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Chicken tamales

Tamales are parcels of corn dough wrapped in corn husks or leaves such as plantain or banana, then steamed. We've made the dough with white corn masa flour, which has a wonderful toasty corn flavour - look out for the Maseca brand. A typical condiment served with tamales is a green or red hot sauce - here we've gone with a green salsa (green tomatoes are a fine option in place of canned tomatillos). Many different fillings and garnishes such as olives, boiled egg, raisins, currants and capers make it more of a party. In lieu of corn husks, use baking paper to wrap the parcels. 

You'll need

12-16 dried corn husks, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes (see note), drained   Poached chicken 1 tbsp lard 1 onion, sliced Pinch of cumin seeds 1 chicken (1.5kg), cut in half lengthways   Green salsa (to serve) 6 canned tomatillos in brine, drained, finely chopped ½ white onion, finely chopped 1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane 4 large green jalapeños, seeds removed, coarsely chopped   Masa dough 120 gm (1 cup) masa harina (see note) 75 gm lard, softened


  • 01
  • For poached chicken, preheat oven to 175C. Heat lard in a casserole over medium heat, add onion and cumin seeds and fry, stirring occasionally, until just tender (3-5 minutes). Add chicken, skin-side up, then add 1.5 litres water, or enough to cover, bring to the boil, then cover with a lid and poach in oven until chicken is cooked through (55 minutes to 1 hour). Remove from oven and stand covered for 30 minutes, then uncover and cool chicken completely in stock. Strain stock into a bowl, shred chicken meat (discard skin and bones), then refrigerate chicken and stock separately until required.
  • 02
  • For green salsa, place tomatillos, onion, garlic and ½ tsp salt in a bowl, and stir to combine. Place jalapeños in a blender, pour in half the tomatillo mixture, blend until combined, then return mixture to remaining salsa. Makes about a cup.
  • 03
  • For masa, bring 500ml reserved chicken stock to the boil in a saucepan (freeze remaining stock for another use). Remove from heat and gradually add masa harina in a steady stream, whisking until smooth, then whisk in lard. Season with 1 tsp salt, transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest.
  • 04
  • Place drained husks flat on a surface with the pointed ends facing away from you. Spoon a couple of tablespoonfuls of masa along the centre of each and spread out slightly. Place a couple of tablespoonfuls of chicken on top with a teaspoonful of green salsa, then fold the sides in, fold the tops down and the bottoms up to create a parcel. Tie securely with kitchen string.
  • 05
  • Place tamales in a stacked steamer basket (2 is ideal) over a saucepan of simmering water, swapping baskets while cooking, until the filling is warm and set (55 minutes to 1 hour). Serve with remaining green salsa.

Dried corn husks and masa harina are available from Mexican shops such as Monterey Foods ( and Fireworks Foods ( 

At A Glance

  • Serves 6 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 6 people

Drink Suggestion

Can of cold lager.

Featured in

Jul 2016

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