Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chicken Tamales


You will need the following equipment before getting started: Large stock pot, steamer basket, cutting board, blender or food processor, plastic ziplock bags or plastic wrap for rolling tamales out, measuring cup, spatula, rolling pin.


1 TBS Paprika
1 TBS Garlic Powder (not salt)
1 TBS Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
1/2 TBS Ground Black Pepper
2 TBS Chili Powder
1-2 TSP Cumin seeds to the dough


1 - 2-5 lb chicken
Chicken bouillon cubes or chicken stock need a minimum of 2 cups stock - it depends on how much masa you want to work with I usually start with 2-3 cups of masa - some recipes recommend you use 1/2 bag of masa. My recipe will be based on smaller version which yields 2 dozen tamales.
Corn Oil
Bag of Corn Husks for tamale making
1 lb of Tomatillos – about 8-10
2 poblano peppers


Day 1

The first step is to cook and prepare the meat. This will take one whole day to do, the meat needs to cook for a long period of time so that it is tender, and then you need to shred it either with a fork, or use a blender or food processor. There are various methods of cooking the meat below it is a matter of preference. I usually roast mine in the oven and it comes out nice and tender.

Stove-Top Method

Rinse and place pieces of your chicken in a large stockpot slowly add enough water to cover them. You can start it at a high temperature, but turn the heat down to med-low or med. and let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes (depends on how big your chicken is and if it is thawed out or not). To check for doneness, cut a piece of chicken, if it is not pink inside, then it is done. When the meat is done, do not discard the broth. Save about 2-3 cups of broth for the masa dough. Just pour the broth into a pitcher or large measuring cup or container and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to make your tamales. Also it is not necessary to season your meat until after it cooks, the only seasoning I would suggest is salt and pepper. I do like to add a couple of chicken bouillon cubes to help flavor the chicken and broth.

Roasting in the Oven

The chicken needs to cook for at least 1 hour for every pound. If it is over 2 lbs, but less than 3 it will cook for 2 ½ hours. I take a large pan that is about 2 inches deep and line it with foil. Preheat your oven to 325. Melt about ½ cup butter in a microwave safe dish and brush the chicken with butter every 30 minutes as it cooks. This will make the outside crispy and the inside juicy. Cook your chicken at this temperature for at least 1 hour. Turn the meat over after 1 hour. You can cover the chicken with foil once the outside has turned a nice brown so that it doesn't turn out too dry and overcooked. I usually roast 2 chickens at one time, that way, you can feed the family off of one and save whatever is left of it and combine the left over meat to make the tamales.

Preparing the Tomatillos

Rinse tomatillos and remove outer skin. Cut each one in half. In a skillet, add about 2-3 Tbs. Olive oil and 1 clove garlic and roast the tomatillos on both sides for about 15 minutes. I usually do this at a med-high temperature. Turn it down to medium if it starts smoking. When done, allow them to cool off then using the blender, blend them - they will look like green salsa when done. Even though they may taste bitter by themselves, once added to the chicken, they give the chicken a very distinct and delicious flavor. I guess if you wanted to skip this part, you could use store bought green salsa, you can tell on the bottle under ingredients that they will say tomatillos in them. I usually buy green salsa or “salsa verde” when I make chicken enchiladas. Anyway, I have not used store bought when I make tamales, I have only used homemade. I don’t see anything wrong with it though.

Preparing the Poblano peppers

Rinse each poblano. Place each on a cookie sheet lined with foil and place in the oven and broil on high. Watch these very closely. About 1-2 minutes on each side. After the peppers have roasted, place them in a large bowl with saran wrap tightly covering them and wait about 10 minutes. After that, the skins should peel easily off. I cut a slit down the middle and around the stem and discard the stem and any seeds. Then dice the poblano into small pieces and set aside.

Preparing the Meat

Once the Meat is cooked, it needs to be shredded. I prefer to use my blender. This is a matter of preference. You can use a fork, blender, or a food processor. If using the blender, you may add a little stock as you blend. I blend a little at a time and place it in a bowl. Don’t try to blend the whole chicken at once, just small amounts at a time. It takes awhile, but the result is worth it. After the meat is shredded to your liking, you need to season it. I usually add Kosher Salt, Black pepper, Garlic Powder, and cumin seeds to flavor. You may also want to add paprika and chili powder. For 1 chicken I would say about 1 Tbs salt, ½ Tbs black pepper, 1 Tbs garlic powder, 1-2 Tsp cumin seed. 1-2 tsp paprika, 1 Tbs chili powder. Add a little broth to moisten the meat. Combine the tomatillo sauce and diced poblano peppers to the meat and then refrigerate it until the following day. The reason for this is the process of making the masa, spreading it on the cornhusks, and cooking the tamales, will take awhile to do. It is better to do each in steps.


