Spicy, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce combines with flavorful shredded chicken and tender masa for the best darn Chicken Mole Tamales you’ve ever tried! I prefer mole that is spicy rather than sweet and this mole rojo is simply superb.

Best of all, it’s made with just one type of chile, meaning your grocery list will be much shorter than for most mole recipes!

two wrapped chicken mole tamales and one unwrapped tamale doused in extra mole sauce on an earthenware plate.

Why I Love This Recipe

Ever since my trip to Oaxaca, I have been wanting to recreate the chicken mole tamales wrapped in banana leaves we had when we were there. They were absolutely delicious and beautiful tamales. While I’m sticking to my family’s tradition of using corn husks, this recipe reminds me of Oaxaca!

This mole recipe is also easy to make because, unlike some mole recipes that contain up to ten different varieties of chiles, it only requires Guajillo chiles. Using just one type of chile saves you a good deal of time and makes shopping much easier. The addition of roasted tomatillos, tomatoes, Mexican chocolate, and peanut butter delivers complex flavor without a ton of effort.

I also like to add a little bit of the mole sauce to my masa, which gives these tamales an added layer of flavor.

While these chicken mole tamales are indeed a labor of love, I guarantee they are worth every minute of effort. Invite some closest amigas for a tamalada — you’ll be grateful for the company and the extra hands.

Ingredients & Substitutions

To keep you from feeling too overwhelmed by the ingredients list, I’ve broken it down into three subsections. Here’s what you’ll need:

For The Chicken:

  • Water – I normally wouldn’t list this as an ingredient, but you can use the broth in both the mole sauce and the masa mixture to cut down on ingredient costs.
  • Salt – Don’t forget to add seasoning!
  • Onion – White or yellow are recommended.
  • Garlic – I prefer the flavor of fresh garlic, but in a pinch, you can add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder for each clove you would’ve used.
  • Chicken Breasts – Boneless, skinless breasts are the best for shredding.
ingredients for making mole sauce on a cutting board.

For The Mole Sauce:

  • Dried Guajillo Chiles – Add more or less depending on your preferred spice level. You can also use any mix of pasilla, ancho, or cascabel chiles if needed.
  • Bolillo – Feel free to substitute a small French roll, or use gluten-free bread or corn tortillas for a gluten-free option.
  • Tomatillos – For a bit of tanginess.
  • Tomatoes – For sweet acidity.
  • Chicken Broth – Cut down on cost by using the water you reserved from boiling the chicken.
  • Smooth Peanut Butter – I prefer the flavor and consistency of all-natural (read: no added sugar or hydrogenated oils) peanut butter, but feel free to use what you have on hand. You can also swap in sunflower seed butter if you need to make it nut-free.
  • Mexican Chocolate (Recommend Nestle-Abuelita) – While I’m partial to Abuelita brand, feel free to swap in any Mexican chocolate you prefer.
  • Cocoa Powder – You can use 1/3 oz of unsweetened baking chocolate instead if needed.
  • Olive Oil – No need to bust out the expensive finishing oil here; your regular cooking oil will do just fine.

For The Masa:

  • Lard – I prefer the flavor of lard, but shortening will work too. This is a good option if you’re avoiding pork.
  • Baking Powder – A bit of leavening goes a long way to making these mole tamales extra fluffy and tender.
  • Masa Harina – This nixtamalized corn flour makes short work of tamale dough. It’s also great for making homemade corn tortillas and the delicious chocolate drink known as champurrado.
  • Chicken Stock – Feel free to use more of the broth leftover from your chicken, or use store-bought low-sodium broth.
  • Mole Sauce – While this is technically optional, I strongly suggest you add it.

How To Make Chicken Mole Tamales

Making both mole and tamales is a labor of love, so putting the two together means this is going to be a lengthy recipe. That said, don’t get scared off! The chicken can be made and shredded and the mole sauce can be made up to a week in advance and kept in the fridge.

Also, once the tamales are assembled (before they are steamed), they can be frozen for up to 6 months, meaning you’ll reap the rewards for many meals to come. Plus, you can always make a party out of tamale assembly — many hands makes light work, and everyone can walk away with a bag full of homemade goodness!

chicken breasts and onions in water in an enameled dutch oven.

Step 1: Poach Chicken. In a large pot, heat water, salt, onion, garlic, and chicken. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate to cool off, and then shred. Reserve broth, onion, and garlic. Can be made up to a week ahead of time.

Step 2: Prepare Chiles. Remove stems, seeds, and veins from the chile pods. Place in a colander and rinse well with cool water. Add the chiles to a large pot and add enough water so they are just covered. Bring water to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. After 10 minutes turn the chiles over with tongs to make sure the chiles soften evenly. Drain cooked pods and allow time to cool down before blending. Discard water.

Step 3: Saute. On a pre-heated comal or skillet add bolillo, tomatillos, tomato, and toast for about 5 minutes on each side until bread is toasted and tomatillos and tomatoes are soft.

