This tomatillo sauce is easy to make and tastes amazing. The tartness of the tomatillo chicken filling is perfect for chicken tamales.
How I learned to make Green Chicken Tamales
My Grandma grew up in Mexico, she lived there until she was 20, so I have a lot of great mexican recipes she taught us. But Tamales were one of the things she never really taught us!
The first time I ate a Tamale I was 20 and living in AZ and bought a bag of tamales in a parking lot – they were DIVINE! I had to learn to make them!
My Brother in Law lived in Mexico for 2 years and as a fellow foodie he also wanted to learn. So when one of my cousins married a gal who grew up making the best chicken tamales in the world we couldn’t wait to learn!
So this recipe is from my Cousins wife’s mom – how random is that. And now my Brother in law, sister and I make them every year for Christmas dinner and usually again in the summer.
Tamales are a time consuming dish but 100% worth it. While I’ve made them many times alone it’s always faster with an assembly line.
Chelsea (sister) makes the masa and masa balls and dries the corn husks, I flatten the balls and place them in the corn husks, and Shawn (my brother in law) fills, folds and stacks them. We have an amazing system down and it takes barely any time now!
We fill the pot with tamales and while round one is cooking we assemble round two of the tamales and freeze them to steam fresh tamales at home later.
Just take me to the Green Chicken Tamale Recipe already!
If you’d rather skip my tips and tricks for tamales, along with links to other recipes and get straight to these delicious green chicken tamales – simply scroll to the bottom of the page where you can find the printable recipe card.
How to make Tomatillo sauce for Chicken Tamales?
The sauce is basically a green tomatillo sauce. When picking your tomatillo at the store grab the ones where the husks have burst open and you can see the tomatillo.
The husks grow before the tomatillo so if you by a closed husk you might not be getting a full sized tomatillo inside.
Start the tomatillo sauce by peeling the husk off the tomatillas and rinse off the sticky film. Make sure to wash your hands really good after too, it can burn your eyes.
Slice the tomatillo in half and place on a tray – I like to use silpat mats so they turn easily. We’re going to roast them to bring out a better flavor using the broiler in your oven.
You are also going to add the peppers to the tray to roast. I’ve used fresh cayenne peppers, dried red peppers and jalapeno peppers.
My brother in law prefers the dried red peppers, I prefer the fresh cayenne, but use whatever you like – just consider the strength of the peppers, you’ll use less jalapeno peppers than you would cayenne.
Brush or spray the tomatillos and peppers with oil then broil for 8 mins unti the skin side starts to blister then flip and broil for another 5 mins on the other side.
Then add them to a blender or food processor. If your using a stronger pepper only add one to start with and as you puree the sauce add more, tasting in between.
Add the garlic, salt and cilantro and puree – then once your happy with the taste stir the sauce in with some shredded chicken. I bake my chicken breast then shred them but you can boil them or even use rotisserie chicken.
To make these Tamales you’ll need these supplies:
- Plastic bags—I prefer the stronger freezer gallon bags
- Tortilla press
- Corn husks
- Tamale steamer
How to make tamales
First thing you do is soak corn husks. You can always dry them out again so we soak an entire bag at a time – place them in a bowl with water and keep them weighed down with another bowl on top.
Make the Tamale masa dough
Make the Masa dough for tamales – Start with the masa flour – we like Maseca brand – whisk in the salt and baking powder. Now mix in the chicken broth until combined. mixing the broth in here helps soften the masa leaving a smoother final dough
In a separate bowl your going to beat the lard until it is light and fluffy. This is the key to the best texture for your dough. Now add the beaten lard to the masa mixture a little at a time, mixing it together by hand until you get the right texture.
You can always add more lard, but if you add too much it’s hard to “dry out” the dough more – because adding straight masa at this point (without mixing it with some broth first) leaves the dough with a slightly grainy feel.
The final mixture should feel like a mix between playdough and moon sand. To test is make a ball – it should come together easily and smoothly – then flatten it out – it should flatten smoothly without cracking.
You don’t want the dough to dry out while your assembling the tamales so when your not making dough balls keep a damp paper towel on top of the dough. Also we never make a double batch, we make a fresh batch every time, and we do usually do 2-3 batches a session.
Assembling the tamales
Once your happy with the dough start by making a dough ball – about 1 1/2 inches is the size we found we like best.
Pull out a softened corn husk and wipe it dry with a paper towel.
We use a tortilla press and a plastic bag (we like the freezer back for thickness – cut off the sides and top so it’s just the plastic sheet) to flatten our dough.
Place the ball in the plastic in the press and flatten – I turn the bag/dough and flatten again to keep it even. Then peel the bag away from the dough and top with the corn husk – flip and peel the bag off the other side.
if the dough rips it needs more whipped lard – so we always test a ball before starting the full assembly line. Add the circle towards the top, wide side of the corn husk.
