What are your Christmas food traditions? Eggnog? Gingerbread? A favorite Christmas cookie perhaps? In our house it’s just not Christmas until we have a freezer full of tamales. I wish I could say there was a one and only tamale that I make every year, but to be honest there are too many versions to pick just one and every year I like to try something different but chicken tamales are usually on the menu in some form or another.
This year I settled on a little combo I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. Chicken tamales with roasted cubes of pumpkin and a sweet and spicy mole made from charred pineapple, spicy chipotle chiles, and ripe plantain called Manchamantel.
If making tamales seems too overwhelming, host a Tamalada!
A tamalada is a tamale-making party where everyone chips in on the chore of assembling the tamales and gets to take a dozen or so home when it’s all over.
Follow these steps to make the perfect tamale!
First things first, gather all you ingredients. If you are making these chicken tamales, have the chicken cooked and shredded, the mole and masa made, and the pumpkin roasted.
Soak the corn husks.
Dried corn husks can be found at any Mexican market and the ethnic aisle of some grocery stores or you can buy them online here. They will need about 2 hours to soak in hot water.
After the husks have soaked wipe each one dry on both sides.
Set aside any that are smaller than a hand-width wide or any that are torn. Don’t throw them away though you can use them to line the tamale pot or tear into smaller strips to tie the tamales together if you’d like.
Fill your tamale steamer with water up to the rack where the tamales will sit. I use a 15.5-quart tamale pot like this one, but you can also use a large lidded stock pot fitted with a steamer rack on the bottom. Line the rack with a few soaked corn husks and put it on the stove to boil. Spoon about 1/3- 1/2 cup of masa onto a cornhusk. Make your own masa following the directions below or purchase prepared masa (masa preparada para tamales) at your local Mexican market. Masa preparada is made from fresh ground corn instead of dried cornmeal.
How to Spread
Using a large spoon or a tamale spreader and spread masa evenly over the bottom half of the cornhusk, leaving about a 1/2 inch border on the sides.
Fill with about 2 tablespoons of pumpkin and 2 tablespoons of chicken in the middle.
I used sugar pie pumpkin, but any winter squash would be delicious. You want enough filling to get a little chicken and pumpkin with each bite.
Spoon about a tablespoon of mole sauce over the chicken.
Don’t be skimpy with the sauce, not enough and the tamale will be dry. It’s okay if a little drips out the top when you are rolling them.
How to Roll
Using the clean edges of the corn husk, bring the two sides of the masa together to enclose the filling. Press the two sides of masa together to seal.
Tuck one side of the cornhusk over the masa and pull back gently to make a snug cylinder.
If you’ve ever rolled sushi you will be familiar with this move.
Roll the husk up and fold the pointed end down.
Place the tamale with the folded-side down and repeat until you have enough tamales to fill the pot. If you want, you can wrap each tamale individually in parchment or waxed paper at this point, place in a resealable plastic bag and freeze to steam later. They will keep uncooked in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Now, steam away!
Place the chicken tamales with the open side up in the tamale steamer, stacked against each other so they don’t fall and become unraveled. You want there to be a lot of steam but not boiling away, adjust the heat accordingly.
Let the chicken tamales cool
About 10-15 minutes, then unwrap and dig in! If saving for later you can let them cool completely then pack into resealable plastic bags. They will keep for about a week in the refrigerator or 2-3 months in the freezer.
Fluffy tamales filled with chicken, roasted pumpkin, and a sweet and spicy Manchamantel mole sauce made from charred pineapple and chipotles.
A time-consuming task but definitely worth the work, plus this recipe makes a few dozen so you can have a freezer stocked with enough tamales for a month!
Chicken, mole sauce, and pumpkin can be prepped a few days in advance.
Make sure to soak the corn husks a couple hours before beginning.
- 1 (4-5 pound) whole chicken
- 1 large onion, cut into wedges
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- One recipe Manchamantel Mole Sauce
- 4 cups peeled and diced pumpkin or winter squash
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 50 dried corn husks
- For the Masa:
- 6 cups Maseca corn flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 cup lard or vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
- 5-6 cups chicken cooking liquid or store-bought broth
- Rinse chicken and remove any neck or giblets (save and freeze for later or discard).
- Place in a large stock pot with remaining chicken ingredients and cover by an inch or so with cold water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook until chicken is very tender and falling off the bone, about 1-11/2 hours.
- Remove chicken to a baking sheet and let cool. Strain broth into a heat-proof container, discard solids. When broth is cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to use for the mole sauce and masa.
- When chicken is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces removing any bone, skin, or fat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Heat oven to 450°F. Toss diced pumpkin with oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. You may need to use 2 baking sheets if they are too crowded on one.
- Roast until just tender, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool.
- Soak corn husks at least 2 hours in advance in hot water. Use a heavy plate to submerge husks in water.
- Combine Maseca, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add cubed lard or shortening rubbing it into the dry ingredients with your fingers until it in very small pieces. Add 5 cups of reserved chicken cooking liquid and mix into a dough making sure all Maseca has been incorporated and there are no dry spots. It is best to mix together with your hands so you can feel any dry Maseca.
- Add more liquid if the masa is too dry, you want it to be easily spreadable but not runny, like fluffy mashed potatoes. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.
- Fill a tamale steamer with water just until it reaches the rack where the tamales will sit. Use a few of the small or ripped soaked corn husks to line the rack. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, turn heat to medium and keep covered.
- Dry a soaked corn husk with a clean kitchen towel. Hold the corn husk with the wide end toward you. Using a large spoon or tamale spreader, evenly spread about 1/2 cup masa from the middle of the husk down leaving about 1/2-inch border on the sides.
- Place about 2-3 tablespoons of chicken and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin down the middle, then top with a generous tablespoon of mole.
- Fold one side of masa over the filling until the two edges of the corn husk meet, and holding onto one side of corn husk, pull the other side toward the middle to press the two edges of masa together. Fold the pointy end of the corn husk up over the large end, and place on a clean baking sheet. Repeat with remaining corn husks.
- Place tamales vertically, open-side up in the tamale steamer, keeping them snug in the pot so they don't unravel during cooking. Make sure water is at a steady simmer and producing lots of steam. Cover tightly and steam until masa is cooked through and not doughy in the middle, about 45 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water if the pot looks dry.
- Remove from heat and let sit, covered, 5 to 10 minutes before removing from the pot. Tamales can also be left in the pot, covered with a clean towel (and then covered with the steamer lid) for up to an hour before serving. They will stay warm and soft if you want to make them in advance.
- Serve with remaining mole.
Did you love this recipe? I want to know! Leave me a comment and snap a photo for Instagram! Tag @holajalapeno so I can see your beautiful creation! Your feedback is super important to me.
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