Chicken Tamales with Roasted Tomato-and-Dried Chile Sauce

Time to throw a tamalada.

Active Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Total Time:
4 hrs
Yield:
25 tamales

"For many Southerners of Latin American heritage, Christmas means tamales: tender dumplings wrapped in leaves, like little presents," writes Sandra A. Gutierrez, author of four cookbooks, including The New Southern-Latino Table. Gutierrez spent childhood holidays at her grandmother Mita's estate, firmly planted in her spot on the tamale assembly line; now, Gutierrez hosts her very own tamaladas in her North Carolina home.

If you have never attended a tamalada, an event centered around communal tamale-making, Gutierrez is here to help you create an authentic experience in your home. These rich, fiery chicken tamales are absolutely worth the effort required to make them from scratch. The masa is moist and tender, with a burst of succulent flavor from the lard. The sauce is deep and rich with a touch of heat from the guajillo chiles—by the time the heat resides, you're ready for another bite. For the complete package, top each tamale with more sauce, crumbled queso fresco, and chopped parsley. Eat them for lunch, dinner, or as a snack any time in the day.

As a bonus, we've got a tamale troubleshooting tip from the Test Kitchen to ensure that your tamalada runs smoothly. If your corn husks are too small to hold all the dough, you have two options: Make the tamales smaller (you will end up with a double batch), or overlap two corn husks (with their wide ends joined toward the middle) to secure the filling inside.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound plum tomatoes (5 to 6 tomatoes)

  • 1 large red bell pepper

  • 2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled

  • 1 ½ cups roughly chopped white onion (from 1 large onion)

  • 3 pasilla negro chiles (dried chilaca chiles) or guajillo chiles, seeded and chopped

  • ¼ cup vegetable oil or melted lard

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

  • 6 cups masa harina, plus more as needed

  • 4 - 4 ½ cups chicken broth, warmed or at room temperature

  • 1 ½ cups chilled lard or vegetable shortening

  • 40 - 50 dried corn husks (from 2 [6-oz.] pkg.), soaked in warm water 30 minutes or up to 8 hours

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 25 (2-inch) pieces

  • 4 ounces queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese) or pecorino Romano, crumbled (about 1 cup)

  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems

Directions

  1. Place tomatoes, bell pepper, and garlic in a dry cast-iron skillet. Cook over high, turning occasionally, until skins are charred and blackened, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Peel garlic, and discard skins. Working in batches if necessary, add charred vegetables, garlic, onion, and dried chiles to a blender. Secure lid on blender; remove center piece to let steam escape. Place a clean towel over opening. Process until smooth, 30 to 45 seconds.

  2. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high. Carefully pour sauce into hot oil (it will sizzle). Cook, stirring vigorously, until it stops splattering. Continue cooking and stirring 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 30 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the salt. Cool completely, 30 minutes; chill until ready to use.

  3. Whisk together masa harina and remaining 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl. Gradually add 4 cups broth, kneading mixture with your hands until the dough forms a ball. Gradually knead in up to ½ cup of broth, if necessary. The dough should be smooth. If it's sticky, gradually work in more masa harina until smooth.

  4. Beat chilled lard in a large bowl with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until fluffy, 30 seconds to 1 minute. With mixer running on medium speed, add dough in large pieces; beat until all has been incorporated. Continue beating until masa mixture has the consistency of thick mashed potatoes and is no longer sticky, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover; let stand 20 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, cut about 15 husks into 50 (½-inch-wide) strips. Set aside.

  6. Gather 25 corn husks. Working with 1 at a time, place on a clean surface; pat dry with a paper towel. Spread ⅓ cup of masa into a 3-inch square in middle of husk, leaving at least a 1 ½-inch border on all sides. Place 1 piece of chicken and a heaping tablespoon of sauce in center of masa.

  7. Roll 1 long side of husk over filling until filling is covered. Fold opposite side over husk to encase the filling. Twist ends of husk; tie ends with prepared corn husk strips. Repeat with 24 more corn husks, remaining masa and chicken, and 1 ½ cups sauce.

  8. Fit a large stockpot with a steamer basket. Line with 5 to 7 husks to cover bottom of basket. Add 2 to 3 inches of water to stockpot. Stack tamales flat in basket. Cover; bring water to a boil over high. Reduce heat to low. Steam 45 minutes (replenishing water as needed). Remove from heat; cool in pot 30 minutes.

  9. To serve, remove ties, slide tamales from husks, and discard husks. Heat remaining sauce in a saucepan over medium until hot, about 5 minutes. Top tamales with sauce; sprinkle with cheese and parsley.

    Chicken Tamales with Roasted Tomato-and-Dried Chile Sauce
    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke

Make-Ahead Tamales

After the tamales have been cooked and cooled, they can be frozen in their husks. To freeze: Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and freeze until solid. Transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container, and store in the freezer up to 4 months. To reheat frozen tamales, don't thaw them. Simply fit a large pot with a steamer basket, and fill the pot with 2 to 3 inches of water. Layer the frozen tamales inside. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, and steam the tamales until hot, about 30 minutes.

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