In preparation for a family dinner that I am hosting, I made sure to make homemade Mexican tamales. It’s a family tradition from my Mexican side of the family to eat tamales every Christmas Eve. Steamed corn dough filled with different meats and sauces made of chili’s, roasted peppers, and spices.
In the past, my mother always ordered them from friends and family. From the women that we had ordered them from, it was a tradition to spend an entire day in the kitchen with family laughing and chatting while making dozens upon dozens of different filled tamales.
I wanted to make this tradition a part of my family as well, so three years ago I embarked on a mission to make my own tamales at home and enlisted the help of my sisters and mother. After 3 years, many mistakes, and extremely hilarious moments, we can now make our own tamales from scratch.
For this recipe, I made a green sauce using roasted tomatillo’s. I usually make a red sauced tamale using dried ancho and guajillo chili’s. I’ll most likely share that recipe for the New Year. This recipe uses Maseca. Ground, all natural, corn flour for tamales. I’d like to try and make my own masa by soaking my own corn kernels in a lime solution and grinding them up myself for an even fresher tasting tamale. (*Update – I now purchase masa harina from Bob’s Red Mill. It’s GMO free.)
Making tamales is not difficult but it is a lengthy process. Therefore, it makes much more sense to make a large batch as they freeze well.
You will need corn husks to wrap the tamales in. They can be purchased along with the masa harina at a Mexican grocer or a well stocked grocery store. The corn husks must be soaked in water for at least an hour before using.
Step 1: the filling
- 1 farm fresh chicken, shredded
- 1lb tomatillo’s
- 1 jalapeno pepper or serrano chili
- 4-5 garlic cloves
- 1 bunch cilantro (about a cup)
- 3/4 green onions (I roasted mine on a cast iron skillet until they were blackened on both sides)
- 1/2 cup chicken broth (preferably homemade)
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Roast the tomatillo’s in a 375F oven until blackened on both sides.
- In a blender, blend the tomatillo’s, jalapeno or serrano chili, garlic, and cilantro.
- Roast the green onions in a cast iron pan until blackened on both sides.
- Add the blended tomatillo sauce, and chicken broth to the pan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- Season to taste.
- In a large bowl, shred your chicken.
- Add the green tomatillo sauce and cheese to the chicken.
Step 2: corn masa
(Follow the instructions on the package of the masa harina)
A couple of tips for making the masa
- Your broth is so important to making a great tasting tamale. Use the stock from whatever kind of meat you have boiled.
- The pork lard is an important ingredient here as well. Please stay away from the shelf hydrogenated, tasteless stuff. Instead, find your local family farmer and ask them for rendered leaf lard or pork fat to render your own. If you can’t find rendered leaf lard or pork fat from a family farmer a great tip is to ask the meat counter at your Mexican grocer for Manteca de Cerdo. It’s not as clean but it’s natural, healthier and hasn’t been processed.
Step 3: Assembly
You can fill the tamale with as much masa as you personally like. I prefer mine thinner so I use about a heaping tablespoon and a half of masa for each tamale. Fill the corn husk with masa. Starting on one edge leaving about 1 1/2 inch of space on the opposite side. As you can see from the photo illustrations, add as much or as little filling as you would like and carefully fold the corn husk over sealing the masa from one end to the other. Make a second roll, bring the bottom flap up and tie with a long piece of corn husk. It takes some getting used to, but once you get going, it’s easy.
Once your tamales are all filled and rolled, you will need a steamer, or tamalera, which can also be purchased at a mexican grocer. You will need to fill the bottom with water and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add the tamales. I stand them up and usually fill the entire bottom area.