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Pati Jinich Chicken Tamales with Salsa Verde

Tamales are it. If you’ve eaten one, you know it.

Simple. When ready and steaming hot, unwrap the edible bundle and eat swiftly, no fork, no knife, bite by bite.  So good.

Yet as simple as it may sound to write a post about tamales, I could dedicate an entire series of cookbooks to their endless possibilities, and in the end, not have covered them all.

Ancestral, iconic, yet humble, is each single tamal. And the tamal universe, immense, imagine: tamal refers to anything wrapped and cooked in a husk or leave. Usually made with masa, typically corn masa, either mixed with or swaddling ingredients, or both! As you move through Mexico, and increasingly outside, you find them in different shapes (round, square, flat, puffed up, even triangular like Michoacán corundas); with different wraps (corn husks, either fresh or dried, banana leaves and even fresh edible leafy greens like chaya in Chiapas); with an infinity of ingredients, from savory, like chicken, meat, seafood, vegetables, beans, all sort of grains, salsas and cheese…to sweet ingredients, like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, cajeta

The consistency and texture vary greatly, too, from thin and dense like tamales found in Oaxaca; to sticky and gelatinous from Yucatán; to spongy and cakey like the ones from northern and central Mexico, where I grew up.

Tamales are so big in our kitchens that entire meals are devoted to them: the famous Tamaladas! Festive get-togethers we all get very excited about, where all you eat are different kinds of tamales, from beginning to end. Trust me, where there is a variety of tamales, you want to eat them all.

Aside from Tamaladas, tamales are present in all sorts of celebrations and holidays including Quinceañeras, Posadas, Christmas Eve and New Years parties: they have been fiesta food since pre-Hispanic times, when they were considered gifts from the Gods.

But tamales are also everyday food, for an entire country, an entire culture. Accessible to everyone and anyone who can get to the corner stand and has 10 pesos (less than a dollar) in their pocket for a quick breakfast, a filling lunch or an easy merienda (light dinner).

See photo below…. I was with my school friends eating tamales at the tamal stand on the street right outside our middle school. I used to day dream about those tamales; they were so alluring we used to sneak out of school to eat them…

Pati eating tamales with her school friends

Tamales are as fascinating and varied as the stars above. So to land this philosophical rambling about tamales somewhere practical and edible, for you, I will focus on my favorite tamal of all time. The Tamal de Pollo con Salsa Verde.

The easiest way to make tamales is to prepare your filling(s) first. In fact you can make it a day or two in advance. For the ones I feature here, make your cooked salsa verde, pictured in the molcajete below. Combine it with cooked shredded chicken to make a wet mix. No, you don’t want it dry! The tamal masa will soak up some of that salsa. After the tamales cook for almost an hour, you want to bite into a tamal that has a saucy, moist filling.

Salsa Verde

Then get your hands on dried corn husks, pictured below. You can get them in the Latin aisles of your supermarket, at many a Latin or international store, or online. No excuse. Soak those husks in warm water, so they will become malleable and pliable. You don’t want them to crack as you use them to wrap the dough and roll the tamal. You will also need to place some of the leaves in the tamalera or steamer.

Get the tamalera ready. Pour water and drop a coin in there. That’s a passed down trick from endless generations. It works as an alarm for when the tamales may be running out of water, so you won’t need to open up the pot and let all that precious steam come out: if the water is running out, the coin will start jumping up and down and make loud clinking noises.

Dried Corn Husks

Then you work to make your masa. Or let the mixer help you out! I have the complete recipe below, but let me just highlight a few things…

In Mexico, you can go into the tortillería and buy fresh masa, made from scratch. And wouldn’t it be heavenly if there were tortillerías in all towns and cities in the US, so we could all indulge? But the truth is many, if not most, people in Mexican kitchens make their own masa at home from the instant corn masa flour, and you can get fabulous results.

Traditionally, tamal masa is made with lard. If top quality and fresh, it adds a delicious taste and texture and doesn’t have as much cholesterol as people think. If you ask me, I think it is a matter of moderation. Yet, many people prefer vegetable shortening and you can use it too. Now, vegetable shortening has, as of late, been questioned even more than lard.

