Tamales are made from delicate corn dough, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, and then steamed. The recipe has a pre-Hispanic origin – in fact, they have been prepared in Mesoamerica for about 10,000 years. Today, they are great party food. Families come together in preparing the tamales, which when ready can be kept warm for hours in a simple steamer, ready for greedy hands and spicy sauce. Traditionally made with pork lard, they can also be prepared with duck fat, butter or vegetable shortening.
- 400 g tomatillos (see Note)
- 2 serrano chillies, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 bunch coriander, chopped
- ½ cup finely diced white onion
- salt, to taste
- 24 dried corn husks
- 150 g pork lard
- 2 cups tamale flour (see Note)
- 500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock, cold
- 2 tsp salt
- 400 g shredded chicken
- 2 m butcher’s twine
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.
Soaking time 15 minutes
Standing time 10 minutes
To make the tamales, place the corn husks in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Leave to soften for 15–20 minutes.
Meanwhile, to prepare the salsa verde, place the tomatillos in a 20 cm saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil then simmer for about 7 minutes or until tender. Drain and place in a blender. Add chillies, garlic and coriander, and blend until fine. Add the finely chopped onion and season. Reserve.
Beat the lard with an electric mixer until lightly aerated. (If using butter or shortening, whip until pale and fluffy.) Combine the tamale flour and stock and season well, then add to the lard. Beat again, for about 3 minutes on high speed, until very light and fluffy. To check if it is aerated enough, scoop a spoonful into a glass of cold water: if the mix floats, it’s ready.
Drain the cornhusks, then pat dry. With a spatula, place a scoop of the tamale mixture in the centre of the husk, and spread to 1 cm thickness, leaving the outside 2 cm of husk uncovered by batter. Add some shredded chicken and 2 tbsp of salsa verde, then fold the husk to encase well. If necessary, use a second husk to ensure the dough is well encased. Tie closed with butcher’s twine.
Use a steamer basket inserted into a 30 cm saucepan to create a steamer. (Ensure you have a tight fitting-lid for the pan.) Fill saucepan with water to just below the steamer basket, and heat over high until boiling. Reduce heat to medium, then add the tamales to the steamer. Cover tightly with lid.
Steam tamales for 1 hour. Test by opening one – if the husk comes away clean from the dumpling, it’s ready. If you need to top up the water at any point, be sure to use boiling water so the tamales do not cool down mid-cook.
Stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve with the remaining salsa verde.
• If fresh tomatillos are unavailable, tinned tomatillos can be used. They do not require cooking.
• Tamale flour is available from speciality food stores and Mexican grocers and sold as harina para tamales. Masa harina for tortillas cannot be used as a substitute, it is too fine and results in a very dense tamale.