Saturday, January 14, 2012

Green Chili, Chicken and Cheese Tamales

The Daring Cooks' January Challenge: Tamales Rojos de Pollo con Queso

Tamales, oh how I love those tempting, little packages with their savory, spicy filling snuggled inside fluffy masa, all wrapped up like presents in their corn husks or banana leaves. Tamales can be soul-satisfyingly delicious, or they can be dreadful disappointments with minimal filling and leaden dough. It's a risky business to order tamales at an unfamiliar restaurant or street cart. To misquote Forest Gump, "Tamales are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year! I was excited to have an excuse to make tamales, and determined to do it my way. (Repeating to self, " more filling, less masa, more filling, less masa...")

Recipe research was interesting, turning up dozens of small variations in ingredients, quantities and methods. I favored a couple of recipes from the Too Hot Tamales Feniger & Millikan, especially the one in Cantina, and incorporated a few adjustments from a handful of other books on my shelves. Typical directions began with masa, added liquids and finally added the lard a tablespoon at a time. I tried that approach and my KitchenAid bounced around on the counter, flinging big blobs of dough out the top. Next time I will begin with the lard, beat it until fluffy, add the masa and beat some more, and then add the moist ingredients (as suggested in another cookbook). 

Even without the recipe research, tamales take time, lots of time. It's worth it. Better yet, invite some friends to join in the fun. Host a tamalada, a tamale-making party where the preparation is as much fun as the eating.

My iPhone food photo of the week: Tamales Wrapped and Unwrapped
Chicken, Green Chili and Cheese Tamales

Makes approx 16-18 tamales
Filling Ingredients:
Cooked chicken, shredded  (I used the dark meat from a roasted 5-pound bird)
2+ cups chicken stock (more or less, as needed)
1/2 cup salsa verde (I used a blend of roasted poblanos, tomatillos, onions and fresh cilantro)
Cumin, Mexican oregano, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound Monterey jack or Manchego cheese, cut into thin strips 2 inches in length

Tamale Dough Ingredients:
1 pound masa for tamales
1 cup salsa verde (I used a blend of roasted poblanos, tomatillos, onions and fresh cilantro)
1/2 cup cut corn kernels (fresh or frozen/defrosted)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz) lard, chilled

Other items:
1/2 package dried corn husks, covered with hot water and left to soak for several hours or overnight
Optional toppings and accompaniments might include salsa verde, sour cream or crema, soft fried egg, diced green onions, sliced radishes, pickled onions and jalapenos...

For the filling: Shred the cooked chicken into chunky strips no more than 2 inches long and pile into a bowl. Add the salsa, spices, salt and pepper: lightly toss to mix, keeping the mixture loose not packed. Set aside with the cheese strips.

For the dough: Use a blender to combine the chicken broth, salsa, baking powder, salt and pepper: whir until smooth. Set aside.
Put the masa in the bowl of a stand mixer and whiz it about a bit. Slowly add the chicken stock mixture; mix until combined. I needed additional broth to loosen up the dough - it wanted to pack into a heavy ball and climb out of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium-high to high and add the lard a tablespoon at a time. Beat until light, almost fluffy, about 15 to 20 minutes.

To form the tamales: remove the corn husks from the water, drain and pat dry. Fan open up 1 large or 2 small husks and place on the table with the skinny ends pointing toward you. Thinly spread about 2 generous tablespoons of dough on the upper half (wide end) of the husk, leaving an uncovered border at the top and sides. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling down the center of the masa; place 2 skinny strips of cheese on top of the chicken filling.

Fold the long right edge of the husk over the filling, rolling the masa over to cover the cheese and chicken. Fold the long left edge back over the filling to form a cylinder. Fold the skinny end up; wrap a long strip of torn corn husk around the cylinder and tie a knot to secure it (optional step). Repeat these steps until you run out of filling or husks. Note: There are several other methods of wrapping and rolling, tying or not tying. Choose one that suits you.

Steam the tamales: Set the tamales in a steamer with the open ends facing up. Place the steamer insert over a pan of simmering water. Be sure the water doesn't touch the husks! Cover and steam about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the masa pulls away from the husks. Add boiling water as needed to the pot to keep it steaming.

To serve: Place the tamales on a platter or serve individually, 2 tamales per plate. Offer salsa, crema and other optional toppings. Soft-fried eggs are popular in some homes (not mine). Diners will unwrap their own tamales, so have bowls handy for the discarded cornhusks.

Note: Tamales freeze well and hold for several months. Let them cool to room temp, then wrap each tamal individually in plastic wrap. Twist or fold the ends and store them in ziplok bags in the freezer. Nuke one in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, and that's all it takes. You can  steam a larger quantity in a pot for about 20 to 30 minutes.


  1. Wow, I want to try this. I have heard it is difficult. Did you have an apparatus to keep them standing or did the # of tamale keep each other from falling? Thanks~

  2. @Cassaendra, tamales aren't really difficult, just time-consuming. Let me know how yours turn out. I put the steamer basket on it's side on the counter and stacked the filled tamales inside until it was full, then turned it upright.

  3. Have to try that with the cheese in the filling next time. I should have made a lot more and froze them - yummy!

  4. I was a little intimidated at first, but It turns out that it was not hard at all. Just took some time. Your tamales sound great, and look great!
    Come see me at

  5. I second the easy but needing some time! Great job on the challenge this month!

  6. Perfect little corn wrapped presents! Your tamales look amazing!


I love to read your comments so please leave a friendly note. Comments are moderated so it may take a while to appear.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...