If you don’t want to use either, I have a wonderful solution: use vegetable oil, substitute exact amounts, but to maintain depth of flavor and dimension, season the oil by heating it over medium heat and cooking a slice of onion and a couple garlic cloves in it for 15 minutes. Then remove the onion and garlic before using. Great trick for vegetarians as well. In fact, before the Spanish arrived to Mexico, and there was no pork, oils extracted from fruits, vegetables and seeds, were used to moisten and season tamales, so feel free to play around with oils you like!

Chicken Tamales with Salsa Verde

The most important thing about the masa, aside from being well seasoned, is that it needs to be as fluffy as fluffy can get. It has to be so airy that, if you take a cup of cold water and drop half a teaspoon of the masa in it, it floats!  You can only achieve this by beating it for a long time at a good speed. That’s why I recommend a mixer in the recipe below, but of course, you are welcome to get a good work out from the masa mixing by hand or with a sturdy spatula.

Then, follow my detailed instructions below on how to fill and wrap the tamales, place them in the tamalera and hold your horses for 50 minutes until they are ready.

Hopefully, you make more than what you need. I can think of few foods that have as much warmth, sustenance and meaning than tamales. They are food that is meant to be shared. So I suggest you try a Tamalada gathering! Tamaladas don’t only happen on February 2nd (when according to tradition you must host a Tamalada and invite EVERYBODY, if you got the baby hidden in the Rosca de Reyes eaten on January 6th), they can happen anytime (but I am writing this post before February 2nd, just in case!).

Make many fillings ahead of time. Make your masa. Invite friends over and have a tamal-making party before the Tamalada. Everyone will have gifts to open and eat, as that is what tamales are, indeed. And the best gift of them all will be any leftover tamales that a lucky guest gets to take along. Or be a bit greedy, keep them at home.

Note: I’ve been asked for a quick casserole version in a few emails… All you need to do, is spread half the masa in the recipe below in a large baking dish, then add a layer of the chicken in salsa verde, top with remaining half masa dough. Cover well with aluminum foil, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and if you want, drizzle with some Mexican crema and crumbled queso fresco. Serve in squares.


Chicken in Salsa Verde TamalesTamales de Pollo con Salsa Verde

Serves: makes about 18 tamales

Tamales de Pollo con Salsa Verde" alt="Chicken in Salsa Verde TamalesTamales de Pollo con Salsa Verde" />


For the tamales:

25 dried corn husks, soaking in warm water

3/4 cup lard, vegetable shortening or seasoned vegetable oil (to make seasoned oil, heat oil over medium heat and cook a slice of onion and 3 to 4 garlic cloves for 15 minutes, strain before using)

1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon cold water

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 pound (about 3 1/4 cups) instant corn masa for tortillas or tamales

3 1/2 cups chicken stock, add more if needed

For the filling:

1 recipe for cooked salsa verde

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

To Prepare

To make the filling: Make the salsa verde, combine it with the shredded chicken, and set aside or refrigerate, if made ahead of time.

To make masa for the tamales: Place lard, vegetable shortening or seasoned oil in a mixer and beat, until very light, about 1 minute. Add salt and 1 teaspoon cold water, and continue beating until it is white and spongy, a couple more minutes. Add baking powder, and then take turns adding the instant corn masa and the chicken stock. Continue beating until dough is homogeneous and as fluffy as can get.

You know the tamal masa is ready if, when you drop 1/2 teaspoon of the masa in a cup of cold water, it floats.

To prepare the tamalera or steamer: Place hot water in the bottom pan of a steamer (only enough so the water is just under the basket with the tamales and not touching them) and bring it to a simmer. Line the steamer basket with one or two layers of soaked corn husks. Use dough to form about 18 cornhusk wrapped tamales.

To make the tamales: Soak dried corn husks in hot water for a couple minutes, or until they are pliable, and drain. Lay out a corn husk with the tapering end towards you. Spread about 3 tablespoons of masa into about a 2- to 3-inch square, the layer should be about 1/4-inch thick, leaving a border of at least 1/2-inch on the sides. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the masa square.

