Chicken tamales

Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of Mexico is considered the authoritative Mexican cookbook in English. If you plan on making her tamales, however, take outside advice. Kennedy is a purist and assumes that you understand some basics of Mexican cooking. This recipe calls for tamale dough, or masa, which can be made from scratch using dried corn and lime solution, or more easily by buying masa de harina which has already been alkanalized and ground. I chose the latter route, but it was not clear that I had to reconstitute the masa harina before weighing combining it with lard for the tamale dough. I ended up with a large bowlful of powdery sawdust.

Fortunately I know Nils Bernstein, who in addition to serving on the board of governors of the Danish National Bank is Matador’s head of publicity, and an accomplished Mexican cook. He guided me through the correct method through a series of text messages:

“Diana’s recipes can be weird. The masa harina needs enough liquid to be as soft as possible without sticking — i.e. when you poke it, none remains on your finger. And when you add the hot liquid to reconstitute, let it sit 30 minutes or so, then add enough cool water fo right consistency. Then measure 3:1 masa:lard by weight.”

Phew! This method produced wonderful tamale dough.

[Sorry! Just noticed that the chicken and the dough are full recipe below, while everything else is 1/2. I have brought it all up to the full recipe now.]

I boiled a 3 1/2 pound chicken with its giblets for 30 minutes, then shredded the meat. Meanwhile, I soaked 15 30 corn husks in warm water for an hour. I reconstituted 4 cups of masa harina with 2 1/2 cups chicken broth as per above, and then aerated 1 1/3 cups lard (important to use Mexican lard, which still has its porky flavoring) with an electric mixer for 10 minutes. I then added the lard to the reconstituted masa harina to produce the tamale dough.

To make the sauce, puree in a blender: 3/4 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, 1 large garlic clove roughly chopped, 1/8 1/4 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds crushed, 2 4 crushed whole cloves, 3 6 crushed peppercorns. Thinly slice 1/2 a whole white onion, and saute it in a couple 4 tablespoons of olive oil until transparent, then add the sauce and reduce over fairly high heat for 5 minutes or so. Season, then add the shredded chicken, mix well, season again if necessary, and set aside.

De-seed 3 6 fresh jalapenos and slice into 15 30 strips.

Remove the corn husks from the water and shake vigorously. Divide the tamale dough into 15 30 equal-sized balls, and spread each one onto a husk, toward the wide top, in a flat disk. Heap a portion of sauced chicken on top of each disc along with 1 jalapeno, and fold the corn husk from the left and the right so that the dough wraps the chicken into a cylinder. Fold up the bottom of the corn husk, and tie with extra strips of husk if you like.

Place vertically into a tall pot on a steamer, with the open end pointing upward. The pot should be full of water just below the steamer. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and steam for 60 minutes. Do not let the tamales steam dry. Serve with lime and hot sauce.

(Kennedy’s recipe also called for a pitted green olive per tamale, which I chose to omit.)

3 thoughts on “Chicken tamales”

  1. El Yucateca is the sauce of the kings, I cannot live without it. Thanks for the advice about the cookbook, I’m headed out today to find a copy.

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