Step 4: Blend Mole Sauce. Pour 1 ½ cups of broth and boiled onion and garlic into a blender and add the boiled chiles and roasted ingredients. Add peanut butter, chocolate pieces, and cocoa powder, and blend until very smooth.

Step 5: Cook Mole Sauce. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Pour sauce into skillet and stir. Taste and season with salt if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. If sauce is thick, feel free to add more broth to desired consistency. Can be made up to a week ahead of time if kept in the fridge, or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Step 6: Make Tamale Filling. Add shredded chicken and stir until chicken is covered with the sauce. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring continuously to keep it from sticking to skillet.

overhead shot of shredded chicken tamale filling mixed with mole sauce in a cast-iron skillet.

Step 7: Make Masa, Part I. Combine lard, salt, and baking powder using an electric mixer, beat at medium-high speed until well whipped, about 1 minute. Add one-fourth of the masa at a time to the lard, beating between additions until thoroughly incorporated.

Step 8: Make Masa, Part II. Slowly add chicken stock and continue beating until dough is light and has a soft and spreadable hummus-like texture. If it’s too dry, mix in a little more broth; if your dough is too loose, add more masa harina until you get the desired texture. Add chile sauce (if using) and stir to combine.

woman's hands mashing some mole sauce into the tamale masa dough.

Step 9: Test Masa. Test the masa by taking a small piece (1/2 teaspoon) and dropping it into a cup of warm water. If it floats it is ready; if it sinks, add a little more lard, beat for another minute and test it again. Repeat this process until the masa floats. Cover the masa and set aside.

Step 10: Prepare Hojas (Corn Husks). Soak corn husks in water for an hour before using, rinse well with running water to take off any dust or corn husk fibers. To keep corn husks pliable and easy to work with, keep in water while filling tamales. Place a handful of wet corn husks in a colander to drain before using.

Step 11: Spread Masa. Place the wide end of the husk on the palm of your hand, narrow end is at the top. Starting at the middle of the husk spread 2 tablespoons of the masa with the back of a spoon in a rectangle or oval shape, using a downward motion towards the wide-bottom edge. Do not spread the masa to the ends; leave about a 2-inch border on the left and right sides of the husk.

Showing how to fill a corn husk for making chicken mole tamales.

Step 12: Fill Corn Husks. Spoon 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa. Fold both sides to the center; finish off by bringing the pointed end of the husk toward the filled end. Make sure it’s a snug closure so the tamal will not open during steaming. Secure by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamal. This will keep the tamal from unwrapping during the steaming process, especially if the husk is too thick and will not stay folded.

woman demonstrating how to wrap tamales for steaming.

Step 13: Steam Chicken Mole Tamales. Use a deep pot or tamale steamer to steam tamales. If using a tamale steamer fill with water up to the fill line. Set the tamale rack over the water. Place tamales upright, with fold against the sides of the other tamales to keep them from unfolding.

Cover pot with a tightly fitting lid. Set heat on high and bring to a boil, about 15 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Keep lid on tightly. To test if done, put one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.

chicken mole tamales added to steaming pot.

Optional Variations

These chicken mole enchiladas are pretty much my ideal meal, but there’s always room for customization. Here are a few ideas for variations on the theme:

  • Use store-bought rotisserie chicken and use this recipe for mole sauce to cut down on some of your prep.
  • Swap in shredded turkey or pork.
  • Make them pork-free by using vegetable shortening in place of lard.
  • Make them gluten-free by using either gluten-free bread or corn tortillas in place of the bolillo.

Expert Tips

Making mole tamales isn’t difficult, per se, but it is time-consuming. To make your life a little easier, consider:

  • Breaking the recipe up into steps. The chicken, chicken broth, and mole sauce can all be made ahead of time. Once assembled (before steaming), the tamales will last in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • Host a tamalada. Getting friends and family to help with assembly not only makes the process go a lot faster, but it’s also a ton of fun!
  • Make sure to soak your hojas (corn husks) for at least an hour. You need them to be nice and pliable for assembly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a mole in Mexican cooking?

Pronounced MO-lay, mole is a term that refers to a specific type of savory sauce. It is derived from the word molli in Nahuatl (the language used by the ancient Aztecs and the modern-day indigenous Nahua peoples), which simply means “sauce.”

Moles typically contain Mexican chiles for spice, some kind of sour ingredient (e.g. tomatillos), sweet (e.g. sugar, fruit, or chocolate), nuts and thickeners (e.g. peanut butter, bread, tortillas) and additional spices.

When are tamales most often made?

While tamales can be enjoyed year-round, it seems that most families make them around fall and winter holidays. They take a lot of time to make, though they aren’t really difficult, which makes them an excellent project to tackle with your kiddos and friends over school breaks.

Can I make gluten-free mole?

Absolutely! Either swap in a gluten-free roll of your choice, or opt for pure corn tortillas as your thickener.

