Chicken Tamales with Salsa Verde

Makes approx. 100 yummy tamales

Having grown up in San Diego, I’ve been spoiled with amazing Mexican food and I’ve always wanted to learn how to make traditional recipes. To my delight, our family friends, who grew up in Mexico, were nice enough to invite my mom and me over at 6am (which explains why I look like I just woke up in the photos below!) to be part of their holiday tamale making tradition.

Salsa Verde

10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 white onion roughly chopped
3 lbs. tomatillos, skins removed
1 lb. jalapenos*
1 teaspoon cumin

Add tomatillos to a pot, cover with water and simmer over medium high heat for 1 hour. Remove from heat and drain water. At the same time, in a separate pot, simmer jalapenos in water over medium high heat for 1 hour. Remove and drain jalapenos from water and cut off the stems.

Working in batches, blend the tomatillos, jalapenos, garlic and onion in a blender. Pour into large pot on stove, stir in cumin and salt and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Voila! You have amazing homemade salsa Verde you can impress your friends with. (This can be made the night before.)

*Note about spiciness. This salsa packs a punch, but once it’s added inside the tamales, it mellow out. If you handle spicy well, you will love this. If you like things milder here are a few variations.

Medium-hot: Reduce jalapenos to a half pound (or less). Make recipe as directed.

Mild: Before cooking the jalapenos, remove all stems, seeds, and white ribs. Simmer as directed above. Once the seeds and white ribs are removed, jalapenos taste similar to smoky green peppers. (Wear plastic gloves if your hands are sensitive, and do not touch your eyes or other delicate parts of your body until you wash your hands well.)


1 bag of corn husks
10 lbs. chicken thighs and breasts with skin and bones
1 medium onion, halved
8 whole cloves garlic, peeled
15 lbs. of Masa
Chicken broth, reserved from cooking chicken
Salt, about ½ cup

Prepare the corn husks: Soak the husks in warm water for 2 hours. Weight down with another bowl to keep them submerged. Be careful not to tear them as you pull them apart as they soften. Once the husks are pliable, stand them straight up so that the excess water drains.

Prepare the chicken:

Add the onion and garlic to a large pot of water. Bring to a boil and add thighs and breasts (with skin on). Boil for about an hour. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate to cool. Save chicken broth.

When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and pull apart into small bite size pieces with your fingers. Transfer to a medium bowl. (This can be done the night before.)

Prepare the Masa: If you are lucky enough, you will be able to find prepared Masa at a local Mexican grocery store. Betty took us to a Mexican market in National City where they had an entire section of the store for preparing Masa. I highly recommend visiting a Mexican market. In general I find the prices to be much lower than an American grocery store and you can buy homemade guacamole and salsa by the gallon. Oh and don’t forget the homemade tortilla chips that are addicting.

Tamale Masa is different from other Masa because oil has been added to the Masa. Even though the Masa has been prepared by trained professionals (and thank goodness, because Betty described what it was like making it in Mexico as a kid– what a process!), it still needs to be worked to bring it to the right consistency.

Place the Masa in a large pot. Add 6-8 cups, one cup at a time, of the reserved chicken broth. Mix with a large stick (or paddle) being careful to only stir in ONE direction; mixing in one direction will insure that the tamales do not break apart once they are cooked. Keep mixing until you start to see air pockets forming. Add more chicken broth and salt as needed. The final consistency should be close to peanut butter. This process took us about 20 minutes. Betty said that her husband can do it in about 10 minutes. Just depends how strong and fast you are.

Preparing the tamales: Place the rough side of the corn husk in your palm (the smooth side will be facing up). Spread about 1/4 cup of the Masa in a circular pattern on the lower half of the corn husk. Place a few pieces of chicken down the center, and spoon salsa Verde over chicken. Wrap tamale as shown below, being sure to tuck the bottom of the husk UNDER to keep it closed. Stack tamales with open side up.

Cooking the tamales: Fill the bottom of the tamale steamer with water up to, but not touching, the bottom of the grill. Layer remaining corn husks on the bottom and up side. Carefully place the tamales standing up in the pot. When one layer is complete, angle the tamales and begin another layer being sure to leave room for the steam to escape. Place a layer of corn husks over the top and a damp dish cloth. Tightly wrap with foil to trap the steam inside (Betty did not use the lid; she said the foil did a better job trapping the steam). Bring water to a boil; reduce heat to medium and steam for 3 hours until Masa is firm (open a tamale to check at 3 hours, but not before).

Enjoying the tamales: When the Masa is firm, the tamales are ready. Serve the tamales with the extra salsa Verde and invite your friends over!




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