Little Miss is in a Spanish immersion class at school, and she has been learning exclusively in Spanish (with a little English being added now that she’s older) since then – that includes not just the language, but various Spanish language cultures, as well. Not surprisingly, I’ve brought this home to my own kitchen where I tend to make a lot of Latin food – partly to exposure her to those flavors but mostly because they taste amazing. Tamales have been on my bucket list for a long time, but it wasn’t until last week that I finally got around to make them.
Why it took me so long, I can’t tell you. Yes, they take a little bit of time to make, but they aren’t difficult, and I made 40 of them in total. The result was an amazing dinner with enough leftovers that I planned to freeze them because tamales freeze for later amazingly well. Of course, my family hasn’t stopped eating them, so any plans to freeze them are on hold because there are only 5 or 6 left. The wee ones have been eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner nonstop. I’m pretty sure that’s better than two thumbs up, right?
My husband told me they taste better than the ones you can buy from the ladies down the road – and living in Chicago where there are tons of ladies down the road making truly authentic tamales, that’s saying something. I’m pretty sure that part of why they tasted so delicious was because I used authentic ingredients. Regardless of what cuisine I’m cooking, I’ve found that cooking with authentic ingredients – from the country whose cuisine I’m making – creates a greatly improved flavor over domestic imitations.
Lucky for me, I live in Chicago where there is easy access to authentic ingredients everywhere. Every Sunday after church, I drop the wee ones at Sunday school and head to a local Hispanic market where I can pick up not just amazingly fresh (and cheap!) produce but a huge variety of authentic ingredients, as well. I love heading down the Hispanic ingredients aisle to get inspiration for new dishes – or in this case to pick up everything I needed to make the tamales except the chicken! Even if you don’t have a great local produce market like Pete’s or Cermak Grocery like we do in Chicago, you can find the La Morena products in the Hispanic Foods aisle in most grocery stores. Because seriously, the La Morena refried beans in adobo sauce sound amazing. I’m already plotting what I can do with them!
I found some great chipotle peppers in adobo sauce from La Morena that would make a perfect filling for my tamales and some La Morena pickled jalapenos that I knew my husband would love to have inside his tamales, though the wee ones aren’t quite up for that kick yet. They are the ones that have the right mix of spices that ensure my food tastes the way I want it to and not like an Americanized version. Best of all, the adobo sauce made it taste like I spent way more time making my filling than I really did. Win win!
Homemade Chicken Chipotle Tamales
1 roasted chicken
3 cloves garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
3 La Morena jarred chipotle chilis
1/2 t cumin
La Morena picked jalapenos, diced
2 c lard
6 c masa
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
5-6 c chicken broth
I started with a roasted chicken that I roasted myself, but you could easily pick up a rotisserie chicken from your local store and use that, saving you some more time. Once you pick off all the chicken, don’t toss your carcass. Use it to make stock, and that is the perfect stock to add to your masa to form the dough. I always make stock from my chicken bones, and I love getting one extra use out of my food – and it means I don’t have to buy stock from the store, which saves me money!
Once I finished roasting my chicken, I started soaking my corn husks so they would be pliable when wrapping my tamales. Simply putting them in warm water isn’t enough. There is plenty of air trapped between the layers of the husks, so make sure you press the husks down into the water to ensure all the husks are submerged. You need to soak your corn husks for at least 45 minutes.
The Chipotle sauce I made had three uses. I mixed it with the chicken to form the flavor of the filling, as well as adding it to the masa dough to give it a little more flavor. Masa can be a little bland, and this kicked the flavor up just a notch and everyone loved it. I also used the remaining chipotle sauce to dip my tamales in since I’m not a fan of sour cream. Serve the tamales with some sliced avocado and tomatoes, and you have a perfect authentic meal!
To make the chipotle sauce, you simple saute onion and garlic until they’ve softened then add a can of diced tomatoes. While they’re cooking, slice up three of the La Morena chipotle peppers in adobe (or more if you want it even spicier) then add them to the tomato mix.
Let it simmer for about twenty minutes, then puree it with an immersion blender (or a regular blender, but be careful not to fill it more than half full and hold the top on with a kitchen towel). It’s that easy and the La Morena chipotle peppers add an amazing kick.
The sauce is a little spicy, but remember that it will be diluted by the masa dough and chicken. When I first made it, I was fearful that I had made it too spicy for the wee ones, but they loved it, and Mister Man – for the first time ever! – told me that it was flavorful spicy and not spicy spicy. Whew! I mixed about a cup into the chicken and another cup into the masa dough, saving the remainder as a dipping sauce.
When I made the masa dough, I made half at a time, knowing that I could only cook half of my tamales at a time. That kept the masa dough from drying out. Your masa will dry out as it sits, so if it starts to get at all crumbly, simply add a little more stock (a couple tablespoons is plenty) and mix it again. Making the masa is easy. You simply mix all the ingredients together then heat the lard just a tiny bit to ensure that it mixes completely into the dough. Add the chicken broth a half cup at a time so that you can judge when you have enough. You want your dough to be wet but not liquidy. When it forms a ball and holds together well, that’s when you know it’s done.
