Tamales are typically a type of hmmm you could consider it a steamed meat pie or something of that sort, a starchy dough typically made of corn, filled with anything (most commonly some protien) wrapped in a “leaf wrapper” and steamed or boiled. Every Latin/ spanish speaking country in general has their own version/ variation, and even within a particular country recipes and styles of preparation abound.
Growing up I grew up on Mexican Tamales, and occasionally would enjoy a store bought Cuban Tamal from Portos (which is probably a joke I seriously need to learn and make Cuban tamales one of these days), anyways one day when I was about 6 years old I’ll never forget I had my first Salvadorian tamale and I fell in love with it, bit into it, it was different, it was very moist, and had a brothy savoriness, like a congealed thick rich corn pudding, filled with chicken, potatoes, chickpeas, and green olives with a distinct scent from the banana leaves. I fell in love 🙂 I use to eat them every other Saturday when we’d go out and we would buy them from the “Tamalera” in the “barrio” haha (Tamalera are woman who usually sell tamales in street cars). Now that I cook and have observed family and friends whom cook as well, the thing that made these Salvadorian tamales so different was that unlike the Mexican one’s which are prepared from a raw corn dough made of corn treated with lime, lots of delicious pork fat and leavening and tpyically wrapped in corn husks, the Salvadorian one’s are prepared with a dough that is pre-cooked, with a type of sofrito they call “recaudo”, and generous amounts of oil (use a heart healthy oil and this will not be sinful) and wrapped in pre-cooked banana leave.
The recipe I present to you today is a combination of two of our family friends recipes, the filling is shredded chicken stewed with potatoes, olives, and chickpeas wrapped in banana leaf and boiled/ steamed. Now I broke down the recipe into several parts, it looks over whelming but really isn’t, you jus need time and patience, together with my mother I was able to complete the wrapping of the tamales and everything within 2 hrs, then I sat back 1 hr and relaxed while they steamed/ boiled. Now I also wanna say I don’t use just banana leaf to wrap them, I learned to wrap them using banana leaf for flavor and the aluminum to completely seal. It’s also cheaper that way since the banana leaf is expensive and it also DOESN’T compromise taste by doing the aluminum with banana leaf method.
*Ingredients for stock:
-1 whole chicken (skinned and well rinsed/ washed, I rub it with lime and salt and rinse several times)
-1/2 onion whole, peeled
-2 cloves garlic
-2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
-1-2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
–water (enough to completely submerge chicken)
*Ingredients for “Recaudo” (sauce):
-1/2 cup oil (typically they use vegetable oil for this since it’s similar to the sofrito I’m used to I used extra-virgin olive oil)
-1 onion chopped
-1/2 green bell pepper chopped
-1/2 red bell pepper chopped
-3 cloves garlic minced
-8- 10 roma tomatoes chopped
-1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
–salt (just sprinkled over chopped veggies when frying them)
-4 freshly ground cloves, or 1 very small teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
*Ingredients for “Masa”/ dough
-5 cups dry”masa harina” (MASECA brand preferably it’s the one everyone down here uses down here/ I grew up with)
–water (as needed)
-about 10 cups chicken stock (the reserved liquid from cooking the chicken)
-1 cup oil (I used canola oil because of it’s neutral taste)
–salt to taste (about 2 tsp. or more to taste)
-1/2 of the recaudo (instructions to make this in recipe directions)
*Ingredients for filling:
-1 whole chicken shredded (the chicken leftover from making the stock)
-1/2 of the recaudo
-4 potatoes (previously boiled, peeled and cut into cubes)
-1 cup cooked chickpeas/ garbanzos (they can be from a can, I boiled a huge batch and used the rest for cooking other stuff)
-8 green pimiento stuffed olives thinly sliced
–salt to taste
-2 cups of the prepared dough/ masa to thicken the stew
*Ingredients for wrapping:
-1 1/2 lbs. banana leaf
-1 container aluminum foil
Directions for chicken stock and cooking chicken:
(1) Bring water to a boil in a pot with 1/2 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons bouillon powder, and salt to taste. When water boils add cleaned, and skinned chicken, cover and boil for 45 minutes- 1 hour until tender.
(2) When chicken is tender, strain broth, pull chicken out, shred and set aside,
reserve the leftover stock which will be used to prepare the rest of the dish.
Directions for RECAUDO:
(1) Heat a pot with generous amounts of oil on medium high heat, sautee the onion, garlic, and bell peppers about 5- 10 minutes also sprinkle salt on them until very fragrant, and tender (this is the secret to making the tamales good in my opinion),
now add the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking about 5- 10 more minutes also sprinkle a little salt, until they reduce and fry in the oil, now add 1 teaspoon bouillon powder, and the ground cloves (if using/ available).