Pick up the two long sides of the corn husk and bring them together (you will see how the masa starts to swaddle the filling) and fold the folded sides to one side, rolling them on same direction around tamal. Fold up the empty section of the husk with the tapering end, from the bottom up. This will form a closed bottom and the top will be left open.

Prepare all the tamales and place them as vertically as you can in a container. When you have them all ready, place them again, as vertically as you can on the prepared steamer, with the open end on top. If there is space left in the steamer, tuck in some corn husks, so the tamales won’t dance around. Cover with more corn husks, and steam covered for 50 minutes to an hour. You know the tamales are ready when they come easily free from the husks. They will still be moist, and as they are released from the husks, you will see the moistness, like when you remove good moist muffins from their paper baking cups.

Finished tamales will stay warm for about 1 to 2 hours in the steamer. They can be made ahead several days before and stored in refrigerator, well wrapped. They can also be frozen for months. In either case, reheat in a steamer. For refrigerated tamales, it will take about 15 minutes, and for frozen tamales about 45 minutes.



Yo Pati, just a random question…Have you heard of the things they are doing down in Baja? By far the best tacos in Mexico, and the seafood is incredible.

Yes! I know! Fabulous!! Hope to feature some here soon.

Hi Pati! I just watched your show for the first time last week (Michael Symon recommended your show)and you inspired me to cook your favorite guisado with the green tomatillo salsa. It was sooooo delicious!! Absolutely beautiful layers of flavor! I adore your common-sense approach to cooking and truly regret that I have been missing out on your shows before last week! You seem to cook from the heart. You are delightful- keep doing what you do best and I will keep watching your shows for inspiration. Making your chili and cornbread this week, something new next week, I’m sure!

Thank you Meg!!! Oh I hope you like the chili and corn bread: it flies out of my kitchen when I make them… :)

can you make these in a pressure cooker? How long would you steam them?

I wouldn’t make them in a pressure cooker… Just use any pot that has a lid and can fit a steamer.

Just saw you co-hosting The Chew last week, I love the show but I may love it a bit more every time you are on! Tamales are one of my very favorite foods and if they come with a bowl of pozole I am one happy girl! I love how authentic your recipes are, since nowadays so many good Mexican recipes are being a bit “Americanized”. Keep it up, you’re doing a fantastic job!!

Gracias Alejandrina!!! Thanks for your message (I love coming on The Chew, isn’t so much fun?!?!)

Could you please tell me why I should not use a pressure cooker to steam tamales. I would think that steaming themfor 15 min would keep the nutrients in them better than cooking for 2 hours or more. Thank you

I am a gringa married into a Mexican family and I try to update recipes using modern kitchen equipment. I Cook tamales in a electric pressure cooker all the time 15 to 20 minutes is perfect. It’s almost instant gratification!

Great to hear!

You have to make sure to keep them out of the water, and you might want to do a test run… Wouldn’t want to ruin a big batch since they’re kind of labor intensive.
Laura at Hip Pressure Cooking seems to have a successful method for using a pressure cooker instead of a tamalera or regular steamer.

Good luck :)

Hi Pati. My family loves all of your recipes. I was wondering do you have any tamal recipes that have no meat. Thank you so much :)Rachelle Las Vegas

Hole Rachelle, Thank you for your message. Try my blackberry and pecan tamales:

Pati, I’m totally in love with your blog and the one episode I have seen of your show. Do you have a recipe for corundas? I live in Minnesota and it’s easier/quicker to just buy my tamales than make them but I’m not finding any corundas around here!

I grew up in deep South Texas and have been eating tamales all my life and love, love, love them!!! Have made them only once and don’t know that I ever will again as I have a great supplier in San Antonio and buy 10-15 dozen at a time. However, I might like to try your chicken recipe. Is there a specific recipe for seasoning the chicken?

