Chicken and Cheese Tamales

Cuban Traditional Cuisine: Tamales or Tamal Homemade Dish
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Ratings (17)
  • Total: 3 hrs 30 mins
  • Prep: 60 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins
  • Yield: 40 tamales (40 servings)

Traditional tamales filled with a creamy chicken and cheese stuffing will 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 to enjoy for several days or freeze for weeks.


  • Chicken Filling:
  • 2 pounds chicken, boneless, skinless
  • 1 can (3 ounces) diced green chiles
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (half of a standard package)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or crema
  • 16 ounces queso fresco or jack cheese (shredded or crumbled)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Wrappers:
  • 40 corn husks, softened in water
  • Tamale Dough:
  • 6 cups masa harina
  • 5 cups water, warm or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups lard
  • 3 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoon cumin
  • 3 tablespoon chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Steps to Make It

  1. 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.

  2. Add the shredded chicken and the diced chiles to a large bowl and add in the cream cheese, queso fresco, cumin, chile powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

  3. Use a large spoon to smash the cream cheese into the mixture to begin mixing it, which you can do with your clean hands.

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

  5. To prepare the corn husks, go through the corn husks removing any debris. Separate the larger usable pieces from the smaller bits and pieces. Save the smaller pieces for later.

  6. Place the husks into a large bowl. Cover husks 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.

  7. Remove the husks from the water and pat dry. Place into a covered dish or a large plastic bag to prevent from drying out. Use only the larger and medium-sized husks for the tamales. The smaller ones can be used later for ties or patches.

  8. When looking at the husk, notice the shape. They have a narrow end, a broad end, and two long sides.

  9. Now prepare the masa harina tamale dough. In a mixing bowl combine masa and warm water or broth until combined. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes or so to let the masa soften.

  10. Mix the moist masa harina on low speed until a dough forms. After the masa harina is prepared, gradually add the salt, cumin, and onion powder by sprinkling them over the dough as you mix it.

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

  12. Add the lard to the dough a little at a time while mixing until well combined.

  13. The mixture should be about the consistency of peanut butter. If not, add more masa harina, water, or broth as necessary.

  14. To assemble the tamales, lay a husk on a flat surface. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of dough onto the husk, depending on the size of the husk.

  15. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the dough onto the husk. When spreading the dough, leave a space of about 4 inches 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.

  16. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least one inch of dough around the sides. Locate the long side with a 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Set tamales upright in a steamer. You can buy large steamers made just for this purpose. You may have some other items in your kitchen 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 mesh of some sort to keep the tamales away from the water.

  19. Steam for about 90 minutes and let them cool before serving.