(2) Turn off heat, take the mixture to a blender or food processor, add a little bit of the chicken stock to help puree it to a smooth sauce. Set this mixture aside, it will be used for preparing the filling and dough. Divide the mixture into 2 portions, half will be used for the filling, the other half for the dough.
Directions for dough:
(1) Put the 5 cups of masa harina in a LARGE and DEEP pot (trust me it will grow alot once cooking starts and absorbs ALOT of liquid),
so slowly add cold water and mix the mixture until you get a smooth pancake batter consistency (I used a hand blender and did it in 5 minutes, other people do it by hand and it will take awhile to get rid of clumps.) you may think “why can’t I use the chicken stock” chances are the stock is real hot, and if u try to dissolve it in the hot stock it will cook into clumps… SO USE COLD WATER once diluted then you can add the stock… just keep reading lol.
(2) Now add chicken stock about 10 cups or so, and stir over medium high heat on stove top until it starts boiling, when it starts boiling/ thickening, add the oil, 1/2 of the RECAUDO (blended cooked onion, garlic, bell pepper, tomato, spice mixture), salt to taste and continue to stir. Stir in once motion scraping bottom eventually the mixture will start thickening and cook stirring constantly (don’t leave it alone!) this takes about 30 minutes.
MAKE SURE it taste good and has enough salt/ flavor.
(3) Turn off heat and DO NOT stir the mixture anymore once it thickens and cooks through DO NOT I repeat DO NOT stir it let it cool a bit for 30 minutes or so before working with it, if you stir once it’s cooling it will clump up… trust me! Set is aside.
Directions for filling:
(1) Here comes the directions for filling 🙂 Heat a pot with a drizzle of oil, when hot add the blended RECAUDO (the other half you had reserved, the other half should have been used for the dough), when the recaudo comes to a boil, add shredded chicken, garbanzos, olives, already cooked diced potato and bring to a boil, add some chicken stock to this to make a sauce, about 1-2 cups. Taste if it has enough salt, and scoop out about 2 cups of the prepared masa and use it to thicken the stew.
Set it aside.
Directions for prepping the banana leaves and wrapping:
(1) Cut the banana leaves into rectangles, remove any ugly edges, submerge them in water to clean and drain, pat- dry and pass each leaf through fire until it turns a darker green (like have your burner and set it on the burner carefully pass it through the fire til it tunrs a brighter green and set aside, this is done to clean the leaves and also makes them flexible/ won’t allow them to break apart. Another option is to set them on a very hot skillet or griddle flipping them a couple times til they turn a darker brighter green and are heated through.
(2) Now cut the aluminum into large squares/ rectangles and place a piece of the leaf on it as shown below.
(3) Continue to pile them up (this will be your wrapping) set this pile aside. You should have about 35- 36 of them for this recipe.
Directions for wrapping:
(1) Place the wrapper like so. Spoon with a large ladel some of the cooked masa mixture
(2) Spoon over that the chicken filling
(3) Fold the leaf like a taco,
then quickly fold aluminum over it, and press sides into the shape of a tamal,
fold over and press into shape of tamal, making sure to press inwards so non of the dough runs out,
repeat the fold over, and press sides again,
then fold the sides in to seal twice
repeat for the rest of the tamales, and pile them up.
Directions for finishing off/ cooking the formed tamales:
(1) Get a large deep-pot, line the bottom with banana leaves, pile the tamales one on top of another, and add enough water so that only 1 layer of the tamale stack isn’t covered in water (the rest of them will be submerged.
(2) Cover the pile with banana leaves, put lid on pot and bring to a rolling boil, then let boil/ steam on medium for 60 minutes.
(3) Turn off heat, drain out as much water as possible, by carefully lifting pot, and lifting part of lid, and tipping over the sink to drain out the hot water. Now remove the one’s you want to eat and let them slightly cool and chow down.
PLEASE NOTE that when just barely made they will be extremely hot, and tender, they actually in my opinion taste better the next day/ have better texture. You can serve them with anything you’d like or eat them alone. They’re very good with refried black beans, and sour cream 🙂
Salvadorian means from “El Salvador” a country located in central America, I really love & appreciate their varied cuisine (my half- sister is Salvadorian) and I hope if any of you ever try these tamales you’ll enjoy them as much as I do 🙂
Also I used cloves in here because one of my family friends does it that way and it gives it a nice sweet note without being sweet like it adds a little something to it, I have friends that don’t use cloves and it still comes out good, some people like to spice it by adding about 1 teaspoon of ground cumin into the the filling mixture or recaudo.