Tamales aren't just one thing. They're multiple recipes combined together to make something glorious. I'm going to give a very simple red chili pork filling here.
First you start off with a pork roast. Make a nice pork butt or shoulder roast for pulled pork earlier in the week and save the pan drippings. You're going to dilute them down for your broth. Go ahead and have one meal off of it, but save the rest. Whenever I call for broth in this recipe, just assume I'm calling for you to use some of this drippings that we've let cool in the fridge, skimmed the fat off the top, then diluted down to make a broth.
The red chili sauce.
De-seed and clean the ribs out and stem out of 10 ancho chilies and 4 guajillo chilies. Boil just enough water to cover (about 2 cups-ish), put them in the pot with the lid on, then take it off the heat and leave it alone for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile saute 4 medium yellow onions, and 8 cloves of garlic (plus more depending on how much garlic you like. We like lots so I'm tending more towards 10 or 12)
The color you're going for is this...
When the onions are done, set them to the side to cool for a bit. Meanwhile, you're going to take your now softened chilies out of the soaking liquid (DO NOT THROW IT AWAY) and when everything is cool enough to handle, pulse it through the food processor until smooth-ish.
Now add a little oil to a clean pot, and saute 3 teaspoons cumin just until it starts to put off scent. Pour in the blended chilies and onions and garlic. Add a 28 oz can crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoons salt (I tend to use the powdered beef boullion here instead of salt for extra flavor), and 1 cup of stock and 1 cup of your reserved chili soaking liquid. Simmer while stirring for about 10 minutes. You want a sauce / thin gravy-ish consistency. Add more broth if needed.
Put this in the fridge and let the flavors "shake hands and say howdy" overnight. It's much better and easier to work with the next day.
The day of the tamale making...
Start your husks soaking. I put them in the turkey roaster, fill with water, just plug it in on the coolest setting. Weigh them down so they don't float.
Heat up and shred your pork. I don't like large chunks of pork in my tamales so I will even pulse it through the food processor just to shred it really well. Mix with "enough" sauce to your own taste. I have absolutely no idea how much sauce I poured in the pork and mixed well, but the blue bowl on the table is the doctored batch.
Good masa makes good tamales. You start with the fresh masa and lard and 2 tablespoons of salt. Go to the local hispanic market and get a five pound bag of fresh masa. Yellow or white is your own preference. Not the dry stuff on the flour aisle.
Take two cups room temperature lard and beat with a tablespoon of salt until it's fluffy. Then start mixing in your fresh masa and 2 cups of good broth... doesn't really matter what flavor as long as it's tasty.
Now once it's all mixed in, beat it until it's fluffy and about the consistency of spackle. When you toss a pinch in a glass of cool water, it should float. If it doesn't, keep beating.
Spreading the masa on the husks is an art. I can't tell you how much, but you want a thin layer and you don't want to cover the whole husk.
Perfect example.... sorta. I leave one corner uncovered with masa and the back tail. Then I add about a tablespoon of sauced meat, fold it over, pull back slightly, then fold your tail up, then roll it over.
Line the inside of your pot with a cheesecloth and steam them until they're done. I always steam extra long because I like them extra firm, so I'm steaming for over two hours just because I have these giant pots that I tend to over fill. Pay attention to water levels and refill as needed. If you're only cooking a few, just steam until the masa firms up, because all the other ingredients are already cooked.
They keep absolutely marvelously in the freezer. It is a lot of work, but freeze them in quart size baggies and you will have tamales for months. Just go grab a package whenever you like... and you can have homemade tamales for breakfast months afterwards... it's like a present to yourself!