We were lucky enough to try some authentic tamales a few years ago while visiting family in California over Christmas. I’ve heard and read that often, tamales are made for special occasions, i.e. anniversaries, weddings, holidays, etc. I now fully appreciate and understand the amount of time and work that goes into these, especially after having made them myself. I recruited Jeff to help me assemble them, so I’m sure that cut the time by half. And, they’re gorgeous assembled – like petite wrapped packages.
I have to admit that I had to go on a hunt to find some of the ingredients. (Note: skip this part if you don’t want to hear about lard, as I don’t want to deter anyone from making these.) Lard. The one ingredient that sounds so terrible and the one that health-conscious, nutrition focused mothers tend to avoid. I’ve always seen it on the shelf, but never, never needed it for anything and would never consider buying it as a “just in case” item for the pantry. I guess it’s not like we eat lard everyday, but still. Just made me cringe a little. Ugh. OK, getting past the whole lard thing – the tamales really are worth it.
Tomatillos are something else I don’t buy everyday. They’re those under-ripe looking green tomatoes that are wrapped in husks.
Masa Harina and/or corn flour – there were two on the shelf and I bought the mix (that already included salt and baking powder), just add water.
And the most unique ingredient…? The corn husks to wrap up the tamales in preparation for steaming. I had Jeff stop at a Latino grocery store and he got a huge bundle for about $5.00. The package said to make sure the husks were washed, boiled and soaked in water before use, so I did that the night before and let them soak overnight.
Green Chile Chicken Tamales (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Makes about 25-30 tamales
1 8-ounce package dried corn husks
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed
4 3-inch-long serrano chiles, stemmed, chopped (or more to your desired heat level) – I might add jalapenos next time as well…
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups (packed) coarsely shredded cooked chicken (about 1 pound; from purchased rotisserie
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/3 cups lard or solid vegetable shortening (I used the real deal lard. I know…)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (omit if masa mixture contains salt) (I omitted, as my mix had salt)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (omit if masa mixture contains baking powder) (I omitted, as my mix had baking powder)
4 cups freshly ground masa dough for tamales (34 to 36 ounces) – I prepared according to my package directions… or make masa dough with 31/2 cups masa harina (corn tortilla mix; about 17 ounces) mixed with 2 1/4 cups warm water
2 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth
on husks to keep submerged. Let stand until husks soften, turning occasionally,
at least 3 hours and up to 1 day. – I did this the day before and soaked the husks overnight.
Preheat broiler. Line heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange tomatillos on
prepared sheet. Broil until tomatillos blacken in spots, turning once, about 5
minutes per side. Transfer tomatillos and any juices on sheet to processor and
Add chiles and garlic to processor and blend until smooth puree forms.
Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomatillo puree and boil
5 minutes, stirring often. Add broth. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until sauce
coats spoon thickly and is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 40
Season with salt. Mix in chicken and cilantro. (Can be made 1 day
ahead. Cover and chill.)
For dough:Using electric mixer, beat lard (with salt and baking powder, if using) in
large bowl until fluffy. Beat in fresh masa or masa harina mixture in 4
additions. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups broth, forming
tender dough. If dough seems firm, beat in enough broth, 2 tablespoons at a
time, to soften.
Fill bottom of pot with steamer insert with enough water (about 2 inches) to
reach bottom of insert. Line bottom of insert with some softened corn husks.
Tear 3 large husks into 1/4-inch-wide strips to use as ties and set aside. Open
2 large husks on work surface. Spread 1/4 cup dough in 4-inch square in center
of each, leaving 2- to 3-inch plain border at narrow end of husk. Spoon heaping
tablespoon filling in strip down center of each dough square.
Fold long sides of husk and dough over filling to cover. Fold up narrow end of husk. Tie folded
portion with strip of husk to secure, leaving wide end of tamale open.
And, here they are all assembled and ready for the steamer 🙂
Stand tamales in steamer basket. Repeat with more husks, dough, and filling until all
filling has been used. If necessary to keep tamales upright in steamer, insert
pieces of crumpled foil between them.
Bring water in pot to boil. Cover pot and steam tamales until dough is firm
to touch and separates easily from husk, adding more water to pot as necessary,
about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool 1 hour.
Cover and chill. Before serving, re-steam tamales until hot, about 35