Hi Diane,
I make a basic Caldo de Pollo, which I have in my cookbook: Just cook a whole cut up chicken covered in water with onion, garlic, carrots, parsley and herbs like thyme, marjoram, peppercorns and add salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 50 minutes to an hour, so the chicken won’t be dry. Then you can use the chicken broth for other things too. But you can also roast the chicken or cook it in the way that you prefer!

I have always been intimidated by the idea of making tamales, but I decided to use your recipe and give it a try. These are the best tamales I have ever eaten! I used the seasoned vegetable oil and it was delicious. My friend from El Salvador was with me when I made the masa and she kept eating bits of the masa while we were making the tamales. My whole family enjoyed them and they are asking for more. I’m going to try the tamales dulces next, and I will definitely try your blueberry pecan tamales. Thanks again for the great recipes and tips, and I always love the historical/geographical/cultural aspects of your blog and show.

Gracias, Mary! So glad you and your friends and family enjoyed them. I hope you enjoy any of the other recipes you try, too!

Hola Pati; I love these tamales. I am a gringo and I have tried this recipe. My family keeps asking when will I make them again. I am going to do like you said and have a tamale making party. Everyone can chip in and make them. After they are steamed We can all enjoy them together. My husband liked them so much that he went out an bought me my own official steamer made just for cooking the tamales. Pardon my ignorance I don’t know the name it is called by in Mexican cooking. I can’t wait to return to Texas and show some of my friends there my new skill and cooking Mexican food.
Thanks for your show. My Hubby and I enjoy watching you on Saturday mornings. Keep the great recipes coming…
Adios Pati till next time.

Hola Pati!
I ‘found’ you on The Chew and I absolutely love your recipes. Now about your show, can I get it in DVD’s? can I view it online? Also, do you have a Facebook page?
I am cooking the green pozole this weekend and in a bid to impress my Papa who is married to a great Mexican cook, I will be making this tamale recipe for our Easter feast…

Hola Ruth, Thank you for your message! I don’t have DVDs available of the show, but you can look for it on CreateTV: You will have to let me know what your Papa & his wife think of the pozole!!

Hi Patti,
Love your show and the recipes are superb. Being a Latino in Los Angeles County area we mostly see the Chicken Rojo style filling in the tamales. Do you have a recipe for this style of tamale? Everyone here claims that they have the authentic “real deal” style and flavor but I’m sure they differ sue to the different regions and cultures. Guess I’m looking for true authentic style recipe which is not just shredded chicken mixed with a can of enchilada sauce. Thank you in advance and hope to see more great things from your kitchen.

I have quite a few, will try to post some choices as soon as I can!

Hi Pati,

After experimenting a lot to find a great Carnitas recipe I discovered yours and have since used it several times, much to the delight of my friends!! I have found the best! Thank you!

I am going to attempt these Tamales next. I haven’t found lard yet, but my sister suggested butter instead. I was inclined to use your oil recipe as a back up but wondered what you thought of using real butter in place of lard for the masa?

I enjoy your show and appreciate your recipes! Thanks again!

Hola Angela, So happy the Carnitas were a success! Thank you for trying them. For the tamales, I recommend the seasoned vegetable oil as a substitute for lard, but you are welcome to try them with butter. Let me know how they turn out!

Hi Pati,
The tamales turned out great! I used the seasoned oil as you suggested. The flavor was delicious.
I got nervous a couple of times during the process because first, even though I blended the masa for a long time, It never did “float” in the cold water.
Then I realized that the steamer caused condensation on the inside of the top husks and lid and dripped water back into my tamales so they were wet after 50 minutes even though most of the outside was cooked. I put a towel on top, covered it with foil & put it in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes to finish cooking. Is there a way to avoid the condensation during steaming? Would you recommend a towel under the lid? I am guessing the top husks were supposed to help with that?
Thank you for the great recipe, my friends and my husband LOVED it!!

