I am convinced that Chicago has the best tamales (sorry L.A.). This is all thanks to the Tamale Man. I like to think of the Tamale Man like the Tooth Fairy, appearing between the hours of 10pm and 3am and bringing wonderful treats to the city of Chicago. Unlike the Tooth Fairy, the Tamale Man delivers his treats at bars throughout the city, bringing a cooler full of piping hot chicken, pork, and cheese tamales that he sells at a price of 5 for $5 to hungry (and sometimes drunk) patrons. For only $1 per large tamale (I could make a meal out of three) I am a) always eager to buy at least a bag or two, and b) amazed at how this guy makes a profit.
If the Tamale Man could make such cheap (and delecious) tamales, I figured I could too. So this weekend I set out to make Chicken Tamales con Salsa Verde. I have heard that making tamales is time consuming and the man helping me at the grocery store reminded me several times that “tamales are not easy to make.” He was right: you need to set aside a whole day to you make tamales. Next time I will work ahead, setting aside two afternoons: one to prepare the meat and the next to make the tamales.
If you have the time, these tamales are worth every minute. The recipe produces fluffy corn dough filled with spicy and juicy chicken–an addicting combination. While the recipe yields about 24 tamales, between my roommate, boyfriend, and me they lasted less than 48 hours. Since they are easy to store in the fridge or freezer and reheat using a microwave, oven, or stove, you can bet I will be doubling this recipe next time!
Alex Milling is a recent graduate of Northwestern University and is excited to eat some more tamales this week.
Chicken Tamales con Salsa Verde
Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless
Total Cost: $16.61
Cost Per Serving: $2.77
(The tamales I made cost $.70 per tamale, which means the Tamale Man might make about $.30 per tamale).
You can find dried corn husks and maesa at any Mexican grocery store.
1 whole chicken (about 5 pounds) ($7.50)
1/2 onion, cut into large slices ($0.13)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed ($0.11)
10 – 15 peppercorns (in stock)
3 teaspoons of salt (in stock)
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons fresh masa for tamales ($2)
One 16-ounce bottle tomatillo salsa ($2.99)
1 8-ounce package dried corn husks ($1.75)
10 ounces (1 1/3 cups) shortening ($2.18)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (in stock)
3 to 4 cups chicken broth leftover from poaching the chicken (in stock)
Day One: Prepare the Meat and the Sauce
Remove the bag of giblets and wash the whole chicken. Place in large stock pot and fill with water until chicken is covered. Add onions, garlic, peppercorn, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat and let cook for about an hour and twenty minutes or until skin and meat begin to fall off the bones. Drain chicken broth into glass bowl, cover, and save in the fridge. (This is important! You will need the broth for the masa dough tomorrow). Then move chicken to large cutting board. Shred chicken with fork or hands. Set aside 3 lightly packed cups of shredded chicken.
Pour 1/4 cup water into a small bowl and whisk in the masa until well blended. In a medium saucepan, bring the salsa to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour in the masa mixture and whisk until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature.
Scoop the 3 cups of shredded chicken into a bowl and stir in the thickened salsa. Season with salt to taste. Cover and put in fridge to fill tamales with tomorrow.
Day Two: Make Tamales
Soak corn husks in sink or large bowl filled with warm water for 2 hours. Place plate over corn husks to ensure they are fully submerged. Separate out 24 of the largest corn husks and pat dry with a paper towel.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the shortening with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa 1 cup at a time. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 2 1/2 cups of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so. Beat in enough of the remaining 1 1/2 cups of broth that dough is spongy and can hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if necessary.
One at a time, form the tamales: Hold one of your chosen corn husks with the wide end toward you. Begin on the bottom left corner and use a spatula to spread about 1/4 cup of the corn dough so it covers the left two-thirds of the width of the corn husk, leaving the right third uncovered. Also cover the bottom two thirds of the height of the corn husk, leaving the top third uncovered. The amount of dough needed to cover this area will vary depending on the size of the corn husk, but that goal is to have a thin layer of dough on the aforementioned area of the husk (see above picture). Place husk on counter and spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chicken filling down the center of the dough. Pick up the left edge of the tamale (edge where there is dough) and roll edge (hot dog style) until you reach the right edge. Then fold the top (unfilled edge) over to create a flap on one side. One end of the tamale will remain open. Place tamale aside, flap down, and continue filling the rest of the corn husks until you run out of dough and / or filling.
To steam tamales all at once, you will need a large tamale steamer or Asian stack steamer. I improvised and used a large colander placed in a stock pot that was filled with about 4 inches of water. Since the lid to the pot did not fit over the colander, I extended it using tin foil. This method effectively ensured that a sufficient amount of steam reached the tamales.
Place a few leftover soaked and dried corn husks on the bottom of the steamer. Then place tamales in steamer with folded side facing the bottom of the steamer and the open side looking up toward the top of the ceiling (or lid in this case). Cover tamales with a few more soaked and dried corn husks. Set the lid in place and steam over medium heat for about 2 hours. Tamales are done when the corn husks easily peel from the masa. Before serving let stand a few minutes in the steamer so they have time to firm. Then unwrap tamales and enjoy all your hard work!