What size steamer do I need for this recipe for tamales?

I have a tamalera blog post where I share all my favorites. For this small batch of tamales I recommend a 3-quart steamer.

Do I need an electric mixer to make masa for tamales?

No, not necessarily. This recipe is for a small batch of masa and can be made my hand in a bowl, but whipping the lard in a stand mixer makes for fluffier and lighter tamales.

Can I steam tamales in an Instant Pot?

Absolutely! Follow these Instant Pot steaming steps for complete directions.

steamed chicken mole tamales on a colorfully painted plate.

More Mole Recipes

If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #muybuenocooking.

Chicken Mole Tamales

4.22 (14 ratings)
Delicious chicken is slow cooked until extra tender and then shredded for these spicy chicken mole tamales. Serve topped with mole sauce for added flavor.

Ingredients

Chicken:

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 to 3 pounds chicken breasts

Mole Sauce:

Masa:

  • 2/3 cups lard, or shortening
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups masa harina, corn flour
  • 1 ½ to 2 cups warm homemade chicken stock, or store-bought low-sodium broth
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mole sauce, optional

Instructions 

Chicken:

  • In a large pot, heat water, salt, onion, garlic, and chicken. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate to cool off, and then shred. Reserve broth, onion, and garlic.

Mole Sauce:

  • Remove stems, seeds, and veins from the chile pods. Place in a colander and rinse well with cool water.
  • Add the chiles to a large pot and add enough water so they are just covered. Bring water to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes. After 10 minutes turn the chiles over with tongs to make sure the chiles soften evenly. Drain cooked pods and allow time to cool down before blending. Discard water.
  • On a pre-heated comal or skillet add bolillo, tomatillos, tomato, and toast for about 5 minutes on each side until bread is toasted and tomatillos and tomatoes are soft.
  • Pour 1 ½ cups of broth and boiled onion and garlic into a blender and add the boiled chiles and roasted ingredients. Add peanut butter, chocolate pieces, and cocoa powder, and blend until very smooth.
  • Heat olive oil in large skillet. Pour sauce into skillet and stir. Taste and season with salt if needed.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. If sauce is thick, feel free to add more broth to desired consistency.
  • Add shredded chicken and stir until chicken is covered with the sauce.
  • Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring continuously to keep it from sticking to skillet.

Masa:

  • Combine lard, salt, and baking powder using an electric mixer, beat at medium-high speed until well whipped, about 1 minute.
  • Add one-fourth of the masa at a time to the lard, beating between additions until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Slowly add chicken stock and continue beating until dough is light and has a soft and spreadable hummus-like texture. If it’s too dry, mix in a little more broth; if your dough is too loose, add more masa harina until you get the desired texture. Add chile sauce (if using) and stir to combine.
  • Test the masa by taking a small piece (1/2 teaspoon) and dropping it into a cup of warm water. If it floats it is ready; if it sinks, add a little more lard, beat for another minute and test it again. Repeat this process until the masa floats.
  • Cover the masa and set aside.

Prepare Hojas (Corn Husks):

  • Soak corn husks in water for an hour before using, rinse well with running water to take off any dust or corn husk fibers. To keep corn husks pliable and easy to work with, keep in water while filling tamales. Place a handful of wet corn husks in a colander to drain before using.

Spread Masa:

  • Place the wide end of the husk on the palm of your hand, narrow end is at the top. Starting at the middle of the husk spread 2 tablespoons of the masa with the back of a spoon in a rectangle or oval shape, using a downward motion towards the wide-bottom edge. Do not spread the masa to the ends; leave about a 2-inch border on the left and right sides of the husk.

Fill Corn Husks:

  • Spoon 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa. Fold both sides to the center; finish off by bringing the pointed end of the husk toward the filled end. Make sure it’s a snug closure so the tamal will not open during steaming. Secure by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamal. This will keep the tamal from unwrapping during the steaming process, especially if the husk is too thick and will not stay folded.

Steam Tamales:

  • Use a deep pot or tamale steamer to steam tamales. If using a tamale steamer fill with water up to the fill line. Set the tamale rack over the water. Place tamales upright, with fold against the sides of the other tamales to keep them from unfolding. Cover pot with a tightly fitting lid. Set heat on high and bring to a boil, about 15 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Keep lid on tightly. To test if done, put one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.

Notes

  • Mexican chocolate: The two most common brands are Ibarra (made by a company in Jalisco, Mexico) and Abuelita (Nestle ). These tablets contain cacao paste, sugar and cinnamon.
  • To make gluten-free mole, swap in gluten-free bread or corn tortillas in the mole sauce.
Calories: 255kcal, Carbohydrates: 27g, Protein: 21g, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 49mg, Sodium: 1031mg, Potassium: 618mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 1114IU, Vitamin C: 11mg, Calcium: 67mg, Iron: 3mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: December 2018.