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Tamales Oaxaqueños

Ren Fuller
makes 24 tamales


Shredded Chicken and Stock (makes about 3 quarts stock and 4 cups shredded meat)
  • 1 (3.5-pound) whole chicken
  • 1/2 large white onion, halved
  • 4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 3 fresh epazote, oregano, marjoram or thyme sprigs
  • 2 hoja santa leaves (optional)
Salsa Tomatillo
  • 4 cups chicken stock (recipe above) or other low-sodium chicken stock
  • 7 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered
  • 1/4 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 chile habanero, stemmed, seeded and halved
  • 1/3 packed cup fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
  • teaspoons kosher salt
Salsa Guajillo
  • 5 cups chicken stock (recipe above) or other low-sodium chicken stock
  • 6 large chiles guajillos, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 large chiles anchos, stemmed and seeded
  • 1/4 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 3 chiles de árbol, stemmed and seeded for less heat
  • teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 6 cups mole coloradito or mole amarillo
    • cups chicken stock (recipe above) or other low-sodium chicken stock, warmed
    • teaspoons kosher salt
    • 3 pounds fresh coarse grind corn masa for tamales, "unprepared"
    • cups plus 2 tablespoons melted lard or vegetable oil
    • 1 pound fresh or thawed frozen banana leaves, washed and patted dry
    • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken (recipe above)

    Chef notes

    In this recipe, since I am using chicken as the main ingredient in the filling, I decided to include a recipe for a cooked chicken and homemade stock. Of course, you can use your own homemade chicken stock or swap in a different filling for the chicken (roasted vegetables are also delicious in a tamal). I am offering you three options for the salsa (sauce) for the filling. The most common Oaxacan tamales are made with mole, salsa tomatillo, or salsa guajillo. For the 24 tamales in this recipe, you need a total of 6 cups of salsa. Each of the two salsa recipes makes about 6 cups, so choose only one salsa or cut each recipe in half and make half red and half green! Or, if you choose the mole (option 3), you can use 6 cups of that, too! Choose your own tamal adventure and make sure to invite friends and family to help you cook and eat them. Turn it into a tamalada (tamal party) — spread the masa and spread the love!

    Technique tips: The stock can be made 3 days ahead. Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate or freeze for up to 3 months. Chicken can be made 3 days ahead. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate. If you are using fresh masa, look or ask for "unprepared" masa. This means that nothing has been added to the dough and the only thing in it is corn, water, and lime. "Prepared" masa has added lard and seasonings. I always use "unprepared" so that I can control the amount of lard, seasoning and salt.


    For the shredded chicken and stock:


    In a large heavy pot over high heat, bring 4 quarts water, the chicken, onion, garlic, peppercorns, allspice, cloves, epazote and hoja santa (if using) to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, skimming occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through (if the chicken isn't completely submerged, you can turn it once or twice) and the legs wiggle easily in their joints, for 40 to 50 minutes.


    Let the chicken cool slightly and transfer to a cutting board. Set the stock aside. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred into bite-size pieces. Discard the skin and bones. Transfer the meat to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until ready to use.


    Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve and set aside until ready to use.

    For the salsa tomatillo:

    In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the stock, tomatillos, onion, garlic, habanero, cilantro and salt to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender and almost falling apart, for 20 to 25 minutes.

    Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a blender and puree on medium-low speed until completely smooth. Set the salsa aside until you're ready to assemble.

    For the salsa guajillo:

    In a large saucepan, bring the stock, chiles guajillos, chiles anchos, onion, garlic, chiles de árbol, salt, bay leaf and oregano to a boil. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let sit until chiles are tender, for about 30 minutes.

    Transfer the chile mixture to the jar of a blender and puree on medium-low speed until completely smooth. Set the salsa aside until you're ready to assemble.

    For the masa:

    In a 2-cup liquid measure, whisk the stock and salt until the salt is dissolved. In a large bowl, mix the masa, stock mixture and lard with your hands until the mixture looks shiny and smooth and is the consistency of thick cake frosting and is easily spreadable, for about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.

    For the tamales:


    Unfold a banana leaf (it should be 2 to 3 feet long). If you have gas burners, heat one gas burner on high. Hold the leaf at each end and very slowly move the leaf over the flame, leaving it in one place until you see light charring coming through the top. Continue moving the leaf slowly for 3 to 7 seconds to see char marks in one spot, or until the entire leaf is charred. Repeat with the remaining banana leaves.


    Remove the center rib and cut the leaves into 12- by 14-inch pieces; reserve the ribs and scraps. If your leaves are narrow, double up and offset the leaves to get the right size.


    Arrange the leaf so a long side is facing you. Measure out 1/2 cup of masa and place it onto the center of the leaf. Using a table knife, offset spatula, or rubber spatula, spread the masa into a thin, even layer, covering most of the leaf but leaving a 2-inch border on all sides; the edges don't have to be straight or neat. Visualize the tamal in the center of the leaf, about 6 inches long by 4 inches wide. Arrange 2 tablespoons of chicken in the center of that space. Top with 1/4 cup salsa or mole.


    Fold a long side of the leaf over the filling, then fold over the other long side to cover. Hold the tamal seam-side up and fold the two short ends over the tamal. Set the tamal on a sheet pan seam- and fold-side down. Repeat to assemble the remaining tamales.


    Place a metal basket, steamer basket, or rack insert into a tamal pot, stockpot, or pasta pot. Fill with enough water so it comes up to just below the basket (you don't want the water to touch the tamales). Line the bottom of the basket with the reserved banana leaf scraps to cover any exposed metal. Arrange and stack the tamales, seam-side down, in the basket. Cover the tamales with a damp kitchen towel and tuck it inside the pot. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the water at a simmer and steam for 45 minutes, checking the water level occasionally and adding more water as needed to keep some liquid in the pot.


    Carefully remove the kitchen towel and plastic. Remove a tamal and set aside to cool for 3 minutes. (If you don't let the tamal rest before checking, the masa will stick to the leaf and appear gummy.) Unfold the leaf — if the masa sticks, it's not ready. If it's not ready, carefully refold and return the tamal to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes more, then check again. If the leaf peels back easily and no masa sticks, your tamales are done. Remove from the heat, uncover the pot and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

    Reprinted with permission from "Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico" by Rick Martínez, copyright© 2022. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.