Chicken Tamales Verdes “Oh Lay”

chicken-tamales-verdesChicken Tamales Verdes

Tamale is derived from the word tamalii from the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs. The word means “wrapped food”. No one knows for sure when or who invented the tamale, but we do know tamales have been written about since pre-Columbian days. In the 1550’s, the Aztecs served the Spaniards tamales during their visits to Mexico. Tamales were also eaten by soldiers on their lengthly sojourns since tamales are easily portable and heatable.

The tamales of old came in all shapes and sizes. There were meat, seafood, vegetable, nut and fruit tamales.

Some were filled with the corn dough masa we use today and some were not. Crushed rice or beans could be used instead of the masa or the tamale could contain no masa at all. Tamales could be wrapped in corn husks, banana leaves, avocado leaves, other non-toxic leaves, or even paper or bark. Tamales were steamed, grilled, roasted, boiled or even fried. There was quite a variety.

The tamales of today are more homogeneous. The most common tamales are made with beef, chicken or pork in a red or green chile sauce or sweet tamales made with raisins and cinnamon. Most are wrapped with corn masa in a corn husk and steamed.

Tamales are typically not made every day anymore due to the labor involved. They are made for special occasions like the Day of the Dead, Christmas, New Year’s or just about any other family or holiday celebration.

It’s usually a family affair. Many family members gather together to make the fillings and masa the day before. The following day, an assembly line of family of all ages form to spread the masa on corn husks, fill and fold the tamales. Once all the tamales are assembled, they are steamed and finally eaten. Usually hundreds of tamales are made at once so everyone can take some home and share with friends and family.

We tested this tamales recipe with both instant and fresh masa. Fresh masa yielded the best corn flavor and best texture, but we’ve included instructions for using instant since the flour is easier to find. You can find fresh masa and dried corn husks at tortilla stores/factories, in the international section at larger grocery stores, or online. Whichever masa you choose, be sure to save some of the tomatillo purée from the chicken filling.

Ingredients

Makes about 30

Chicken Filling

  • 4 large tomatillos (or 6 medium), husks removed, rinsed
  • 3 cubanelle or banana peppers, halved, seeded, stemmed
  • 3 poblano chiles, halved, seeded, stemmed
  • 3 jalapeños, halved, seeded, stemmed
  • ¼ medium onion
  • 4 scallions, trimmed
  • 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • ⅓ cup schmaltz or lard, melted, cooled
  • 3 sprigs oregano
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed, meat coarsely chopped

If Using Instant Dry Masa

  • 3¾ cups instant corn masa flour (such as Maseca Tamal Instant Corn Masa Mix)
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons lard, melted, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder

If Using Fresh Masa

  • 3 pounds unprepared fresh corn masa for tamales
  • 1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons lard, melted, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

Assembly

  • 30 corn husks (from a 1-pound bag)
  • 3 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth, plus more
  • Fresh salsa and lime wedges (for serving)

Preparation

Chicken Filling

Preheat oven to 425°. Toss tomatillos, peppers, chiles, jalapeños, onion, scallions, garlic, schmaltz, and oregano in a large bowl; season with salt. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until vegetables are soft and browned, 35–40 minutes. Let cool slightly. Peel garlic cloves. Strip oregano leaves from sprigs; discard sprigs.

Transfer tomatillo mixture along with any accumulated juices on baking sheet, garlic, oregano leaves, vinegar, coriander, and cumin to a blender and purée until smooth; season with salt. Transfer 1¾ cups tomatillo purée to a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat; season with salt. It should resemble a slightly overdressed chicken salad; add more tomatillo purée if needed (reserve ¼ cup purée for masa). Transfer to an airtight container and chill until chicken is cold and firm, at least 3 hours.

Do Ahead: Filling can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.

For Instant Dry Masa

Mix corn masa flour, stock, lard, salt, baking powder, and ¼ cup reserved tomatillo purée in a large bowl with your hands until dough comes together. Continue to knead until mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes.

Slap top of masa with the palm of your hand, immediately pulling your hand back; if dough sticks to your hand, add 2 Tbsp. more lard and knead to incorporate. Repeat slap test. If masa doesn’t stick and your hand looks shiny, dough is ready. If masa sticks, continue adding lard 2 Tbsp. at a time and repeat slap test. Let dough sit 30 minutes, uncovered, until the consistency of peanut butter; it will thicken as it sits.

For Fresh Masa

Mix corn masa, lard, stock, salt, and ¼ cup reserved tomatillo mixture in a large bowl with your hands until incorporated and mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes.

Slap top of masa with the palm of your hand, immediately pulling your hand back; if dough sticks to your hand, add 2 Tbsp. more lard and knead to incorporate. Repeat slap test. If masa doesn’t stick and your hand looks shiny, dough is ready. If masa sticks, continue adding lard 2 Tbsp. at a time and repeat slap test.

Assembly

Soak husks in a large bowl of hot water until soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Using your hands, swirl husks in water to loosen any silk and dirt clinging to surface. Drain, rinse, and shake off excess water.

Working one at a time, place husk on a clean work surface and gently stretch out wide end. Measure 5″ wide, then tear off any excess (hold onto the scraps; you’ll use them later). The width doesn’t have to be exactly 5″, but if you go narrower than that, your tamale might be too small to cover the filling. This recipe makes about 30 tamales, but you may want to have extra husks prepared in case a few tear.

Arrange husk so wide end is closet to you. Spoon 2 heaping Tbsp. masa (or use a 1⅓-oz. ice cream scoop) about 4″ from the bottom. Using a butter knife, small offset spatula, or putty knife, spread masa in a thin, even layer, covering width of husk and going about 5″ up the sides, leaving narrow end uncovered. If you mess up, just scrape masa off husk and start over (no one will ever know!). Repeat with remaining masa and husks.

Keeping wide end closest to you, place 2 Tbsp. cold chicken filling in the center of masa, forming a log that runs down the center. Fold 1 side of husk over filling, then fold other side over to cover. Holding tamale seam side up, fold narrow, pointed end of husk away from you and tuck under tamale. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tamales.

Line bottom of a large heavy pot with husk scraps. Crumple a large sheet of foil to form a 3″-diameter ball. Place ball in pot. Using ball as support, prop tamales upright, with folded end down and seam side facing out, until ball is surrounded (this will take 4–6 tamales). Continue stacking tamales around the center, leaning them against one another. Pour 3 cups broth into pot, being careful not to get any inside tamales (broth will come about ¾” up sides of tamales).

Bring liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover pot and simmer tamales, undisturbed, adding more broth as needed to keep some liquid in the pot, 40 minutes. Remove 1 tamale and let cool about 3 minutes. (If you don’t let the tamale rest before checking, the masa is guaranteed to stick to the husk and appear gummy, so you really have to wait.) Remove husk; if masa sticks to husk, it’s not ready. Carefully re-fold and return to pot. Cook 5 minutes, then check again. If husk is easily removed, your tamales are fully cooked! Remove from heat and let sit, uncovered, 10 minutes. Serve with salsa and a squeeze of lime.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.