawed or reheated.
But don’t lose hope, I have the perfect way to minimize this chance and save your frozen uncooked Tamale from falling apart!
Wrap the Filling:
In order to maintain the integrity of each Tamale piece and prevent it from falling apart. You have two options:
- Separate the masa from the filling and store each one apart from each other, and reform them after thawing whenever you want to enjoy some Tamale.
- Store the formed Tamale after tightly wrapping each one in a banana leaf or a husk so that the filling doesn’t break from the wrap.
The first option might take a bit of space in the freezer and be more tedious. However, it ensures that the filling stays wrapped in the husk.
Storing the Tamales
Uncooked Tamales don’t specifically need to be wrapped in a banana leaf or a husk. An airtight container would suffice.
All you need to do is just tightly pack each Tamale in the airtight container to not allow any air from existing. Make sure to use a freezer-safe container that will eliminate any chance of ice crystals from forming, which has the potential to affect the taste and texture of the Tamale.
Label the Container
It is important to label the container with the date and the type of filling, especially if you separated the filling from the masa. Make sure to label each container.
How to Defrost and Reheat Frozen Cooked Tamales
It is probably the easiest step ever.
You won’t do anything except transfer your frozen Tamales from the freezer to the fridge and let them thaw for one day.
Once they thaw for a day, you can warm them up using one of the reheating methods you prefer. Either using the pan, microwave, using the oven, or even on the steamer you used to originally cook them in.
How to Defrost and Cook Uncooked Frozen Tamales
Just like the frozen cooked Tamales all you need to do is to leave them to thaw in the fridge for a whole day or at least overnight. There is, however, another option you have, and that is to directly steam frozen Tamales as you normally would cook them. It should take a longer time to cook than the defrosted ones.
You can also Air fry them. It doesn’t take more than 5-7 minutes to come out perfectly cooked. Just make sure to dampen the husk or the banana leaf prior to air frying them. Adjust the settings of the Air fryer to medium and align the Tamales so that they are not crowding each other. Reheat them in batches if you need to.
If you froze the masa separately from the filling, then you need to first defrost them, then form the wrapped tamales and steam them as you normally would.
How Do Various Fillings Affect Freezing?
Unfortunately, not all Tamale fillings can withstand the same freezing conditions the same. The filling ingredients matter significantly when it comes to how long you can freeze Tamales and the right way to do so. For example, shrimp or meat, in general, is usually not affected by freezing conditions. They almost always hold their texture and flavor for the longest time in the freezer.
On the other hand, vegetables turn into a soggy and mushy mess when they are frozen and thawed. That’s why you should never overcook vegetables prior to freezing the tamales. Either leave them uncooked or semi-cooked for better results.
As for dairies, especially cheese, it can be a bit challenging. As dairy products, in general, tend to either separate or crumble, in the case of cheese, when they are frozen.
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t freeze Tamales containing cheese for more than three months.
How long can you freeze Tamales?
Generally speaking, Tamales can withstand the freezer conditions for up to six months, whether the frozen Tamales were originally cooked or not. But you have to keep in your mind that freezing, in general, does affect the quality, taste, or texture of frozen food. So don’t expect the Tamales to come out as perfect after six months as it was before freezing.
That’s why you shouldn’t keep them for that long if you want to enjoy an intact masa with some delicious fillings.
Labeling the containers will help you to determine the exact time when they were first put in the freezer so that you don’t forget about them.
How long can tamales last in the fridge?
Leaving tamales in the fridge is a good way to retain their freshness and at the same time quickly reheat and enjoy them.
They can last for up to a week in the fridge, and they won’t need anything but a quick warming up using an Air fryer, a steamer, a pan, a microwave, or an oven.
Frequently asked questions:
Can You Freeze Tamales in Foil?
Yes. You can replace the plastic wrap with aluminum foil to wrap each Tamale before tightly sealing them in a freezer bag. This will allow you to place the wrapped Tamales in the baking tray directly if you are going to warm them up using an oven.
Can you air fry frozen tamales?
The Air fryer is an essential appliance in my kitchen that is capable of doing absolutely everything. You can, in fact, cook frozen Tamales using an Air fryer. You just need to dampen the husk or banana leaves with water prior to Air frying them in an Air fryer set to medium.
One key tip when using the Air fryer is that you should never crowd the Tamales together. Make them in batches if you have to, it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes to heat anyways.
Do I Need to Thaw Tamales Before Freezing?
It is not a must when it comes to completely thaw the Tamales prior to cooking them. However, a 30 minutes rest before heating them is preferred. This results in better quality, taste, and less heating time.
What is the best way to cook frozen tamales?
If you notice the back of a bag of readymade frozen Tamales brought from any store, you will find instructions on how to properly cook them using a steamer.
It is an easy and efficient method of cooking Tamales in general, whether frozen or not. It is worth to mention though that frozen ones will take a longer time to be steamed and for the masa to come together. If it was already precooked, then it won’t take more than 20 minutes to cook.
Another method that I like to cook my frozen Tamales with, is the oven. All you need to do is to wrap your frozen or thawed Tamales in aluminum foil.
Place the wrapped tamales on a baking tray, then transfer the tray to a preheated oven at 325°F. It will only take you from 15 to 20 minutes, with an extra 10 minutes if it was frozen.