The ancho chilli, a dried poblano chilli from Puebla, is one of the most common varieties of chilli in Mexican cooking. Tamale batter is made from a corn-based dough called masa. It is spread over corn husks, then wrapped with meat and mole. Usually, tamales are made in large quantities for special occasions and sometimes, there’s a tamale-making party called a tamalada.
- 70 g (about 6) dried ancho chillies
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch coriander, roots cleaned and chopped, sprigs reserved
- 1½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 500 ml (2 cups) hot chicken stock
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 500 g chicken thigh fillets, trimmed, halved
- 40 large fresh or 30 dried corn husks (see Note), trimmed, cleaned
- 340 g (2 cups) yellow or white masa harina (see Note)
- 125 g pork lard
- 1 tsp baking powder
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Toast chillies in a pan over medium heat for 30 seconds each side or until fragrant. Place in a bowl, add 1 litre boiling water, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes or until softened. Drain and reserve liquid. Remove stems and seeds, and tear flesh into pieces. Process chillies, garlic, onion, coriander roots, cumin, sugar, lime juice, 375 ml (1½ cups) reserved liquid and 125 ml (½ cup) stock in a food processor to a purée. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Heat oil in a deep frying pan over high heat. Season chicken, then cook for 2 minutes each side or until light golden. Add chilli purée, bring mixture to the boil, then reduce heat to low–medium. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until chicken is very tender. Turn off heat, transfer mixture to a bowl and set aside until cool enough to handle. Shred chicken into a second bowl, combine with 125 ml (½ cup) sauce and refrigerate until needed. Transfer the remaining sauce into a small pan, cover and reserve.
Place corn husks in a large bowl, then cover with boiling water. Leave for 1 hour or until husks are soft and pliable. Drain.
To make batter, place masa, remaining 375 ml (1½ cups) stock and 125 ml (½ cup) reserved ancho liquid in a bowl and, using your hands, mix until well combined. Place lard, baking powder and 1 tsp salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed for 2 minutes or until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, then gradually add masa mixture until combined. Add 60 ml (¼ cup) ancho liquid, then increase speed to high and beat until smooth. Add more liquid if necessary.
To assemble tamales, place 3 fresh or 2 dried corn husks, slightly overlapping, vertically on a work surface. Spread ¼ cup batter widthwise over the bottom half of the husks, leaving a 4 cm border on one end and a 1 cm border at the other. Spoon 1 tbsp chicken mixture over one side of batter, then fold the overlapped husks and batter in half vertically to enclose filling. Fold husks in half again to form a rough square. Press husks together so batter seals open edges, then fold over the edges on either side to form two narrow panels. Tie with kitchen string; there should now be only one unfolded edge. Repeat with the remaining husks, batter and chicken.
Set a steamer over a large saucepan. Stand tamales upright in the steamer with the unfolded edge facing up. Cover with remaining husks, then top with a clean, damp tea towel and cover with a lid. Place the pan over low–medium heat and simmer for 1 hour, topping up with water when necessary, or until corn husks peel easily from the batter. Rest tamales for 15 minutes.
Heat reserved sauce. Serve tamales with the sauce and reserved coriander sprigs.
• Ask your greengrocer to save you large fresh corn husks or order dried corn husks from Monterey Mexican Foods.
• The most widely available brand of masa is PAN, which you can find at selected delis.
Photography Anson Smart.
As seen in Feast magazine, Sept 2011, Issue 1.