Angela, I had a similar problem. After 50 minutes, mine were almost just as wet as when we put them in the steamer. We ended up cooking them for more than 3 hours in the steamer, then finished them up in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes.
We had foil in the top of the steamer from the beginning of the cooking process to collect the excess condensation. It did collect on the foil and I was able to pour it off, but they still took forever to cook.
I was thinking of using a towel too, but just figured it would get soaked with the condensation and end up dripping back down on the tamales anyway.
We made a double batch and the steamer was packed pretty full. It’s possible that we didn’t have them stacked vertically enough, although I tried, or that we had too many in the steamer although I am sure that people who make these all the time fill up the pot. It was frustrating but they still ended up tasting good.
Also, I used the 2 serranos and it wasn’t nearly spicy enough for us. It is possible though, that they just weren’t hot serranos, with peppers, you never know what you’re going to get unfortunately.

I put a towel on top of the tamales while they steam only because that’s what I was taught. But they always cook in an hour to hour and hour and a half at the most. They take longer if I use more masa, which makes the tamale thicker. As far as taste/spicy, I always taste my filling as I go along. You can adjust the spices to your taste.

Thanks Evelyn,
I tried the towel on my second batch and it did not work, it did end up pretty wet. I also ended up burning my pan & catching the tamale husks on fire so I ruined the batch. I think it dried out quicker because of the towel. Still unsure of how to combat the condensation issue. I saw some tamales that were tied on top with twine, I wonder if that might work?
I am going to see if I can find some lard to try the recipe exactly. In the Northeast it is hard to find the ingredients like husks & lard. These tamales are too good not to keep trying!
Thanks for your comment!

I might be using too much masa, I will try using less next time. Maybe the towel will work if I check the water level at half hour intervals? I have been afraid to let the steam out. How do you know when to add water? I made the mistake of putting a penny in the pot that I caught on fire. I melted the copper off and it didn’t rattle at all. What kind of steamer are you using? I am just using a regular stock pot with a steamer insert.
Thank you for commenting!

Hi Angela
Let me start by saying I haven’t made tamales in about 10 years, so I’m going from memory that’s a little older! I never used a real steamer for tamales. I used a stock pot and an old cake pan that I punched holes in and would turn it upside down in the pot. It left about a half inch on the sides and I’d check the water about every 20 minutes or so. I’ve never had to add water more than once, and I would add boiling water. I add water if it’s really low but it was easy because I could see the bottom edges of the pot. Don’t worry about letting the steam out because the tamales will continue to steam. I hope this helps you a bit.

Hi Renee,
What a brilliant idea! That would give a lot more room for water and it would be great to see the level. Thank you! =)

Mi hija esta salivando de ver los tamales verdes! A pesar del calor en Missouri, esta insistiendo que hagamos esta receta :). Dice que esta lista para aprender a hacer tamales así que este fin de semana empezamos! y pie de limón para acompañar.
Saludos Pati de tus fans #1 en MO! nos acercas a casa (Mexico) cada vez que vemos tu programa. Gracias!

Gracias, Norma!

I don’t know why I’d never seen your blog before now, but I’m thrilled to have found you. The tamales look delicious, as do all of the recipes on your site. I can’t wait to make them. I am born and raised in Los Angeles so as you can imagine, I have access to some of the best Mexican food this side of the border. But I’ve finally decided to start learning how to cook my favorites and your recipes will be my guide!!

Thank you, Renee! Let me know if you ever have any questions about the recipes!!

I make mine in my crock pot and they come out perfect!

Great! Good to know, Briann

I am so excited to find this website! I will be trying out many of your recipes but most of all this one. Cant wait to taste it!!!

Thank you! Let me know how the tamales go!

I have made tamales once not too long ago and used a stockpot with a steamer dish from a rice cooker on the bottom and then wads of tin foil to keep them lifted up out of the water. On top of foil use a good layer of husks then the tamales. then another layer of husks. To solve the problem of knowing you need more water put a penny in bottom of pot – it will start to make noise when more is needed.I hope this helps.I do the same for steaming crab legs.

Thank you, Maryanne!

Aqui en San Diego conseguimos masa preparada para tamles. Pero no salen esponjosos coo los que hacia mi abuela, recuerdo que agregaba harina a la masa pero no se cantidades. Podrias darnos esa receta? Es la temporada de tamales y me gustaria hacer esos. Mil gracias.

