Tender handheld corn pastry pockets are filled with spicy, smoky shredded chicken in my favorite Molotes Recipe. These freezer-friendly Oaxacan Masa Empanadas are an utter delight filled with my slow-cooked chicken tinga, but you’re welcome to use any meats, veggies, or cheeses you prefer. Perfect for holiday entertaining!

hand-painted plate filled with a pile of Oaxacan molotes (masa empanadas).

What Are Molotes?

Have you ever heard of Oaxacan molotes? They are a common street food found in Oaxaca, Puebla, and the Yucatan during Easter and Christmas time.

When I first heard the word molotes I thought of hair buns, because that’s what we call them. I’ve seen cigar and torpedo-shaped molotes and balls of dough similar to hush puppies (or hair buns 😂), but shaping them like normal empanadas (Mexican turnovers or hand pies) is the easiest to achieve at home.

To make molotes Oaxaqueños, masa harina is mixed with a small amount of all-purpose flour, baking powder, shortening, and hot water. When soft dough is formed, it is divided into round balls and pressed with a tortilla press into disks. The disks are then filled with your filling of choice, deep fried to a golden brown, and served with your choice of toppings.

The masa flavor of the molote pastry casing is similar to a mix between a sope and a gordita. My hubby loved them and said they reminded him of calzones. He was rattling off all kinds of filling ideas that we are both very excited about trying.

Why I Love This Recipe

Aside from being simply delicious, this molotes recipe is also:

  • Made with only 12 ingredients – At least half of them are kitchen staples, so your grocery list will be nice and short!
  • Meal-Prep & Freezer-Friendly. Molotes make the perfect party appetizer (or main dish) as they can be made ahead of time and frozen up to one month prior to frying. Once you’ve tried them, you won’t save them for a special occasion — they’re that yummy and so easy to make.
  • Versatile – While I’m head over heels for this delicious interpretation of chicken tinga sweetened with a touch of piloncillo and slow cooked to coax out all the complex flavors of the veggies, these Pueblan molotes can be filled with your choice of yumminess. The next time you have leftovers and are looking for a fun new way to polish them off, use this corn-flavored dough to make molotes!
white bowl filled with chipotles in adobo sauce with the can in the background.

Ingredients & Substitutions

As promised, you don’t need a ton of ingredients to make these Chicken Tinga Molotes. Here’s what to grab:

  • Skinless/Boneless Chicken Breast – I find that white meat is easier to shred than dark. Feel free to swap in turkey breast if you prefer!
  • Garlic – Fresh garlic cloves are a must for this recipe.
  • Yellow Onions – Feel free to use white onions if that is what you have on hand.
  • Vegetable Oil – Any neutral-flavored, high smoke point oil will work here.
  • Tomato – Vine-ripened tomatoes or roma tomatoes are best.
  • Piloncillo –  In Puebla they slow cook their tomatoes until they are sweeter and more of a thickened sauce and then they also add piloncillo giving the tinga a hint of sweetness which really balances out the spicy and smoky chipotles. If you don’t have piloncillo, feel free to swap in an equal amount of jaggery, muscovado, or brown sugar.
  • Canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce – If you aren’t going to use the whole can, you can freeze the rest into ice cube trays for use in the future.
  • Masa Harina – I used golden corn flour, but feel free to use traditional masa harina for making homemade corn tortillas and tamales.
  • All-Purpose Flour – You’re welcome to swap in your favorite cup-for-cup gluten-free flour blend instead.
  • Baking Powder – To help the masa dough puff up a bit when fried.
  • Salt – For seasoning.
  • Vegetable Shortening – For the most tender molote dough you’ve ever tasted. I haven’t tried it, but reason leads me to believe that lard could also be used here.

Optional Filling Variations

These Oaxacan-style fresh masa empanadas are often filled with a chorizo and potato filling, fried, then topped with salsa, crema, queso fresco, and garnished with sliced radishes, but they are delightful with all kinds of tasty fillings. Here are a few other options to consider:

How to Make Oaxacan Molotes de Tinga

These masa-wrapped Oaxacan empanadas are actually pretty simple to make. Here’s how it’s done:

Make Chicken Tinga

Step 1: Cook & Shred Chicken. In a large stockpot, over medium to high heat, add water, chicken, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 clove of garlic, and quartered onion. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken and allow it to cool. After the chicken cools off shred it and set aside.

shredded chicken on a terracotta plate with boiled onion quarters and garlic clove.

Step 2: Make Chipotle Sauce. In a blender add the boiled onion and garlic clove, quartered tomato, chipotle peppers including adobo sauce, 2 teaspoons salt, and enough chicken broth to fill the blender halfway. Puree until smooth.

Step 3: Cook Veggies. Heat the oil in a large and deep pan over medium heat. Once it is hot but not smoking, stir in the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and chopped garlic and cook for an additional 8 minutes. Add piloncillo and cook for an additional 10 minutes and then using a potato masher, roughly mash mixture.

