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Savory Chicken Tamales For Dinner

I made savory chicken tamales,  “chicken in cilantro sauce” tamales. This was an exclusive event since I wanted to be sure that they would be a success. On the appointed day, my sister in law Sandra who is an experienced tamalera came over to help me. Since making tamales is long and hard work, I’ve always opted to be a helper in our annual traditional tamaladas, but this time I was in charge. Our private tamale making session was going to require Sandra's patient guidance in each step. The whole process of making tamales took 4 steps: making the filling, preparing the masa, assembling, then steaming. In the end, after "only" 3 hours, we managed to assemble a few dozen savory Chicken in cilantro sauce tamales. 


Sandra did not resist the impulse to make champurrado as tradition called out to us. It was unthinkable to even consider tamales without a steaming hot cup of champurrado and I was happy to indulge in it as we got into our tamale making zone.  


Despite all the ease technology brings, we comfortably stuck to the old fashioned methods of our mothers and set to work. We divided the tasks; I made the filling and she got the masa ready.


I cooked the filling before Sandra arrived to give it plenty of time to infuse the traditional tangy flavor of the cilantro sauce into the chicken. I made a few alterations to my original Chicken in cilantro sauce recipe. Although bones can enhance the flavor in sauces, I chose to use boneless chicken, 2 chicken breasts and 3 chicken thighs, since I needed to shred it finely. I didn’t want any bone incidents. I also did not include the potatoes since I worried that they would absorb too much of the sauce. I covered the chicken and let it simmer for a while, then I shredded it and let it sit to cool.


Sandra prepared the masa and I stood close by while she explained the process.  She bought 4 pounds of masa “preparada” at our local IGA market and hojas.  Prepared masa has lard, salt and baking powder already in it but it almost always needs enhancement. While the corn husks soaked in warm water to make them soft and pliable, she worked on the masa. Adding chicken broth, more oil or lard she kneaded until the masa was smooth and spreadable. Finally, she used the good old fashion proven test of dropping a small ball of masa into a cup of water. If the ball floats, it's ready! 


With the chicken shredded and the masa ready, it was time to assemble our savory tamales. First I needed to figure out just how much masa was needed for each tamal. Sandra spread masa into the first two soft hojas, then asked, “What do you think? Do you want more masa?”  I very confidently said, “Yes, I think it needs more.” Despite her warning that they would be large tamales, we spread the masa onto the corn husk according to my choice. Then we added an equal portion of chicken. Sandra suggested I add a potato stick with a twig of cilantro into the filling. She was not worried about the tamales not being moist enough. Her suggestion was more of a sentimental idea than flavor enhancement. You see, my mothers chicken tamales always included a carrot and potato stick, with a twig of cilantro and a slice of marinated jalapeño. I liked the idea, my mothers touch wouldn't hurt and besides potatoes and cilantro are part of my chicken in cilantro sauce recipe anyway. My nice fat tamales were wrapped and ready for steaming.


I poked holes into a disposable aluminum pan and arranged it In a big pot. I crumbled foil paper for the edges around the pot and then, starting from the center, I carefully assembled the tamales upright against one another. When they I added about ½ cup of water into the pot, making sure the tamales were not in water. Since I was only steaming a dozen for dinner and freezing the rest, Sandra said it would only take a couple of hours. The reality hit me again, making tamales is long and hard work. I covered the pot with foil and put a damp kitchen towel over it, plus put the lid over them. My tamales took longer than 2 hours to steam. It is possible that because they were such big tamales they took longer to cook. I turned off the heat and let them settle before serving.


When I served them at dinner time, I asked for honest but gentle criticism. I too critiqued my work and found that there are a few things I will do differently next time.


I will make extra sauce. Shredded white meat soaks in a lot of sauce, extra sauce will allow for adding it into the masa as it's being kneaded and for cooking the potatoes in the chicken. 

I will definitely use less masa when I spread it onto the hoja for each tamal, they were too big. Texas Lone Star Tamales has a good ratio of masa to filling in their tamales. More masa required more filling, we had originally intended to make 6 dozens but got only 4 dozens.


Despite those few adjustments, they were quite tasty. In my son's words “these are fire mom!” I will definitely add these to our  traditional annual tamalada. After all the work was done we sat down at the dinner table for a delicious traditional tamale dinner. Chicken in cilantro sauce tamales served with all the fixings was a yummy success.


Now that these chicken tamales have been approved, we can add them to the tamales we make for the holidays, when we gather for our annual tamalada. Meanwhile, before and after the holidays, premade savory chicken tamales from Texas Lone Star Tamales can easily be added to your online shopping so that  tamale dinners family dinners can be spread out throughout the year. 

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