Tamales Stuffed with Chicken and Tomatillo Sauce
The tangy and refreshing qualities of tomatillo seem to work best with chicken, and they are often paired to form the base for a large variety of tamale fillings. Tomatillos instantly invigorate leftover chicken, even meat that’s been cooked a long time to make a broth. If you already have some chicken broth on hand for the batter, you can also use leftover roasted chicken or, of course, fresh chicken, as long as you cook it before mixing it into the tomatillo sauce. These dumplings are wrapped using the single-husk tamale fold (see Notes).
Single-Husk Tamale Fold:
The single-husk tamale fold shapes tamales into compact rectangular packages. Dried corn husks are often quite large and can easily wrap around big spoonfuls of batter and filling. If your husks are smaller or torn, however, you can overlap two husks and still complete the fold.
1. Lay flat one corn husk, smooth side up. Center the batter on top of the husk and spread it out toward the right side until you have a rectangle about 4 × 2½ inches.
2. Arrange the filling on top of the left half of the batter, leaving the right half without any filling.
3. Fold the right side over, sandwiching the filling inside the batter.
4. Fold over the left side.
5. Fold the ends of the husk over as firmly as you can to create a neat rectangular package.
6. Tie the package in a crisscross pattern to prevent the husk from unfolding.
Freezing Dumplings: If you need to freeze extra dumplings, or want to make large batches and freeze them for later, there are a few things to consider. Almost all filled and folded dumplings can be frozen before cooking. They should be frozen in a single layer on a baking sheet or tray lined with parchment paper. If there is a second layer, separate the layers with another piece of parchment paper. Do not stack more than two layers of dumplings on one tray. Only after the dumplings have frozen solid should they be placed in bags or boxes, sealed tightly, and stored for up to 3 months. Fresh corn tamales, some wrapped rice dumplings, and steamed buns freeze well after cooking. Again, space them apart on a tray, let them freeze, then store in tightly sealed bags or boxes for up to 3 months.
Corn husks: Fresh husks pulled right off the cob are convenient and lightly scented wrappers for batters consisting entirely or partly of fresh corn kernels. Fresh husks from sweet corn are typically narrow and not too long, so you will need to overlap them in order to accommodate the batter or filling you’re working with. Dried husks, however, are larger, because they are generally made from the husks of sizable field corn, not sweet corn. They can be found, usually folded up, in many markets, especially Mexican, Caribbean, or South American groceries, specialty food markets, and well-stocked supermarkets.
Preparing dried corn husks: Count out the number of husks needed for your recipe. Unfold them just enough to count out the number that you need, trying to avoid tearing or cracking them apart. Fill a pot large enough to fit the husks at least halfway with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat. Sink the husks in the hot water, cover, and soak for 1 to 2 hours, turning occasionally for a more even soak. Drain, unfold, rinse each husk under cool running water, and wipe dry. Keep covered under a damp towel until ready to use.
Serves4 to 8 (makes 16 dumplings)
Cooking MethodSauteeing, Steaming
Total Timea day or more
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Game Day
Recipe CourseMain Course, Side Dish
Dietary ConsiderationEgg-free, Gluten-free, Halal, Kosher, Lactose-free, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free
EquipmentFood Processor, Steamer
Taste and TextureHot & Spicy, Savory, Tangy
- 6 medium tomatillos, papery husks removed and fruit rinsed
- 2 to 3 serrano chiles or 1 large jalapeno chile
- 1 small white onion, chopped coarse
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro stems and leaves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons nonhydrogenated lard or a neutral oil, such as grapeseed
- 1 cup bite-sized pieces of cooked chicken (if you are making fresh chicken broth for the tamale batter, this will provide you with more than enough chicken)
- 1 recipe tamale batter from fresh masa or tamale batter from masa harina made with chicken broth
- 20 to 25 prepared dried corn husks (see Notes)
- Sixteen 12-inch lengths of kitchen string for tying the tamales
- 8-to 10-quart steamer pot
Make the sauce and the filling: Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet and roast until they are soft and charred in spots, about 20 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, pick off or rub off the patches of charred skin as best you can. Trim the tomatillos and the peppers of their firmer stem ends. For less heat, core and seed the chiles.
Pulse the onion, garlic, and roasted tomatillos and chiles in a food processor until the mixture is light and pulpy. Add the cilantro and salt and pulse once or twice to combine. There will be about 1½ cups of sauce.
Melt the lard in a small pot over high heat. Carefully and quickly pour in the tomatillo sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and darkens in color, about 8 minutes. (You can also make the sauce in advance and keep it refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 days.)
Pour half of the cooked tomatillo sauce into a small bowl and set aside to cool. Mix the chicken into the sauce that remains simmering in the pot and cook for 3 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, scoop into a medium bowl, and set aside to cool.
Assemble the Tamales: Before assembling the tamales, review the Single-Husk Tamale Fold (see Notes).
Line a tray with a kitchen towel and have ready the batter, the cooked chicken, the tomatillo sauce, the husks, and the ties.
Loosen up the batter by whisking it for 2 to 3 minutes. The consistency should be something similar to a grainy and dense mousse. If the batter is too stiff to whisk easily, mix in some cold water, a little at a time, until it is softer and fluffier.
Pick out the best 16 husks. Lay flat 1 husk, smooth side up. Center 2 rounded tablespoons of the batter on top of the husk and spread it to the right until it forms a rectangle about 4 × 2½ inches. Arrange a generous forkful of the chicken mixture and then a spoonful of the sauce on top of the left half of the rectangle only. Fold the right side of the husk over, sandwiching the filling between the batter. Fold the left side of the husk over the top. Fold the ends of the husk over as firmly as you can to create a neat rectangular package. Tie the package in a crisscross pattern to prevent the husk from unfolding and place on the lined tray. Repeat until you have 16 tamales.
. Set aside the number of tamales that you would like to cook and keep the rest frozen for up to 6 months.
. Steam the Tamales: Remove the basket from the steamer pot, add 2 inches of water to the pot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, arrange the packages upright, leaning, or wedged loosely against each other in the basket. Ball up and stick in any extra husks or parchment paper to keep the tamales propped up if needed. Blanket them with any remaining husks. Place the basket in the pot, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and steam for 1½ hours. Check the water level every 30 minutes and replenish with boiling water as needed. (If steaming frozen tamales, place them directly in the basket and cook them in the steamer pot for 2 hours. Do not allow the tamales to thaw before cooking.)
. Remove the pot from the heat. Carefully remove the basket and place it on a folded kitchen towel. Let the tamales cool slightly, cut off the strings, and serve. It’s best not to open the tamales too soon and to peel back the husks just before eating so that they stay moist and warm.
2009 Wai Hon Chu and Connie Lovatt