Aqui está, la puedes preparar tu para que salga más esponjosa, sigue esta receta!

Hi Patti!

My family lived in Guanajuato for about 3 years, and we found this little Tamalera shop ( I wish i could remember the name) that served the most delicious, not to mention huge, tamales we have ever had! Nothing here in the states even comes close. They were so spongy and cake like, and so moist! Our favorite ones were the green chili, chicken and cheese, and the sweet tamales. I crave those tamales so much and wish I knew how they made that wonderful masa. Do you have any ideas or suggestions as to how I could make my tamale masa more like theirs? Thank you very much!

P.s. I made your Gazpacho Moreliano for my husbands office pot luck and it was a huge hit!! :)

I have found that the secret for making the masa in these kind of tamales spongy is to really take a lot of time to beat the dough, until it is REALLY fluffy. That’s it! I think I have a pretty good take with this recipe, give it a try.

Dont let the name fool you. My parents were born in state of Jalisco. I have been searching for a recipe for red sauce tamales like my mom used to make. Do you have one?

Hola Mary, Will try to post soon!

hola pati i would like to know if you would have a recipe for enchilada sauce the way they made it back in the 1950’s, as a young boy in phx. arizona @ a resturant it was the best. i’ve been trying to create the same taste four 30 years. close butt no cigar :-) do you think you could try to find out what they might have used to make the sauce. it was a authentic mexican resturant. maybe ur papa or mama would know, it was a dark red sauce. i’ve tryed ancho & pacilla peppers, close butt no no somethings not quite rite. please see what you can find & let me know. i love ur recipes. my favorite tamales are the chicken verde too :-) thank you. rich.

My husband makes one using strawberry jello and raisens the kids love them.

That sounds delicious, will give it a try!

Enjoyed the recipe very much. By any chance do you have a recipe for Vegeterian Tamales? Love to see your boys cook with you.

By family request. Pati you need to do a cookbook on Tamales. Please, please, please.

Great idea!! I do have some recipes for them in my upcoming cookbook as well! =)

Hola Pati, mi masa nunca floto y mis tamales duraron casi 5 hrs para cocinarse, segui tu receta lo mejor posible, cual sera la razon de que me sucedieran esto? help please :)

Hola Tere,
Puede ser que le halla faltado un poco más de tiempo de batir a tu masa… o que la harina estuviera pasada?

Hi: I’ve made them with Cheddar cheese cut into sticks and use that in place of meat and half a Jalapeno. I’ve also used cheese and canned mild green chilies. My sister is vegetarian so I have to be creative at times.

Hola, Pati!
Just saw you for the first time on The Chew. Finally, someone who can help this gringo make some authentic dishes; you’re terrific! Can’t wait to spice things up in my own kitchen with your guidance.
Happy cooking!

Yay! Thank you, Kim!

Hola Pati, my daughter and I discovered you one day while we were watching the food channel, we loved your show and your adorable boys. Coming from a family of great cooks, we appreciate your homemade recipes. My mom is born and raised in Mexico City and my father was born in Celaya. It was wonderful to discover your show. It brought back many wonderful memories. I received your cookbook for Christmas, and I have to say I love it! Can’t wait to buy your second book!😘

Oh I am so happy you like my show and that you now have my cookbook! I hope you like the next one too… I am so happy with all that is in it :)

Hola, Pati! I have a couple of your lovely cookbooks. I just adore your accent and watching your shows. Briefly, we buy our masa from a tortilleria. It is not masa harina. Are you familiar with this kind of masa? Is the masa harina the same? And if not, what is the difference? Thank you.

Pure masa harina is just very finely ground corn flour made from corn that’s dried, cooked in water and lime solution, ground, and dried again. Some people will combine this with other things such as wheat flour so just ask your tortilleria how they make it!

Hi Pati,

I am making tamales with the masa from scratch. Can the masa be made the night before and left chilled in the refrigerator overnight?

Yes, absolutely.

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