Chile verde or green chile chicken tamales are one of the most popular tamales served during the holidays in Mexican and Mexican American homes like mine, especially on Christmas Eve. The tamales are usually served with rice, beans, crema to tame off the heat, and a warm mug of creamy champurrado. It’s an iconic holiday meal!
The beauty of these chicken tamales is that the filling is versatile and easy to prepare. All you need is time for assembling the tamales and a little patience while the tamales steam.
The Best Tip for the Most Flavorful Tamales
The chile verde gives the tamales their delicious flavor. It’s made by blending tomatillos, serrano and jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and onions until finely chopped. Here’s a trick: strain the salsa through a fine mesh sieve to remove some liquid. Only the remaining pulp is used in the filling. This keeps the tamales from getting too wet. They’ll be perfectly flavored and evenly cooked.
How to Buy and Store Dried Corn Husks for Tamales
Dried corn husks typically come in a bag of about 50 husks. That’s enough for 20 to 24 tamales. The remaining husks are used to line the steamer and tamales as they cook, and for pulling strips for tying the tamales. Look for husks that appear clean and free of debris, and that don’t have holes all over.
Unused husks can be stored in a dry place for up to 1 year, so make sure to only wash the husks you will be using—no need to dump the entire bag into water. Once it gets wet, you have to use it.
How to Make Tamales with Chicken or Pork
This is a chicken tamale recipe, but you can also make it with pork. I would recommend using pork shoulder cut into large cubes. Boil the pork for about 1 hour 45 minutes with the onion and salt, as the recipe calls for, but add a bay leaf, a few cloves of garlic, and 6 black peppercorns. The pork should be tender enough to easily shred. The rest of the instructions are the same!
The Best Way to Reheat Tamales
I recommend microwaving leftovers until heated through with or without the husk on. It’s truly the easiest way to reheat tamales. My favorite way to reheat tamales? On a comal or skillet until the husk gets lightly charred. The tamale will get crispy edges. Then, top it with a fried egg. It’s THE best!
How To Plan Ahead for a Large Gathering
Need to plan ahead or are you making a large amount of tamales for a gathering? Assemble the tamales up to 3 months ahead, wrap them individually with parchment paper, and freeze them in zip top freezer bags, uncooked. Steam the tamales one day before you plan to serve them, cooked directly from the freezer with the parchment paper wrap still on. Simply add an extra hour of cooking time.
Chicken Tamales with Chile Verde
Look for corn husks that appear clean and free of debris. You also want to make sure they aren’t torn or are full of holes.
For less spicy tamales, reduce the amount of serrano or jalapeño peppers or remove their membrane and seeds before using.
I recommend making the masa for tamales after you make the chile verde in step 3. Use the reserved chicken stock from cooking the chicken.
1 (8-ounce) package corn husks (see Recipe Note)
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 medium white onion, peeled and halved, divided
10 cups water
3 teaspoons salt, divided
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husk removed, rinsed, and roughly chopped
7 serrano peppers, stems removed and roughly chopped (see Recipe Note)
1 jalapeno peppers, stems removed and roughly chopped (see Recipe Note)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Small bunch cilantro (about 1 1/2 cups tightly packed)
6 cups masa for tamales (see Recipe Note)
Crema or sour cream
Cotija cheese, crumbled
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Soak the corn husks:
Rinse the corn husks thoroughly under warm running water to clean off any debris, being careful not to tear them. Place the rinsed husks in a large bowl with enough warm water to cover them. Use a heavy bowl or plate to weigh the husks down so that they stay submerged. I use the tejolote from my molcajete. Soak the husks for at least 2 hours so that they soften and become pliable.
You will need the entire package of corn husks. It will feel like there are too many! You’ll need some to assemble the tamales, to make strips to tie the tamales, and to line the steamer for cooking the tamales.
Cook the chicken:
Combine the chicken, half of the onion (reserve the other half for the chile verde), 10 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium to cook the chicken for 45 minutes, uncovered. Use a large spoon to skim off any foam that rises to the top. Remove the pot from the heat.
