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Recipe: Lamb Neck Tamale “El Chubacabra”

Recipe: Lamb Neck Tamale “El Chubacabra”

I grew up  in Carson,Diana's California and had access to some of the best tamales on the planet made by Michoacán transplants, who had the gift for making the perfect tamale. Although, I always wanted more than the classic braised pork tamale, what about lamb tamales? After hearing from my family about the long procedure it takes Lamb Tamale Melissa's Produce Kitto make tamales, “you have to make the masa, soak the husks, stew the meat…. ”  I did the next best thing….I picked up a Melissa’s Produce tamale kit to save significant amount of time and focused my attention on the filling.  I am using Lamb neck and blood oranges, so it is getting the name “El Cubcacabre”, after the mythical creature in Mexico.

Why lamb neck? This off-cut of meat is under appreciated due it’s primal nature. I like off-cuts for two reasons 1) All parts of the animal should be utilized, waste nothing!  2) I love the rich flavor provided by the neck. Although you can substitute lamb shank for this recipe, the neck is more flavorful.

As a side note, feel free to substitute other proteins like chicken or pork for this recipe if you don’t like lamb. If you are vegetarian,  mushrooms are a good substitute.

Here is how I made them:

Lamb Neck Tamale  Recipe

Lamb Filling:

  • 2 pounds lamb neck or lamb shank
  • ¼ cup unbleached flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dry garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon pepper/salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry fennel
  • 1 teaspoon dry coriander
  • 1 small carrot (chopped)
  • ½ sweet yellow onion (chopped)
  • Bottle of Wine (1/3 for cooking and 2/3 for drinking while cooking)
  • 1 cans chicken broth
  • 2 blood oranges – juiced (substitute: navel orange)

1) First choose if you want your filling to be extra slutty with lots of fat or if you want a leaner tamale. If you want a slightly leaner tamale, go with the lamb shank… it is also a lot easier to prepare. For the purpose of this recipe, I will be showing a lamb neck. Both preparations follow the exact same process.

Lamb Tamales lamb neck

2) Break down the lamb neck by the joint or crack the bone into large chunks, suitable for braising. If this makes you squeamish already, go for the shank. Season the lamb meat with garlic, salt and pepper. lightly dust the lamb with flour (helps to achieve a light browning of the meat). Place olive oil in the pan and then turn the heat on high. Sear both sides of the meat. Once seared remove the meat. Do not overcook!

Lamb Tamale brown the lamb

3) Using the same pan, and lightly toast the fennel and cardamom seeds. Add olive oil and sweat the onions and carrots.

Lamb Tamale Sweat Vegetables

4) With the heat still on high, pour in the chicken broth and deglaze the pan with the spatula. Add in 1/3 bottle of wine and juice of one blood orange. (If blood oranges are out of season, use navel oranges)

Lamb Tamale prepare braising fluids


5) Then turn down the heat to low. Place the lamb back in the pan, cover and let braise for 6+ hours or until the meat easily falls off the bone with a fork.Let the meat cool enough so you don’t burn yourself, then shred the meat from the bone. If you are working with neck, this process is a lot more difficult due to connective tissue.

Lamb Tamale braise the lamb


6) Place the juices, meat, carrots, onions in a container and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight or until the fat congeals. Remove the fat layer to ensure a leaner tamale. The overnight resting period will also ensure that the flavors soak into the meat.Warm up the filling and then strain out the liquids from the solids and pick out the cardamom seeds if you don’t want them in the tamale. Note: If you don’t like whole spices in your tamale, I recommend you place the spices in a muslin straining pouch for easy removal. Retain the braising juices.

Lamb Tamale Strain the Meat


 Making the Tamale from Melissa’s Produce Tamale Kit


  • Melissa’s Produce Tamale Kit – (Includes moistened corn husks, masa (corn dough) mix powder)
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Braised lamb neck meat

7) Retrieve the foil masa pack from the kit and mix it with 2 cups of chicken broth, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg. Even though the Melissa’s Produce instructions call for water, the chicken broth produces a much richer masa.  The spices are my variation on the packaged recipe as well.

Lamb Tamale Add Powder


8) For ease of measurement, I like to separate the masa out into 10 equal balls. Place the ball in the center of the glossy side of the corn husk and spread it out to form a rough square. Tip: Keep the corn husk in the palm of your left hand, while your right hand to spread the masa into a rough rectangle with a spoon.

Lamb Tamale put masa on husk


9) Place about 1-2 ounces of  the lamb filling along the center of the masa.

Lamb Tamale Add Filling


10) Fold the corn husk sides first  and then the bottom.  There are many ways to finish off the corn husk fold, including:  tying off the ends with string, fold both ends over like an envelope.

Lamb Tamales Finished

11) Places tamales on a steamer  on low/medium heat for 60 minutes. 

Lamb Tamales Steam

Sauce & Platting


  • Rendered braising juices
  • 5 blood oranges – Juiced

12) Reduce the braising liquids to about half and then add the juice of four blood oranges  Continue reducing on medium heat until the sauce thickens. Note: If blood oranges are out of season, try using navel oranges instead. You may not get the same color, but similar flavor.

Lamb Tamale make sauce

13) Plate using the corn husk and drizzle the sauce over the tamale.

Lamb Tamale Finished

About Tom Holmberg

Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.


  1. yummy! Are you a chef? You made that look easy, but I know how hard it is – I grew up in TX and it is NOT easy : D.

  2. Alexandra McAllister

    WOW! Another great recipe, Tom! I rarely eat lamb although your pics look so good, I think I’d try it…if someone made it for me! :) Thanks for posting this and all your recipes!

  3. I get sad about the idea of eating little lambs, but I would love to see more meat free ideas!

  4. Meryl Hershey Beck

    Tom, I love how you gave detailed and pictured steps to this process. Shows that you truly love the whole food experience and not just the food.

  5. What a wonderful way to share your love of tamales AND step-by-step approach to creating them. Those “picture recipes” are great!

  6. Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Looks delicious. I love tamales, so I will give it a try. Wonderful pictures as well.

  7. Daniele Holmberg

    I love being married to my Chef Boy R T! My husband is literally one of the best cooks I know. These were yummy! <3

  8. Personally, I’m not a lamb eater, but everything else looks good!

  9. Michael Anne Conley

    I grew up eating real tamales too, in the desert Southwest. Hmmmmmm!

  10. Norma Doiron @Explode Your Business ONLINE!

    Ok.. now that I’ve seen your whole post, I get that this looks pretty inviting! Great recipe, almost makes me want to try this… :) Great post Tom!

  11. Lisa Frederiksen - BreakingTheCycles.com

    Wow, wow, wow! Looks and sounds delicious – are you writing a cookbook? You should!

  12. Looks Delish! I have never tried.

  13. Did you read how some commission has been given approval to rename meat cuts so there is no longer “pork butt” and there are cuts named things like Boston Steak? I think I would like this recipe if this cut were called Dallas lamb or some other nonsensical name just so I didn’t have to think about eating the neck of a sweet little lamb. Still I like that you are being resourceful because if I think an animal is going to be killed, all parts should be used.

  14. I’m not a lamb eater either, but you’ve done a great job detailing this recipe. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  15. Where if it still exict a area in of Los Angeles or orange county preferably that sells lamb neck tamales any suggestions would help

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