Nothing says Christmas like making Tamales. At least that’s the case for a lot of families, but not ours. I wasn’t raised in a house that made tamales for the holidays. Nope. Instead we made spritz cookies and as a kid I would sneak into the garage freezer and eat a few just about everyday. Eventually my mom caught on and made an extra batch knowing her oldest son was eating a few as the holidays approached.
Back to the tamales.
This was my first attempt at making tamales. I have a few places I love to go for them including Evie’s Tamales in Mexican Village in Detroit. When I worked for DTE Energy we used to go their for lunch and often buy a dozen to take home. Simple and delicious pork filled tamales are always a favorite. I do have a place here in South Pasadena, California I go to and order tamales from. Grass Roots Natural Market sells tamales for the holidays and they also sell mesa for making your own at home.
I ordered a dozen from Grass Roots for Christmas Eve but also bought some mesa to try it myself. One of my favorite tacos lately is the chicken tinga taco at Guisados. I decided to make my own chicken tinga and while I still have a lot of work before I master Guisados’ version, what resulted here was pretty damn good and both my wife and I agreed they were the best tamales we ever had.
So here is my attempt at tamales. One tip I found out after making them is to make sure you use the smoother side of the corn husk to wrap your masa and filling in. The ridged side prevents the tamale from easily peeling the husk away.
Chicken Tinga Tamales
Corn huskes, 12-14
Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb bag of mesa, store bought or find a recipe that uses lard
4 oz cotija cheese, crumbled
3 ripe medium sized tomatoes
1 tomatillo, peeled
1 can chipotle peppers, only need 1 pepper and 1 to 2 Tb of sauce from can
1/4 red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, diced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Remove from heat and submerge corn husks into the water and let it them sit for a hour.
First boil some water and poach the chicken breasts in boiling water for 12 minutes. Remove and shred. You can also buy a rotisserie chicken from the store and shred the meat to use for this dish.
To make the tinga sauce, bring the tomatoes and tomatillo to a boil in water then reduce to a gentile boil for 10 minutes. Remove from water and place in a food processor. Blend until smooth with no chunks. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic cooking for 3 minutes until translucent. Remove from pan and add into food processor. Add the chipotle, 1 tablespoon of chipotle sauce, and spices to the food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add more chipotle sauce if you feel it is not to your desired heat.
Put chicken and tinga sauce into a bowl and mix. In another bowl add your masa and in another bowl add the crumbled cojita cheese. Now take your corn husks and spread some masa into it then add about 3 tablespoons of the chicken tinga mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and fold the tamale placing it into a steamer.
Finish making the rest of the tamales and steam for 1 hour. Serve with your favorite side dish.