Day 2

Soak the Cornhusks

The first thing you need to do is soak the cornhusks in warm water while you prepare the tamales. I use my stock pot and place enough warm water in there to cover the husks, then I find they stay covered better when I place my steamer basket over them and place something heavy in the steamer basket like 2 large cups. They will tend to float to the top if you don’t hold them down with something. I turn the stove on low heat. I also flip them over to insure that they all get soaked about every 30 minutes or so. As I make the tamales, I get a few husks out and let the others keep soaking, so they don’t dry out. That is how I do it. You will find a method that works for you.

Prepare the Masa dough

I use 2 –3 cups of masa, this will yield 2 dozen tamales. Place masa in a large bowl. I season this with 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt. 1 TBS garlic powder, and 1 TBS paprika. 1-2 Tsp. of cumin seeds. Add 2 cups of broth to this. (If you discarded the broth from the chicken, I just use chicken broth that I make with chicken bouillon cubes; instructions are on the jar) Broth should be room temperature. I then add ½ cup of corn oil to the masa dough. You need to work this all in with your hands. Now just add water till the consistency is moist, but not too moist. Should be something like peanut butter. You don’t want it too dry either, some of the worst tasting tamales are those that are too dry.

Making the Tamales

Now that you have your masa dough. I like to prepare mine on a large plastic cutting board. Keep paper towels close by, the area will tend to get wet and you need to dry it as you go, or the tamales will not come out right. I take a few cornhusks and place them on a plate – shake out the water in the sink. Some people like to make 5 tamales at a time, I prefer to make 1 at a time. I like to work on a gallon size ziplock bag – I take 2 bags and cut off the plastic zipper. I tried using saran wrap, but it is too thin to work with, and I’ve also tried using wax paper without success. I like the thickness of using the ziplock bags. I use one bag for the top and one bag to lay the tamale on top of while I roll it out.

So lay the husk on top of one of the plastic bags, using a spatula, place a scoop of masa dough on the tamale. Holding the husk in front of you, the narrow end on your right, work the lower left corner of the husk. Leave 1 inch of the top husk bare and about 1/3 of the right side bare or empty.

I like to spread my dough as thin as I can. I place the other ziplock bag over the area that needs to be flattened out, and then I use my rolling pin to roll it the desired thickness. I try to get mine as thin as possible, they make better tamales. The first batch I made, they were too thick. You will have to experiment with this.

Unfortunately you will not know until you have completely prepared and cooked a batch of tamales. Try to make them paper-thin. You won’t be sorry. Then take a spoon and place 1 Tbs. or so of meat and using a fork spread it down the tamale. Now, roll the tamale up, and fold the narrow side down. (Again I will try to have pictures) Place the tamale aside, you may want to use a cookie sheet or large dish to place them in until you are ready to steam them. Keep preparing the tamales until you run out of husks, dough, or you just don’t want to make any more. You can refrigerate the dough and meat and even the husks until you want to make more. I just place my husks in a ziplock before refrigerating them or you can let them dry out again and store them in the bag you purchased them in. I also freeze my meat; I just make sure that I put the date on the bag, so I can use the oldest up first. You may want to make 1 small batch a dozen or so just to get the method down that works for you. When I made my third batch, I felt everything was going smoothly and I had made a large batch, then as I was cooking them, I remembered that I forgot to add my cooking oil to the dough. I knew they would not cook properly, and I was right. Some people use lard, but you can make tasty tamales with corn oil. Just don’t forget to put it in the dough or they will not cook right. That was a bitter lesson for me! I won’t forget that again. I had to throw them away. I usually freeze them and let my dog have them as treats – he loves them. My first batch was too spicy; so those made great frozen dog treats. You just microwave them for 2 minutes or so before you give them to your dog, but allow them to cool off first.

Cooking the Tamales

The tamales need to be steamed in water that does not touch the bottom of the steamer basket. I suggest you experiment with a measuring cup now, and see how much water you can add to the stockpot without covering the bottom of the steamer basket. That is how much water you need to add, and as the water evaporates, this is very important – do not let it run out of water.

I check mine every 20-30 minutes and have never run out of water. Place a damp kitchen towel on top under your lid and at first cook at a high temperature, when it starts to steam, drop the temperature down to simmer. I cook mine on Med-Low. It takes 2-1/2 hours to cook at this temperature.

Everyone’s will vary. So you need to pay attention, document, and remember what the cooking time is. You also need to check a tamale towards the end, to check for doneness. If the masa is sticking, that is a sign that they are not ready. Also, don’t forget to re-dampen your towel, just make sure you wring it out good before placing it under the lid. I usually do this every time I check the water level. So every 20-30 minutes.

I hope you try my pork tamale recipe as well. They are definitely totally different tastes. I love to eat the pork tamales with crackers and sliced cheddar cheese. I usually crave them as a snack.


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Kevin said...

Those tamales look good!

Glenda said...

Thanks for the nice comments. I hope you give the recipes a try. Let me know what doesn't work. Sorry so long in posting comment. I'm not real good with this blogging stuff. Wasn't sure how to reply back - so I guess I just post a comment back? Thanks a lot.

Drick said...

love love love to make tamales - when I have the time....spreading the dough thin is the key and your filling sounds wonderful.....