Assembly is what takes the most time. This would be fun to do with friends and then share the end results to make it go faster. None of it is hard, which means chatting while you make them won’t be a problem either! Lay out a corn husk, then place a quarter cup or so of masa dough on the husk. Push it into a rectangle, ensuring you leave at least an inch open on all sides. Place a couple tablespoons of your shredded chicken, then the chopped La Morena pickled peppers atop the chicken. Fold the husk in half over itself and press to seal the masa all around the chicken. Fold up the empty bottom portion of the husk then fold the husk around itself to hold everything in place. I cheated and used a strip of the husk to tie it, which I also think makes it look really pretty when serving the tamales.
Cooking the tamales is just as easy. Ideally you steam them in a covered pot. In my case, I realized too late that my steamer insert is still in storage somewhere from our move. I adapted, and my solution worked out just fine. I placed all my tamales with the open ends up into a deep pot, then carefully poured about 3/4 cup of chicken broth around the tamales, being sure not to pour into any of the open tamale ends. I turned the heat to medium low so that they simmered for about an hour until the masa dough firmed, adding a little chicken broth when it got too low.
Yum. I have no other words.
This easy recipe is amazing and has great authentic tastes. It is gluten and dairy free. Though it may take a little time, it makes 40 tamales that will freeze well and it is well worth the effort!
- 1 roasted chicken
- 1/2 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 3 La Morena jarred chipotle chilis
- 1/2 t cumin
- La Morena picked jalapenos, diced
- 2 c lard
- 6 c masa
- 2 t baking powder
- 1 t salt
- 5-6 c chicken broth
- corn husks
- Start by roasting a chicken as you normally would (or buy a rotisserie chicken from the deli). Remove the skin and discard. Remove as much meat from the chicken as possible and shred with either your hands or a fork and place in a bowl in the fridge for later.
- Optional: Make chicken stock to use later in the recipe. Place your chicken carcass in a large stock pot with half a peeled onion cut into quarters, 1 tablespoon salt, carrots, and two bay leaves, then cover with water and simmer for 4 to 5 hours to make stock. Alternatively, use stock you already have on hand to make the masa dough.
- Soak your corn husks in hot water, being sure to push them down to submerge them and ensuring all husks are soaking. Soak them for at least 45 minutes prior to using.
- Start making the chipotle sauce. In a saucepan, heat oil while you dice half an onion. Place the onion into the oil and cook for three to four minutes. Add your minced garlic, cumin, and diced tomatoes. Slice the chipotle peppers and add, as well. Stir and simmer for twenty or more minutes.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, place the mixture into your regular blender, being sure to not fill it more than halfway full and using a kitchen towel to hold down the top to ensure there are no explosions of hot liquid as the pressure in the blender will increase when your blender hot liquids. Safety first!
- Add 1 cup of the chipotle sauce to your shredded chicken, reserving the remainder. Stir the sauce into your chicken to fully coat. Taste to determine if you want to add more sauce of it that is sufficient spice. Adjust accordingly.
- Make your masa dough. You can choose to make all the masa at once or make it in two batches, which will help keep it from drying out as you make your tamales. If making half the recipe, use 1 c lard, 3 c masa, 1 t baking powder, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 c chipotle sauce, and 2 1/2 to 3 c chicken broth for each batch.
- Heat your lard just until it is sort and partially melted. Add it to a bowl, along with the masa, salt, and baking powder. Mix until thoroughly combined and crumbly. Add 1 cup of the chipotle sauce and mix again. Add the chicken broth a half cup at a time, stirring well between each addition and adding enough so that your dough comes together and is slightly moist but not wet. You want it to easily form a ball when you pick it up and squeeze a piece.
- To assemble tamales, lay 1 corn husk at a time on your counter. Add approximately 1/4 c masa and spread into a rectangle that leave at least one inch room from the top and sides of the corn husk and plenty of room at the bottom.
- Add 2 tablespoons or so of the chicken mixture and top with diced pickled jalapenos, if using.
- Fold the corn husk in half so that the long ends are touching and gently press down to seal the edges of the masa dough together. Don't press too hard, or you will split your corn husk (which isn't the end of the world, as you can add a second corn husk to the outside of the first and it will hold).
- Fold up the empty bottom of the corn husk and then roll the rest of the corn husk so that it is tightly wrapped into a traditional tamale shape. Use a thin strip of another corn husk to tie the tamale closed.
- Repeat for all your masa and chicken filling. This will make approximately 40 tamales, plenty to freeze for later.
- Place your assembled tamales, with the open end up, into a steamer, somewhat crowding them together so that they stay upright. Add additional chicken stock (or water) to the base of your steamer and steam for an hour, until the masa has firmed to the touch. Add more water if needed.
- If you don't have a steamer, use a stock pot deep enough to contain your tamales and carefully add 1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken stock to the bottom of the pot, being careful not to pour it onto any of your tamales. Simmer, covered, for an hour as you would if they were steaming traditionally.
- Serve immediately with sliced avocado, tomatoes, and the remainder of the reserved chipotle sauce as a dipping sauce.
This recipe can be halved if you choose, but once you're making tamales, you may as well make a ton! These freeze well for up to a month and can be defrosted and reheated in a microwave, wrapped loosely in a paper towel to retain the moisture and simulate steaming them again.
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