Home > Comfort Food, Mexican > Chicken Tamales with Green Chile Salsa

Chicken Tamales with Green Chile Salsa

Chicken and Green Chile Tamale with Rice and Corn

Chicken and Green Chile Tamale with Rice and Corn

Mexican food is my favorite ethnic food.  When I was growing up, the city lacked true authentic Mexican cuisine.  Therefore anytime I would visit my brother in California, seeking out good Mexican food was often a priority.

Luckily, due to an increasing Mexican population, Pittsburgh has seen a few Mexican Grocers pop up.  One of these grocers is Renya Foods in the strip district.  The store is stocked with all sorts of authentic Mexican groceries, dried chile peppers, condiments, and Mexican cheeses.  The main selling point for me when I am there is their homemade tortillas.  They’re made on the spot and if you time it right you can get them when they are still warm.  When I do, I will eat one right out of the bag while I’m shopping the strip.  They’re delicious.

There is also Las Palmas, in the city’s Brookline neighborhood.

Las Palmas in Brookline Neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Las Palmas in Brookline Neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Like Renya’s, Las Palmas has a wide selection of Mexican groceries.  Where Las Palmas excels is their a butcher counter (something Reyna’s doesn’t have).  I’ve bought their chorizo as well as their fajita chicken and carne asada. All of which are very good.

Butcher Counter at Las Palmas

Butcher Counter at Las Palmas

Both stores have a taco stand out front where they serve delicious Mexican street tacos. Depending on the time of day, the wait can be somewhat long but both are extremely worth it.

Besides the Mexican grocers, there is the addition of  two fairly new restaurants, California Taco Shop (CTS) and Casa Rasta. Both of which specialize in authentic Mexican food. I’ve not been to Casa Rasta, but CTS has great tacos and something called a California Burrito.  All I need to say is it has French Fries in it.  I googled this and thought they added the fries to appeal to Pittsburgh folk, but that’s not the case.  Fries were always part of this burrito which originated on the West Coast.

California Burrito from California Taco Shop

California Burrito from California Taco Shop

Despite some amazing tacos and burritos at all of these places, the one thing they lack is what I’m craving the most.  Fresh steamed tamales.

The best tamale I ever ate was at a tamale stand at the Hollywood Farmers Market.  Its been several years so the name of the stand escapes me, but they were great.  So much in fact that I packaged some to bring home and froze them.  It was a sad day when the last tamale was gone.

Without a good tamale in my hometown and no more frozen ones to be had. I did what any Polish-Italian food lover with absoutly no experience in the tamale making business would do.  I made my own.  I have to admit, my aspirations were high, but I had no clue where to start.

The first thing I did was watch a bunch of videos on YouTube.  The problem with this was there wasn’t a common way to make them.  Some used butter, some oil, the most authentic ones were made with lard.  Same with the recipes I found.  Ugggh.  Determined, I took the knowledge of what I watched and read and made it my own.  Probably a little too ambitious for my first try.

I decided to go to Las Palmas to get the things I would need:  Corn Husks and Masa Harina.

Corn Husks and Masa de Harina

Corn Husks and Masa de Harina

Once I had what I needed to make the tamale mixture, I had to decide what to fill them with.  Since I wanted to focus on the tamale mixture itself and to save time (and ease and frustration) I used a rotisserie chicken.  I also used a store bought salsa.  I was totally improvising but conceptually I knew what I wanted.

I have to admit, I was in over my head and it took a bit more work than I expected, but the result was a decent tasting tamale that I could call my own.  My family liked them and I took a few in for some friends of mine at work.  They enjoyed them too but also gave me some constructive criticism which I’ll consider when I make these again…and I will make them again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded (for convenience but you could make your own chicken if you want)
  • 1 jar of store bought green chile salsa. (1/4 cup reserved)
  • 1 1/2 cups Masa (I used Maseca brand)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Dried Chile Pepper, seeds removed
  • 1 1/4 cups of water (boiled then brought left to cool down to where its still warm)
  • 18 Dried Corn Husks
  • Large bowl of cold water (for soaking the husks)

Add the chicken and salsa to a large pan.  Simmer until the chicken and salsa are warmed through.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely.

Chicken Filling

Chicken Filling

At the same time, prep the corn husks by placing them in a large bowl filled with cold water.  Let soak until husks are pliable.

With kitchen shears (or scissors) cut off the stem of the pepper.  Discard seeds.  Put the chile pepper in a large measuring cup.

Meanwhile bring the water to near boil.  Pour the all the water over the chile pepper and let steep until the water is still warm but not hot.  *Remove pepper.

Chile Pepper Steeping

Chile Pepper Steeping

*The purpose of this was to flavor the water that is added to the masa.  Some recipes used chicken stock, I decided to give this a try.  I can’t say it helped either way but the idea sounded good.

In a separate bowl, add together the masa and salt.   Add in melted butter.  While mixing (I used a stand mixer) slowly add in the warm water that was used to steep the chile pepper a little at a time.  Continue to mix and add more water as necessary until the Masa is the consistency of smooth peanut butter.  You may not use all of the water or you may need more.   I used all of the water.  The end result should be masa that isn’t too wet that it sticks to you fingers.  But also, shouldn’t be too dry and crumbly.

Masa Mixture

Masa Mixture.

When the masa is ready, spread a few tablespoons over the corn husk.  Start in the middle and work your way to the sides and top .  Leave about an inch border on either the left or right side of the husk.  (notice I didn’t go all the way to top or over to one side – lesson learned)

Masa in the husk

Masa in the husk

Add a spoonful of the chicken/salsa mixture to the middle of the masa spread.  (notice with this one I was starting to get the hang of spreading the masa)

Filled and ready to fold

Filled and ready to fold

Fold the masa over the filling and then the husk over to seal masa.  This took some getting used to but by the time I folded my 8th or 9th one, I had it down.

Tamale Folding

Tamale Folding

Repeat this process until you used up the masa.  I should have got about 18 tamales, but I wound up with a bakers dozen.  Either my masa was too thick or I used too much.

Tamales, rolled and ready for steaming

Tamales, rolled and ready for steaming. Not pretty but it worked.

When ready to cook, place tamales in a steamer (I used a colander inside a pot with water on the bottom and a lid on top).

In the pot

In the pot

Steam for 45 minutes.

When finshed, unwrap the tamale and add a bit more of the green salsa.  Enjoy!

My First Tamale

My First Tamale

There really are a lot of steps, but it wasn’t overly complicated.  I will certainly do this again with some modifications.

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  1. May 27, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Wow – I had no desire before to make them because they seem complicated. They still seem a lil bit complicated, but I have never had a tamale……would love to check one out!

    • May 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      I’d like to get an assembly line going with my friends and make a whole bunch. They freeze well.

      • May 28, 2012 at 10:25 pm

        that’s true – that’s how they are usually made in texas and california (by real mexicans). assembly lines work best for these sorts of things.

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