You Won't Be Able to Keep These Cannabis-Infused Pork Tamales to Yourself
Sarah Cielo shares her buzzy recipe and, crucially, the secret to creamy, smooth masa.
Six years ago, Sarah Cielo discovered the anti-anxiety benefits of cannabis, which has changed her life ever since. The chef found her true calling: taking traditional Mexican recipes passed down for generations and infusing them with cannabis.
Originally from Mexico, but now residing in Orange County, California, Cielo found a passion for cooking at a young age. She remembers grinding corn with her Mexican and Navajo great-grandmother to make masa. Christmas time is the season of tamaladas, or tamale-making parties, when friends and family gather to prepare the flavorful, steamed packages of corn, meat, and sauce—or whatever complimentary ingredients were on hand.
“When you think of tamales, there’s salsa verde (green salsa) with chicken, red sauce with pork, cheese tamales with a slice of tomato and jalapeño, but there are also sweet tamales made from pineapple, strawberry and prunes,” says Cielo. And that’s just the tip of the tamale iceberg. “Tamales were traditionally made by wives sending their husbands off with food they could easily eat while working, using whatever regional ingredients for fillings.”
You can’t go wrong with fillings, but if you want the richest flavor, Cielo recommends infusion via lard, rather than cannabutter or coconut oil.
“The best way to infuse tamales for the best flavor is with cannabis infused lard/fat in the masa. Preferably pork, but beef or even duck fat is so good. For vegetarian or vegan tamales you can substitute with vegetable shortening. Making the sauce spicy helps take away from the cannabis taste if you don’t care for it, but I love the cannabis flavor paired with tamales.”
This dish is a challenging one, but with the help of chef Sarah’s pro tips, you’ll be making your own cannabis-infused tamales by Christmas. “When you make tamales, make them your own,” suggests Cielo. “These recipes will become your family's traditions that you pass on.”
Here’s her recipe for pork tamales made with cannabis-infused lard.
Cannabis-Infused Pork Tamales Recipe
Yield: Makes 30 tamales
• 40 corn husk wrappers
• 7 lbs. boneless pork shoulder or butt
• 1⅓ cup (257g) cannabis-infused lard (recipe follows)
• 2½ to 3 cups (600-700 ml) chicken or vegetable stock
• 3¼ cups (395g) masa corn flour*
• 1 teaspoon (4g) baking powder
• 1 tablespoon (14g) salt
Red chile sauce
• 7 jalapeño peppers
• 2 ancho chiles, dried
• 5 guajillo chilies, dried
• 2 large tomatoes
• ½ white or yellow onion, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 whole garlic head, peeled
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 1.1 grams of cannabis flower (~20% THC)
• 5 teaspoons Everclear (or substitute vodka 100 proof or higher)
• 1 ⅓ cup (257g) pork lard, or vegetable shortening
*Note: Cielo recommends finely ground masa harina (Mexican corn flour), not cornmeal. “Not even ready-made masa from a Mexican market. It’s never ground fine enough.”
1. The day before: prep cannabis. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Place 1.1 grams of coarsely ground cannabis flower into a small mason jar, seal with the lid to reduce smell, and heat for 40 minutes in the oven to decarb, which activates the THC. Remove from the oven and let cool until the mason jar is safe to touch. The ground flower will look lightly toasted. Pour 5 teaspoons of Everclear into the mason jar, close the lid and shake to combine. Set aside and let the mixture sit overnight.
2. An hour before: In a large heatproof pan, pour hot water over corn husks, enough to cover and soak them until they’re pliable. To keep them submerged under water, place a pot on top of the husks to soften in the warm water for an hour or so.
3. Make the red sauce: In a large pan over medium-high heat, drizzle a little cooking oil into the pan and cook the sauce ingredients together until the onions and jalapeños are slightly browned. Pour in water until ingredients are just covered. Bring to gentle simmer. When carrots are tender, about 4 to 5 minutes, take out the dried ancho and guajillo chiles. Carefully remove and discard the stem and seeds. In a blender, combine the softened chiles and ingredients, blend on high until smooth. Set aside.
4. Cook the meat: Cut pork shoulder into small 1/2-inch pieces, season with salt and pepper, and cook in a large pot over medium-high heat with a generous drizzle of cooking oil to brown the meat for a few minutes. Add the red sauce into the pan and simmer on low heat until the meat is very tender. Taste your sauce and meat throughout the process. Set aside.
5. Make cannabis-infused lard: Shake the mason jar mixture and pour the Everclear and cannabis liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a small saucepan, straining out the ground flower and reserving the liquid. Cook the liquid over low heat, for a minute or less, until the alcohol cooks off. Add the lard or vegetable shortening until melted and stir on low heat until combined.
6. Make masa: Add chicken or vegetable stock to the small saucepan with the lard and warm the broth mixture over low heat. In a large bowl, whisk together masa corn flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the warm broth and cannabis-infused lard to the masa mixture and mix together well until the masa forms a smooth, creamy texture. Work it into the dough with your hands or a mixer, hands preferred.
Feel the masa in your hands. You want it to be moist, but not so moist that you can’t handle the dough. If you’re nervous about your masa not setting up, you can put the masa in a pan on low heat and slowly mix it until it starts to form a ball. Do this until the texture changes into almost what a finished tamale would feel like. Then make your tamales. This is against all rules, so don’t tell anyone I told you, but this is a great way to ensure your tamales are set.
7. Assemble the tamales: Take a couple corn husks and tear into thin strands to tie the tamales later. On a rehydrated corn husk, spread a thin ¼-inch thick layer of masa in the center of the husk. Place a small amount of pork and a spoonful of red sauce vertically in the center of the masa. Fold one side of the husk over the filling, in half from left to right. Fold the other side over itself in the opposite direction to completely shut the masa and pork filling into a corn husk tube. Tie the ends gently using the corn husk thread from earlier. Repeat with the remaining corn husks.
8. Cook the tamales: In a large steamer pot, fill with ½ inch of water, bring to a boil and then turn to medium low. Place tamales in the steamer pot standing up, with the open end facing up, cover with extra corn husks and cover the pot with the lid. Steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour. When checking to see if your tamales are ready, pull one out of the steamer and let rest for five minutes. If the corn husk easily peels off of the masa at that point, it’s ready. If not, cook longer.
Serve with extra red sauce. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to eat, for up to 7 days. Freeze cooked tamales for up to 6-months. To reheat, steam them for 15–20 minutes.
1.1 grams of 20% THC flower is used in this recipe for a total of ~150mg THC in the entire dish. The recipe makes 30 tamales dosed at ~5mg each. For those who are new to edibles and cannabis, it is recommended to start at 5mg THC or less per person.
Pork tamales with red sauce recipe by Sarah Cielo, written and adapted by Christina Wong