Chicken Tomatillo Tamales

Chicken Tomatillo Tamales

Our family loves Baja and has been vacationing there for almost 25 years! Don’t get me wrong, we love to go to lots of other places too, but when it comes to a relaxing family trip, there is nothing like the sun and surf at the Sea of Cortez! When we’re there, we almost exclusively eat Mexican food, since that’s what’s fresh and fitting! Plus, they have an unlimited supply of tomatillos, limes, and perfectly ripe avocados for much less than we pay in the States! And, if you’ve ever had their chicken, you will understand when I say, it is real chicken! It has a golden color unlike the paler chicken we get at home and the flavor is richer, too. Besides, you can’t go wrong with a margarita every night while on vacation either! 

From time to time, locals stop by to sell fish, seafood or homemade fare. We’ve bought fresh shrimp any number of times, but one time a fellow stopped by who was selling his wife’s empanadas and tamales It can be a little daunting, since you don’t have access to her kitchen to see exactly how things roll over there, but being curious cooks and loving authentic food, we gave them a shot. Besides, I adore tamales and they are a huge pain in the neck to make, so why not? Usually I resort to Trader Joe’s chicken tamales for my fix! 

Her empanadas were fabulous, but the tamales not so much and so I decided to take a stab at making them myself! Turns out, it is quite a time-consuming, but a super fun, project. The good news is that a lot of it can be done in stages; for example, you can cook the meat and make the sauce ahead of time and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble and cook your tamales. However, once you make the tamale dough, I think it should be “go” time!

Give these a try and be sure to let me know how it goes!

Chicken-Tomatillo Tamales

Ingredients

Corn Husks:

  • 1 package dried corn husks
  • *at least 14 are needed to make 12 tamales since you need to strip some for ties

Chicken:

  • 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-2 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 fresh tomatillos chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 large tomatillos for grilling to be used in sauce recipe below

Roasted Tomatillo Sauce:

  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 poblano peppers roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper seeded and finely diced
  • 6 fresh tomatillos chopped
  • 2-3 roasted or grilled tomatillos mashed (see above)
  • 3/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Tamale Dough:

  • 1/2 cup 1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups chicken broth

Instructions

Corn Husks:

  • Place corn husks in a large container (pot or bowl) and cover with water. Place a plate, or something heavy, on top of the husks in order to keep them submerged. Soak for several hours or overnight. When ready to use, remove from water and pat dry with a paper towel. Keep all husks whole, except two or three – enough to make strips for ties. You will need two ties per tamale.

Chicken:

  • For the chicken, you can either bake on the barbecue, wrapped tightly in foil, or in the oven in a covered baking dish. We used the barbecue, so we could grill the tomatillos at the same time.
  • Place chicken in the center of a large piece of heavy-duty foil. (We double-wrapped the chicken to keep juices in.) Squeeze lime juice and olive oil over chicken. Sprinkle fresh cilantro and chopped tomatillos over chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in foil and bake on barbecue until done, approximately 20 minutes over medium-high heat. When cooked, remove from heat and cool. Shred chicken and reserve all cooking juices with shredded chicken. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • At the same time, grill two or three large tomatillos until beginning to brown and soften. Remove from heat and cool. Once cooled, mash with a fork or knife. Set aside for sauce.

Roasted Tomatillo Sauce:

  • In a sauté pan, heat oil and cook onions and garlic until translucent and soft. Add poblanos, jalapeno, tomatillos, and lime juice. Mix well. Add chicken broth and continue to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes, until slightly reduced.
  • Remove half of this mixture for the sauce to pour over tamales when serving. Add shredded chicken and cilantro to remaining sauce in the pan. Cook for an additional 10 minutes over low heat. Remove from the stove and cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to assemble tamales.

Tamale Dough:

  • In a mixing bowl, beat butter with baking powder, salt, and cumin until creamy. Add masa harina and stir into butter mixture with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Slowly add chicken broth, a half cup at a time, until mixture is still thick enough to form into dough, but not too soft. Divide dough and form into 12 balls.
  • Place each ball in the center of a prepared corn husk and spread out into a 3-4 inch square. Place about 2-3 tablespoons of chicken filling in the center of each square of masa dough. From one of the long edges of the corn husk, begin to roll tamale into a tube, making sure dough and filling are tucked inside of the corn husk. Using the corn husk ties, tie each end of the tamale close to the end of the filling inside. Double knot the ties. (Here I snipped off the excess ends of corn husks, leaving about a two-inch tail on either side of the ties.)
  • Place tamales on a French steamer in a large pot or in the steamer basket of a pot and fill the pot with water to just below the steamer basket. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring water to boil, and then turn the heat down slightly to medium, and continue to steam tamales for 1.5 to 2 hours. Add water as needed, so the pot does not dry out. Can be cooked ahead of time, refrigerated, and reheated when ready to serve.

To Serve:

  • When ready to serve, heat tamales in steamer or oven. Cut ties, but serve in corn husks and pass the extra sauce. You could also serve grated jack or cheddar cheese to garnish.
Spread the masa dough into the center of a pre-soaked corn husk and top with chicken-tomatillo filling before tying up the ends

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