Chicken and Cheese Tamales

Cuban Traditional Cuisine: Tamales or Tamal Homemade Dish
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Ratings (19)
  • Total: 3 hrs 30 mins
  • Prep: 60 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins
  • Yield: 40 servings

These traditional tamales filled with a creamy chicken and cheese stuffing may take a while, but making tamales is easy once you get the hang of it. A batch of tamales can serve a crowd or you can store them in the refrigerator or freezer to enjoy later on.

Ingredients

  • For the Chicken Filling:
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken
  • 1 can (3 ounces) diced green chiles
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or crema
  • 16 ounces queso fresco or jack cheese (shredded or crumbled)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • For the Tamale Wrappers:
  • 40 corn husks
  • Warm water
  • For the Tamale Dough:
  • 6 cups masa harina
  • 5 cups warm water or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 3 tablespoons onion powder
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 cups lard or shortening

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this tamales dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Chicken Filling

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Boil or bake the chicken until it is cooked through. Let the chicken cool and then use forks or your fingers to pull it apart to shred it.

  3. Add the shredded chicken and the diced chiles to a large bowl and add in the cream cheese, sour cream, queso fresco, cumin, chili powder, and salt.

  4. Use a large spoon or your hands to smash the cream cheese into the mixture to begin combining it. Continue mixing until all of the ingredients are uniformly combined.

  5. Once the filling is made, set it aside. (Note: You can make the filling the day before and store it in the refrigerator.)

Prepare the Husks

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Sort through the corn husks removing any debris. Place the husks in a large bowl and cover with warm water. Set a heavy item (like a heavy bowl or mug) on top of the husks to keep them submerged. Soak for 30 minutes or until soft.

  3. Remove the husks from the water and pat dry. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces. (You can use the smaller pieces for tying closed or patching the tamales.)

  4. Place the husks in a covered dish or a large plastic bag to prevent them from drying out. Use only the larger and medium-sized husks for the tamales.

Make the Tamale Dough

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a mixing bowl, combine masa harina and warm water or broth until combined. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so to let the masa soften.

  3. Using an electric mixer, mix the moist masa harina on low speed until a dough forms. Gradually add the salt, cumin, onion powder, and chili powder by sprinkling them over the dough as you are mixing it.

  4. In a separate bowl, whip lard or shortening for about 3 minutes or until fluffy.

  5. Add the whipped lard to the dough a little at a time while mixing until well combined. The mixture should be about the consistency of peanut butter. If not, add more masa harina, water, or broth as necessary.

Assemble and Cook the Tamales

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. To assemble the tamales, lay a husk on a flat surface. When looking at the husk, notice the shape; they have a narrow end, a broad end, and two long sides. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of masa dough (depending on the size of the husk) into the center of the husk.

  3. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the dough lengthwise, leaving about 4 inches of space from the narrow end of the husk and about 2 inches from the other end. Spread the dough to the edge of one of the long sides and 2 inches away from the other long side. Try to keep the dough approximately 1/4 inch thick.

  4. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of chicken filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least 1 inch of dough exposed around the sides.

  5. Locate the long side with the 2-inch space with no masa. Fold that over, slightly overlapping the other side so the edges of the dough meet. Wrap the extra husk around the back. Then fold the broad end over the top and then the longer, narrow end over the broad end.

  6. Create strips of husk by cutting or tearing 1/4-inch lengths off of some of the smaller or unusable husks. Use these to tie across the middle of the tamale to hold the flaps down.

  7. Set tamales in a steamer standing upright. (You can buy large steamers made just for this purpose, or you may have some other items in your kitchen that you can use to create the same effect. The key is to have a small amount of boiling water on the bottom of the pot and a colander, or something similar, to keep the tamales away from the water.) Do not overcrowd; fill enough that they all stand up straight.

  8. Steam for about 90 minutes. The husk should come off cleanly and easily when done. Let them cool before serving. Repeat, making the rest of the tamales. (You can also freeze well-wrapped tamales and steam when ready to eat.)