Chicken tamales

by Tom Hunt

An authentic Mesoamerican snack

Tamales are nice fresh, but even better reheated the next day—a blessing considering the involved process and initial long cooking time. I’d recommend watching a YouTube clip to learn how to roll the tamales, but essentially it is quite easy.

I found making them an emotional experience, stirring the masa (dough) reminded me of my travels in Mexico and Guatemala. Not to mention the deeply satisfying flavour of the tamales themselves.


1 chicken breast on the bone
Chicken carcass (optional)
Small bunch of coriander, picked, stalks kept
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 small onion, cut into quarters
1 stick celery, cut into pieces
1 tamal kit containing 30g ancho chillies, scored open, seeds removed 
15g guajillos chile, scored open, seeds removed
1 clove garlic, peeled
A pinch of ground cumin
100g softened butter 
Sea salt
12 corn husks
250g masa harina (flour) for tamales


To make the filling, place the chicken breast—and chicken carcass if you are using one—into a pan and cover with cold water. Add a small bunch of coriander stalks, the black peppercorns, onion and celery.

Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 mins until the breast is just cooked through but still tender.

Allow the breast to cool in the stock, then shred the meat into pieces. Put the shredded meat and stock to one side.

Open up the chillies and place them in a dry, hot pan, then place another pan on top, weighting the chillies down. Allow them to cook and discolour but not burn—this shouldn’t take long, so be careful. As they change colour turn them over.

Soak the toasted chillies in boiling water for 15 mins. Next, remove the chillies from the water and put into a blender with the garlic clove, a pinch of cumin, a pinch of salt and 125ml of the chicken stock. Blend to a puree and stir in the shredded chicken.

To make the dough, mix the masa harina for tamales with 350ml of the cold stock. Add the softened butter and 1 level tsp of sea salt to the dough and beat together until fully combined.

To roll the tamales, soak the corn husks for 15 mins. Gather together the soaked corn husks, dough and chicken filling.

Tear one of the husks into 5-10mm strips to use as string to tie up the tamales.

Lay a husk in front of you, take 1 large tbsp of the masa dough and spread it over the bottom ⅔ of the husk. The masa should be about 8-10mm thick.

In the middle of the dough, spoon 1 small tbsp of the chicken mixture in a vertical line. Fold ⅓ of the husk over lengthways to cover the filling, then fold the pointy top in and over the top of the first fold, then fold over lengthways again to complete the roll.

Tie together with one of the husk strips. The top end of the tamale will be open, like a wrap.

Recipe: Tom Hunt