Now add 1 1/2-2 Tbsp filling (be careful not to let it get too wet) and now it’s time to fold up the dough and enclose the filling. Start by folding one side of the dough in – using the corn husk to help with the folding vs using your hands.
Fold the other side over as well, now fold up the bottom and now wrap the corn husk around the tamale tightly, fold up the thin side of the husk and now pinch the bottom – this will seal the dough folds we just made.
Now use a finger to fold over the top of the dough enclosing the top and pinch the top to seal that as well. The filling should be completely enclosed by the dough. (see the video if this explanation doesn’t make sense)
If you want to be fancy you can now take a strip of a corn husk and tie a bowl around the tamales, holding the folded bottom into place. Personally we don’t bother – it just takes extra time and if you stack them with the fold down it isn’t necessary.
Now in a tamale pot or a steamer basket in a normal pot start stacking the tamales. I see some people stack them vertically but it takes a lot longer to steam that way – we have found the best results by stacking them chimney style, horizontally in a circle then off setting each additional round.
Cover the pot with a damp towel and steam until the mass dough pulls away from the corn husks easily and isn’t wet. It usually takes about an hour we’ve found. Just make sure you don’t run out of water in the bottom of the pot while cooking.
Can you freeze Tamales?
YES! you can freeze the filling if you have extra – always make the masa dough fresh though.
You can freeze the assembled tamales before steaming, just stack in a freezer bag and freeze right away.
You can also freeze them after they’ve been steamed – let them cool til they are easy to handle, stack them in a freezer bag and freeze. They are good in the freezer up to 3 months.
How do you reheat tamales?
You can steam them again – just until heated through as the dough is already cooked so it’s much faster – about 15 mins. (I do this if I’m heating up enough for everyone)
You can unwrap them from the corn husk, wrap the tamale in a damp paper towel and microwave them for a min or two. (I do this if I’m only heating a few for me)
Or you can wrap them in foil and bake them at 350 for about 15 mins – my least favorite way though.
Green Chicken Tamale Recipe
If you love these tamales as much as I do, I’d love a 5 star review. Be sure to share on social media and tag me if you make it @ashleemariecakes! If you want to stay updated on new recipes sign up for my newsletter and join my Facebook Group!
We serve these Chicken Tamales with these other recipes!
If you love these Tamales you’ll love these other Mexican Recipes!
To watch me make this Chicken Tamale Recipe play the video in the recipe card. A short teaser video should be auto playing.
Green tomatillo chicken tamales
Green Chicken filling
- 1 1/2 lbs tomatillos
- 4 cayenne peppers or 4 dried red chili peppers for less heat
- 4 cloves garlic lightly smashed and peeled
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 4 Chicken breasts
Green Chicken filling
- Cook the chicken and then shred it. I like to cover mine with olive oil and salt and pepper and bake my chicken breasts about 30 mins. But however you like to cook it is fine.
- Peel the tomatillo's and slice them in half horizontally
- de-stem and de-seed the chilies – I like the fresh red chili peppers, my brother in law likes the dried red peppers – I've also used jalapeno's, go with whatever pepper you like best
- place the tomatillos cut side down with the peppers on a baking sheet. spray lightly with some oil.
- broil in the oven 8 mins on the first side until the skin is blistering, then flip and broil another 5 mins.
- place the tomatillos, chilies, garlic, salt and cilantro in a blender or food processor and puree.
- mix the sauce and chicken in a large bowl. – your ready to fill your tamales
- soak the corn husks in water until soft
- whisk the Maseca, baking powder and salt together
- add the broth and combine
- in a separate bowl beat the lard until fluffy
- add add most of the beaten lard to the maseca mixture and combine with your hands – mix until the texture feels right – this might take a little playing – add more lard as needed
- keep a damp paper towel over the dough your not using to keep it from drying out
- roll a ball about 1 1/2 inches wide, flatten it (I use a tortilla press with a plastic bag) – if the texture is right the flattened circle won’t break or crack, if it does add more whipped lard
- dry a corn husk, and place the flattened circle in the corn husk
- fill with a few Tablespoons of filling and fold one side, then the other over the filling, then fold up the bottom and press closed. I recommend using the corn husk vs your hands – try not to touch the filling.
- wrap the corn husk around and fold up the bottom and use the husk to fold and press the top dough down, seal.
- stack the wrapped tamales chimney style in a large steamer
- add a damp towel over the top and steam for 1 hour – text to see if they are done – they might need to steam for an extra 30 mins.
- Serve with Beans! I also like to top with my creamy jalapeno dip.
- you can freeze extras before or after steaming