Step 4: Finish Chicken Tinga. Add the cooked shredded chicken and the chipotle sauce from the blender to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until slightly thickened. Add more chicken broth if it is too dry. Add salt to taste.

overhead shot of shredded chicken tinga in a cast iron skillet.

Make Chicken Molotes

Step 5: Make Dough. In a large bowl thoroughly mix the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add the shortening and mix well. Slowly add water to give the dough the consistency of soft cookie dough. Knead dough for 5 minutes. Divide into 12 balls and cover with plastic wrap.

molote dough ball on a halved ziploc bag between the plates of a cast iron tortilla press.

Step 6: Assemble. Using a tortilla press, flatten a ball of the dough between sheets of plastic to make a medium-large (5-inch) tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic. Add chicken tinga or your desired filling to one side of the tortilla, then fold in half and press edges together with a fork creating a seal.

flattened round of molote dough filled with a few tablespoons of chicken tinga filling.

Step 7: Fry Molotes. Shallow fry the assembled molotes in a little oil until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Use a splatter screen to keep grease from splattering all over the kitchen. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer fried molotes to paper towels to drain.

sealing the tinga-filled masa empanada with a fork.

Expert Tips

  • Make-Ahead: Molotes can be assembled up through step 6, then frozen in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet before transferring to a freezer-safe container or bag. They’ll keep for up to a month in the freezer! To fry, allow the molotes to defrost overnight in the fridge then proceed with the recipe as written.
  • While they’re best when served immediately, molotes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days after frying. To rewarm molotes, transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Use a splatter screen. The liquid from the tinga will pop, so it’s best for the filling to be thicker.
Oaxacan molotes draining on paper towels after frying.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make gluten-free molotes?

Absolutely! Simply swap in your favorite measure-for-measure all-purpose gluten-free flour blend for the wheat flour. Masa harina is made from naturally gluten-free corn, but some brands are processed in facilities that also handle wheat. Make sure to read your labels if you have a serious gluten allergy.

How do you pronounce molotes?

Just the way it looks: moh-LOH-tays.

Can I bake these molotes?

Yes, follow the baking instructions on these Molotes (Masa Empanadas) filled with Mushrooms, Roasted Green Chiles, and Cheese.

halved chicken tinga filled molote on a blue and white plate on a saffron yellow tablecloth.

Topping Options

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 Tinga Molotes

5 (3 ratings)
Molotes (the food) are a common street food, found in Oaxaca during Easter and Christmas time. They are made with a disk of fresh masa then usually filled with a chorizo and potato filling, fried, then topped with salsa, crema, queso fresco, and garnished with sliced radishes. Molotes make the perfect party appetizer or main dish as they can be made ahead of time and frozen up to one month prior to frying.

Ingredients

Pueblo-Style Chicken Tinga

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 poun chicken breast, skinless and boneless
  • 2 teaspoons salt, salt
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 tomato, quartered
  • 1/4 cup piloncillo, shredded
  • 3 ounces chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

Instructions 

Molotes

  • In a large bowl thoroughly mix the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add the shortening and mix well. Slowly add water to give the dough the consistency of soft cookie dough. Knead dough for 5 minutes. Divide into 12 balls and cover with plastic wrap.
  • Using a tortilla press, flatten a ball of the dough between sheets of plastic to make a medium-large (5-inch) tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic.
  • Add chicken tinga or your desired filling to one side of the tortilla, then fold in half and press edges together with a fork creating a seal.
  • Shallow fry in a little oil until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Use a splatter screen to keep grease from splattering all over the kitchen.
  • Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer to paper towels to drain. Best when served immediately. To rewarm molotes transfer to a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pueblo-Style Chicken Tinga

  • In a large stockpot, over medium to high heat, add water, chicken, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 clove garlic, and quartered onion. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Reserve.
  • Remove the chicken and allow it to cool. After the chicken cools off shred it. Reserve.
  • In a blender add the boiled onion and garlic clove, quartered tomato, chipotle peppers including adobo sauce, 2 teaspoons salt, and enough chicken broth to fill the blender half way. Puree until smooth.
  • Heat the oil in a large and deep pan over medium heat.
  • Once it is hot but not smoking, stir in the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and chopped garlic and cook for an additional 8 minutes.
  • Add piloncillo and cook for an additional 10 minutes and then using a potato masher, roughly mash mixture.
  • Add the cooked shredded chicken, the chipotle sauce from the blender. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until slightly thickened. Add more chicken broth if it is too dry.
  • Add salt to taste.

Notes

  • Molotes can be made ahead of time and frozen up to one month prior to frying.
 

CHECK OUT SOME OF THESE RECIPES FOR FILLING IDEAS:

Calories: 171kcal, Carbohydrates: 31g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 0.1mg, Sodium: 494mg, Potassium: 251mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 297IU, Vitamin C: 5mg, Calcium: 82mg, Iron: 2mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: February 2012.