Tamales Oaxaqueños

April 12, 2022
2 Ratings
Photo by Ren Fuller
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • makes 24 tamales
Author Notes

Steamed corn dumplings filled with shredded chicken and sauce

In this recipe, I am offering you two options for the salsa (sauce) for the filling. The most common Oaxacan tamales are made with mole, salsa tomatillo, or salsa guajillo.

For the 24 tamales in this recipe, you need a total of 6 cups of salsa. Each of the two salsa recipes makes about 6 cups, so choose only one salsa or cut each recipe in half and make half red and half green! Choose your own tamal adventure and make sure to invite friends and family to help you cook and eat them. Turn it into a tamalada (tamal party) — spread the masa and spread the love!

If you are using fresh masa, look or ask for “unprepared” masa. This means that nothing has been added to the dough and the only thing in it is corn, water, and lime. “Prepared” masa has added lard and seasonings. I always use “unprepared” so that I can control the amount of lard, seasoning, and salt. —Rick Martinez

Test Kitchen Notes

Recipe reprinted with permission from Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico (‎Clarkson Potter, May 2022).

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Filling Options
  • Option 1: Salsa Tomatillo
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 7 medium tomatillos (340 grams), husked, rinsed, and quartered
  • 1/4 medium white onion (98 grams), coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • 1 chile habanero, stemmed, seeded, and halved
  • 1/3 cup (packed) fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems (1.76 oz/50 g)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton kosher salt (9 grams)
  • Option 2: Salsa Guajillo:
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 6 large chiles guajillos (36 grams), stemmed and seeded
  • 2 large chiles anchos (35 grams), stemmed and seeded
  • 1/4 medium white onion (98 grams), coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • 3 chiles de árbol, stemmed (seeded for less heat)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Morton kosher salt (9 grams)
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • Tamales
  • Masa:
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons Morton kosher salt (12 grams)
  • 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms) fresh coarse grind corn masa for tamales, “unprepared” (see Cook’s Note, p. 112)
  • 1 1/4 cups plus two tablespoons melted lard or vegetable oil
  • Tamales:
  • 1 pound (453 grams) fresh or thawed frozen banana leaves, washed and patted dry
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  1. Filling Options
  2. Make the salsa tomatillo: In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the stock, tomatillos, onion, garlic, habanero, cilantro, and salt to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are very tender and almost falling apart, for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Transfer the tomatillo mixture to a blender and puree on medium-low speed until completely smooth. Set the salsa aside until you’re ready to assemble.
  4. Or, make the salsa guajillo: In a large saucepan, bring the stock, chiles guajillos, chiles anchos, onion, garlic, chiles de árbol, salt, bay leaf, and oregano to a boil. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let sit until chiles are tender, for about 30 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chile mixture to the jar of a blender and puree on medium-low speed until completely smooth. Set the salsa aside until you’re ready to assemble.
  1. Tamales
  2. Make the masa: In a 2-cup liquid measure, whisk the stock and salt until the salt is dissolved. In a large bowl, mix the masa, stock mixture, and lard with your hands until the mixture looks shiny and smooth and is the consistency of thick cake frosting and is easily spreadable, for about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside.
  3. Make the tamales: Unfold a banana leaf (it should be 2 to 3 feet long). If you have gas burners, heat one gas burner on high. Hold the leaf at each end and very slowly move the leaf over the flame, leaving it in one place until you see light charring coming through the top. Continue moving the leaf slowly for 3 to 7 seconds to see char marks in one spot, or until the entire leaf is charred. Repeat with the remaining banana leaves.
  4. Remove the center rib and cut the leaves into 12x14-inch pieces; reserve the ribs and scraps. If your leaves are narrow, double up and offset the leaves to get the right size.
  5. Arrange the leaf so a long side is facing you. Measure out ½ cup of masa and place it onto the center of the leaf. Using a table knife, offset spatula, or rubber spatula, spread the masa into a thin, even layer, covering most of the leaf but leaving a 2-inch border on all sides; the edges don’t have to be straight or neat. Visualize the tamal in the center of the leaf, about 6 inches long by 4 inches wide. Arrange 2 tablespoons of chicken in the center of that space. Top with ¼ cup salsa or mole.
  6. Fold a long side of the leaf over the filling, then fold over the other long side to cover.Hold the tamal seam-side up and fold the two short ends over the tamal. Set the tamal on a sheet pan seam-and fold-side down. Repeat to assemble the remaining tamales.
  7. Place a metal basket, steamer basket, or rack insert into a tamal pot, stockpot, or pasta pot. Fill with enough water so it comes up to just below the basket (you don’t want the water to touch the tamales). Line the bottom of the basket with the reserved banana leaf scraps to cover any exposed metal. Arrange and stack the tamales, seam-side down, in the basket. Cover the tamales with a damp kitchen towel and tuck it inside the pot. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low to keep the water at a simmer and steam for 45 minutes, checking the water level occasionally and adding more water as needed to keep some liquid in the pot.
  8. Carefully remove the kitchen towel and plastic. Remove a tamal and set aside to cool for 3 minutes. (If you don’t let the tamal rest before checking, the masa will stick to the leaf and appear gummy.) Unfold the leaf—if the masa sticks, it’s not ready. If it’s not ready, carefully refold and return the tamal to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes more, then check again. If the leaf peels back easily and no masa sticks, your tamales are done.Remove from the heat, uncover the pot, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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Rick Martinez

Recipe by: Rick Martinez

Rick Martinez is currently living his dream—cooking, eating and enjoying the Mexican Pacific coast in Mazatlán. He is finishing his first cookbook, Under the Papaya Tree, food from the seven regions of Mexico and loved traveling the country so much, he decided to buy a house on the beach. He is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit, New York Times and hosts live, weekly cooking classes for Food Network Kitchens. Earlier this year, he was nominated for a James Beard Award for “How to win the Cookie Swap” in Bon Appétit’s holiday issue.

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