Photo by Collin Findlay
Tamales, a popular holiday tradition for many Latin American families, are usually made from a corn-based dough (masa) and savory filling. At talamadas (tamale-making parties commonly hosted around Christmas) they’re made in masses, then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. Below, Chef Rick Lopez of Austin’s La Condesa shares his Guide to Tamales, featuring 6 essential recipes—1 universal dough, 3 savory fillings, and 2 salsas—to help you get in the holiday spirit.
Chicken Tinga often gets its spice from smoky chiles like chipotles in adobo and/or dried anchos, but here Chef Lopez opts for the clean heat of jalapeños. (For smokier tamales, try the Green Chile Pork filling or vegetarian Rajas filling made with charred poblanos.) These tamales are made using instant masa corn flour, which can be found online and in well-stocked grocery stores. Chef Lopez adds a secret ingredient–puréed white beans–to give the tamales a custardy texture and silky mouthfeel.
Learn how to make chicken tinga tamales from Chef Rick Lopez of Austin’s La Condesa.
Make the masa: Mix masa corn flour with 1 ½ cups water in a large bowl. Use your hands or a spatula to work them together until masa is hydrated.
Drain beans, reserving liquid. Add drained beans to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Add a little of bean liquid or a splash of water if necessary to blend.
Add masa and ¾ cup water to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix until smooth and starting to whip together. Slowly add in bean purée and salt and mix to combine. Mix well for 5 minutes before slowly drizzling in oil to emulsify ingredients. As mixture comes together, keep slightly cool while preparing to build the tamales. The mixture can sit in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
Make the chicken filling: Heat oil in a Dutch Oven over medium heat and toast the garlic for 2–4 minutes. Add onions and jalapeños and cook until soft, 4–5 minutes.
Add shredded chicken and mix well. Pour in tomato juice and cook, partially covered, over medium until it reduces down and chicken is fully cooked down and soft, about 30 minutes. Mixture should be soft and the liquid should be reduced, but not dry. Stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Cool filling completely before assembly.
Assemble the tamales: Once pliable, lay corn husks flat. Fill center with about 2 ½ Tbsp. masa, leaving about 2 inches of space from the edges. Place 1 heaping Tbsp. chicken filling lengthwise in center of masa; try to maintain a 2:1 ratio of masa to filling. Fold one side in towards center over filling, then fold other side in to meet the first, cradling masa and filling in center. Pinch sides together and fold excess around filling, keeping it in the center. Once folded, flip in “tail” piece (or bottom) of corn husk.
Lay seam-side down. Tear a small strip of husk and use to tie around tamale crosswise to keep secure for steaming. Place on a Sheet Pan seam-side up. Repeat with remaining tamales and filling.
Set a steamer basket inside a large Stock Pot and fill bottom with water, keeping water level below basket. Stand tamales up inside pot with open side up. Cover with lid, bring to a boil over medium-high/medium, and steam until masa is custard-like and firm to the touch, 35–40 minutes. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.
Serve hot or reheat by steaming again or lightly toasting or grilling before unwrapping and plating.
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