Since your batch generally needs to be big enough to feed a small army, there may be a few tamales left behind at the end of the day. Can you freeze tamales?
Tamales tend to freeze well, as long as you pack them right. Here are a few general tips on how to freeze cooked and uncooked tamales as well as how to thaw them out when you’re ready for a reprise.
Is Freezing Tamales a Good Idea?
Shaped like a little energy bar, tamales come with a corn dough shell stuffed with a filling that’s usually made from pork, cheese, vegetables, or sometimes fruit. The shell is wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed until everything inside is nice and soft.
With the right packaging and prep, you can keep both cooked and uncooked tamales in the freezer for up to six months.
We don’t recommend keeping them on ice for much more because the longer they stay at arctic temperatures, the more quality they’ll lose. You’ll still be able to munch on them, but the texture and taste will have suffered a steep decline, and you won’t enjoy them as much.
Related: How Long Are Tamales Good For?
After around six frozen months, whether cooked or uncooked, the corn dough shell will become irretrievably dry and will likely crack open and fall apart. We recommend labeling frozen tamales with the date, so you can keep track of the long-term countdown clock.
Most trained tamale technicians prefer to freeze their tamales cooked rather than raw. Freezing cooked tamales suspends the filling at its most flavorful, making sure that less zest is lost in the thaw. It’s also faster and less hassle to thaw cooked tamales, so you can get them into your mouth quicker without extra steps.
It’s probably easiest to steam a whole batch of tamales at once, separate the ones you need immediately and freeze the rest. Follow our below guide to freeze cooked tamales to make sure you wrap them right for the long hibernation.
The problem with freezing uncooked tamales is that the raw corn dough doesn’t stick together well and tends to crumble with time. This gets even worse in the freezer.
Uncooked tamales fall apart quicker in the cold than cooked ones. When you thaw an uncooked tamale, you run the risk of the filling leaking out all over the place and making a mess. It may look less like a tamale and more like a pile. That’s why ancient Mexican tamale wisdom suggests you cook them before freezing them.
Uncooked frozen tamales also tend to lose flavor faster than cooked ones. If you need to freeze uncooked tamales, follow the tips that we lay out in our below guide to freezing uncooked tamales to help you minimize the mess.
Not all tamale fillings are created equal. Some freeze better than others.
Fillings made from red meat, chicken, shrimp, and fish freeze the best. They keep their flavor for quite a while and don’t turn to mush when you defrost them.
Fillings made from fruits and vegetables don’t usually fare as well. Their high water content tends to attract ice crystal formation. When you thaw them out, they can end up as a watery mess of pulp.
If you need to freeze tamales with vegetable or fruit filling, we recommend either slightly undercooking the filling or not cooking it at all to make sure you avoid thaw mush.
Cheese fillings also have a hard time in the freezer. Frozen and defrosted cheese tends to crumble quickly and may lose a lot of flavor. You can prevent it from drying out excessively by mixing a few other ingredients with the cheese. This gives it a slight boost in moisture, which helps keep the flavor intact and the texture packed tightly together.
Even mixed, however, cheese tamales have a shorter fridge life. For best quality, eat frozen tamales with a cheese filling within three months instead of the usual six.
Freezing Uncooked Tamales
You can freeze uncooked tamales whole or freeze the filling separate from the corn dough shell. The latter will take a bit more work from your future self as well as more space in the freezer. Do future you a favor by performing the fiddly meal prep ahead of time.
- Prepare your dough and filling as usual right up to the point where you need to wrap them up.
- Give the tamale a slightly tighter hug than normal during the wrapping stage. Wrapping the corn husk or banana leaf extra tight will help keep the dough in place during the long months in your freezer.
- Use a container that’s airtight and safe for freezer use. Keeping extra air out will help prevent condensation from steaming up the inside of the container. That keeps ice crystals at bay, which prolongs your tamales’ peak consistency and flavor.
- Pack the uncooked tamales tightly together in the airtight container. This helps keep each corn dough shell together in one piece and minimizes the amount of air in the container.
Freezing Cooked Tamales
- After cooking the batch, leave the tamales on the counter to cool for a bit before freezing them. A short cooling period helps prevent condensation in the container, which could lead to ice crystals and freezer burn. Cooling also helps firm up the corn dough casing for long-term storage.
- Don’t let them sit for too long or you could get a bacterial infestation. About an hour should be perfect.
- Wrap all the tamales individually in plastic film or aluminum foil to help them retain their moisture and shape. The original corn husk is usually too flimsy for the freezer and tends to break apart quickly. Film or foil wrap offers an extra layer of protection against any air trapped in the container. It also keeps the tamales from sticking together, so you can take them out and eat one at a time if you like.
- You can keep them in a freezer bag or an airtight container. A bag takes up less freezer space, but a container protects the tamales better.
- If you’re using a bag, lay the tamales in flat, even layers, and lay the bag flat in the freezer. This helps them keep their energy bar shape.
- Seal the container or bag tightly to prevent airflow.
Thawing Frozen Tamales
There are three great ways to defrost frozen tamales. You can:
- Steam the frozen chunks right away
- Put them in the fridge for a day to defrost slowly
- Defrost them quickly in the microwave
If you need them immediately, toss the frozen logs in your steamer, and keep an eye on them. Leave the corn husks intact, so the dough doesn’t stick to your steamer.
If you don’t mind waiting a bit, you can defrost the tamales in your fridge overnight. This is safer than leaving them on the counter at room temperature, which can be irresistible to pathogens.
Once they’ve thawed out a bit, pop them in your steamer just like you would a fresh batch of tamales. If they’re pre-cooked, it should take about 20 minutes to heat them up.
If you want to use the microwave, take the tamales out of their corn husk, and lay them side by side on a microwave-safe plate.
Put a small cup of water with them in the microwave to keep the tamales soft as they warm up. Set your microwave to reheat for around two to five minutes, and check on the tamales regularly.
Cooked tamales last longer, thaw easier, and keep their shape in the freezer better than uncooked tamales. Meat-based fillings also fare better frozen than vegetable, fruit, or cheese fillings.
Use an airtight container or freezer bag, and wrap each tamale individually in aluminum foil or plastic film to help keep the handy shape intact. We recommend letting them thaw out overnight in the fridge.