Spicy Chicken and Cheese Tamales with Jalapeno

These tamales may be my most favorite food of all-time. I love them, but I remember them to be time-intensive, which frequently puts me off from making them. However, yesterday I

actually timed myself, and they don’t take nearly the time I had remembered. In fact, although I had tripled the recipe, the tamales were all steaming within 1 1/2 hours. So, not a quick and easy meal, but definitely do-able when the occasion calls for it. And, oh my, I think these are amazing. This recipe comes from an older copy of Joy of Cooking.

Note: I have ceased using corn husks when I make these because they are a lot more time consuming. Rather, I wrap them in aluminum foil, and they work perfectly. Not a beautiful

presentation, but very functional, less leakage, and clean-up. So I’m a fan. You should try both, but I would actually suggest using foil if you have never made tamales before.

This recipe makes 8 tamales. So definitely double it. (They freeze really well, if for some strange reason they don’t all get consumed.) I should also add that although the chicken has a little kick to it, the tamales are actually quite mild.

Spicy Chicken and Cheese Tamales with Jalapeno

For Tamale dough
4 medium ear fresh corn or 1 can corn (app. 1 1/2 c.)
2/3 c. instant grits
2/3 c. yellow cornmeal [you can substitute the grits and cornmeal for 1 1/3 c. Instant Corn Masa, an import product which is easily found in Latin American markets and even some larger grocery stores. I have had far fewer problems using the Instant Masa than the grits/cornmeal scenario, so I prefer it]
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/4 c. boiling water [if using Instant Masa, the water just needs to be warm]
6 T. butter or lard, softened
2 T. minced, seeded fresh jalapeno

For Chicken
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ground red pepper
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 8 oz.)
1 T. butter
1/2 c. slivered onions
1/2 c. grated Monterrey Jack cheese

If using dried corn husks, soak them in boiling water for 2 1/2 hours before using. If using fresh corn husks, soak them in boiling water for 1/2 hour, as you prepare the other ingredients.

1. In a pie dish or on a plate, mix cumin, salt, chili powder, and red pepper. Coat chicken breast in this seasoning. Set aside.

2. Over medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet (that has a lid). Add the onions, stirring, until they are tender but not browned. Add the seasoned chicken breast and brown on both sides (about 3 minutes per side). Cover the skillet and cook chicken until it is done (reaches 165 F on an instant read thermometer), about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

3. Puree 1 c. of corn in a food processor. In a medium, heat-resistant bowl, combine grits, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine, then add the water and stir until smooth. At this point, the tamale dough should be stiff-ish, like polenta or cooked oats (if it’s runny, you haven’t reconstituted the grains sufficiently and this will be a problem later. I suggest microwaving the mixture for a minute or two until it stiffens]. Add the butter (or lard) and beat until incorporated. Stir in the pureed corn, the 1/2 c. remaining corn, and the jalapeno, and combine well.

4. Shred the chicken by pulling it in opposite directions with two forks. (And definitely snitch some–I love this stuff!)

5. Remove husks from water (if using), pat dry, and tear 16 thin strips from 2-3 pieces of husk to tie the tamales. Arrange two husks, slightly overlapping, side by side and alternating the tips and stem ends to form a rectangle about 9 x 7 inches. Repeat until 8 rectangles are arranged (or just make 8 rectangles of foil and proceed).  In the center of the husk, spread about 1/3 tamale dough into a 4″x 5″ rectangle with the back of a wooden spoon. Don’t worry about being a perfectionist here. Then, in the center, lay 1-2 T. chicken and 1-2 T. of cheese. Repeat with all eight. Fold the long edges of the cornhusks over the filling, slightly overlapping the edges. Twist the ends and tie each end tightly with a trip of cornhusk to form a packet. (If using foil, fold the foil in half lengthwise, fold the top edge over and continue to fold until it is close to the tamale, but leave a little room for expansion. Also crease the two sides in so tamale doesn’t spill out.)

6. Place a steaming rack large enough to hold the tamales in a single layer over 1 inch boiling water, use 2 racks and pans as necessary. Cover and steam, adding more boiling water as needed, until the corn filling is puffed up inside the cornhusks, about 35 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve warm. (I do this in my electric skillet. I place a cookie rack in the skillet, fill the skillet with water below the rack, then heat it at 400. It works well.)

I hope you enjoy this recipe!


2 thoughts on “Spicy Chicken and Cheese Tamales with Jalapeno

    • Natalie says:

      I think I bought it at the Rancho Grande market that’s just up the road from Macey’s, but there’s also a market I like on State in Orem. I’ll have to look up the name, and let you know!


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