Use tongs to transfer the chicken onto a large plate and shred them using your hands once they are cool enough to handle. Cover and set it aside.
Strain the chicken stock through a colander into a bow or jar, and keep it refrigerated until ready to use. You can discard the onion. The chicken stock can be used to make the masa.
Make the chile verde:
While the chicken cooks, make the chile verde. Add the tomatillos, serrano and jalapeño peppers, garlic, cilantro, the remaining half onion, roughly chopped, and 2 teaspoons salt into a blender or food processor. Blend or pulse it until finely chopped—you don’t want large chunks nor do you want it to be creamy like a smoothie. You may need to do this in two batches if your blender or food processor is small.
Strain the salsa through a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl and discard the liquid. You can use a spoon to push the liquid through the sieve. Reserve only the pulp—this is your chile verde.
This is when I would make the masa, using the chicken stock reserved from cooking the chicken.
Assemble the tamales:
Set up for assembling the tamales: You’ll need the soaked husks (keep them in the water), the masa, the shredded chicken, and the chile verde.
Lay a husk on a flat surface, smooth-side up and the pointy side away from you. Scoop about 1/3 cup masa and use a spoon to spread it onto the wider bottom half of the husk, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the bottom and side edges. Place about 1/3 cup shredded chicken and 2 tablespoons chile verde on the center of the masa. If you have a small husk, you may need to use less masa, chicken, and chile verde.
There are two options for folding the tamale:
The first option is to fold the husk in half lengthwise. Then, fold it half again lengthwise. Fold the pointy end up towards the wider end, and fasten with a strip of corn husk by tying it around the tamale so that it stays folded.
The second option is to fold one of the long sides over the filling, but not all the way to the other side. Then fold the other long side over it and fold the pointy end up towards the wider end. Fasten with a strip of corn husk tied around the tamale.
I use torn or ugly-looking husks to make the strips that will be used to tie the tamales. Use your fingers to tear them along the fibers. If they are too short to wrap around the tamales, you can tie 2 strips together to create a longer one.
I prefer the first option because I find it easier. Plus, the cooked tamale unwraps with more ease. Both methods are acceptable—it’s a matter of preference.
Repeat until all the masa and filling are used. You will get about 24 tamales.
Prepare the steamer:
Add water to a large steamer pot to the fill line, or until it comes up about 3 inches up the sides. Place the steamer basket on top. This is the steamer I own, but you can use any large steamer pot you own.
Add two pennies to the water. They will notify you when the water begins to boil and when it has fully evaporated. When the pennies begin to lightly rattle, it means the water is boiling and you can set the timer. When the rattling becomes very loud, the water has fully evaporated, and you will need to add more. Keep a kettle of hot water next to the steamer. When adding water to the pot, make sure not to spill it on the tamales.
Line the steamer basket with a layer of husks. If your steamer is large like mine, place a heat-proof bowl upside down in the center. This will help keep tamales from tipping over. Place the tamales in the steamer basket upright, leaning against each other, the bowl (if using), and the pot. Cover the tamales with any remaining corn husks and then a clean kitchen towel. Cover the pot tightly with the lid.
Cook the tamales:
Cook the tamales over medium-high heat. When the water comes to a boil, set the timer for 90 minutes. Check the water periodically to make sure it hasn’t fully evaporated, every 15 minutes—you may need to add more hot water.
After 90 minutes, turn off the heat and let the tamales rest for 20 minutes in the steamer.
To check for doneness, carefully remove a tamale from the pot with tongs and unwrap it. The husk should easily detach from masa.
Serve the tamales with a dollop of crema and a sprinkle of cotija cheese and chopped cilantro.
Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 4 days. The microwave is the best way to reheat tamales.
Cooked tamales can be frozen for about 6 months. After cooking the tamales, let them cool completely. Then, pack them in zip top freezer bags for storage.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 6g||8%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||7%|
|Total Carbohydrate 53g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||21%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 10mg||52%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|