My Easy Homemade Chicken Tamales with Salsa Verde are a snap to make, requiring just 30 minutes of active time. Word to the wise: they’re also an excellent way to use up all your leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

‘Tis the season for ta-ma-les, tama-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making this traditional Mexican comfort food, there is no better time than the holiday season – what is better than a self-wrapped food gift?

round terracotta plate with an unwrapped chicken tamale broken in half and drizzled with salsa verde with another tamale still in the husk.     

What Are Tamales?

Tamales (the plural of tamal) are a Mexican dish that is steeped in ancient Mesoamerican tradition. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that tamales have been enjoyed even before the Mayans and Aztecs! If that doesn’t signify their timelessness, I’m not sure what will.

If you are at all familiar with Mexican cuisine, it’s likely you’ve at least seen a tamal before; they’re the handy, portable snacks wrapped in corn husks that you’ll often see street vendors selling. If you happen to frequent dive bars in cities with large Mexican populations, you might’ve even seen an abuelita or two selling them from insulated lunch boxes as a way to soak up your cocktails.

These tasty little envelopes contain a tender, corn based dough wrapped around the filling of your choice. Most often they are stuffed with savory meats like pork or chicken, but they can also be made vegetarian, or even turned into sweet desserts!

Why I Love This Recipe

Packaged like a small gift waiting to be unwrapped, tamales are one of Mexico’s most popular party foods. There are many steps involved in tamal-making, but the process is actually easy.

EXPERT TIP: Host a tamalada (tamal-making party) and gather a few friends to help with the assembling.

When it comes to the holidays, I can use all the help I can get. This easy recipe for green chile chicken tamales uses two of my favorite shortcuts: instant corn masa mix and rotisserie chicken!

Traditionally speaking, making tamales from scratch is a pretty laborious process. Making masa, the tender corn dough that encases your filling, requires a process known as nixtamalization where the dried corn kernels are soaked in an alkaline solution for upwards of 8 hours. The corn is then ground into masa, and only then can you begin the process of making tamale dough.

Luckily for us, modern Mexican ingenuity has figured out how to dehydrate masa and sell it in bags like flour. This instant corn masa mix means we can make the tamale dough in basically no time at all.

In addition, using rotisserie chicken means this easy tamale recipe is simple enough for knocking out in under an hour. How great is that?? Of course, you can feel free to use any other cooked and shredded poultry you like – my poached shredded chicken, oven roasted chicken breasts, or chicken tinga recipes are all great places to start.

You can also make them using your leftover Thanksgiving turkey, which is an excellent way to upcycle your bird. If you opt for using roast turkey or rotisserie chicken, don’t forget to squeeze every last bit of usefulness out of the bird by making homemade stock.

Once assembled, these delightful and comforting treats can easily be frozen for future use. Feel free to stock your freezer with a bunch of delicious, pre-made meals. Or share the love and gift them to your nearest and dearest!

Have I convinced you to make these easy chicken tamales yet? Good. Let’s get started!

Special Tamale Ingredients & Where To Find Them

Tamales are a delicious and traditional Mexican dish, so you’ll easily be able to find any of these ingredients at your local international market or supermercado. Here are the three special tamale ingredients you’ll need to procure:

  • Instant Corn Masa Mix (Masa Harina) – Sold in a bag like flour, this stuff is a staple in any Mexican American kitchen. Once you buy a bag of instant corn masa mix, I have a feeling you’re going to fall in love. You can use it to make everything from these delicious tamales to yummy sopes, deliciously chocolatey champurrado, warm and cozy atole… The options are endless. It’s also super inexpensive, which is yet another reason to love this recipe.
  • Corn Husks – Mexican style tamales are wrapped in corn husks, but other cultures use banana leaves. Either will work for this recipe. Again, this is a very inexpensive ingredient.
  • Salsa Verde – If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, I’m sure you’re familiar with my obsession with homemade salsa. Tamales verdes are one of my favorites, so I usually reach for some of my homemade salsa verde (which can also be frozen), but you can feel free to swap in your favorite store bought version instead.

How To Make 

I know it might look like there are a lot of steps to making these gorgeous roasted chicken tamales, but don’t be intimidated. Making my easy homemade tamales takes just 30 minutes of active time! Here’s how you do it:

Prepare Ojas (Corn Husks)

Soak corn husks in water for at least an hour before using, and then 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 them in water while filling the chicken tamales. Place a handful of wet corn husks in a colander to drain a bit before using.

Note: they don’t need to be dry, you just don’t want them to be dripping when you assemble the tamales. Also, feel free to soak the husks up to overnight if you want to get an early start in the morning.

Make Chicken Filling

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often until translucent – about 2 minutes. Next, add garlic and stir for an additional minute.

Add shredded chicken and salsa verde. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over medium-low for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring continuously to keep it from sticking to skillet. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Make Tamal Dough

Dissolve bouillon in a bowl of hot water and set aside. In a stand mixer, whip the lard till fluffy, scraping sides so the lard stays in the center of the mixing bowl. (The flat beater is the ideal accessory for mixing.) Add masa harina and baking powder and mix. Slowly add broth and mix until combined.

woman's hands rolling in one side of a corn husk to wrap a homemade tamale.

Assemble

Place the wide end of the husk on the palm of your hand (the narrow end should be near your fingers). Starting at the middle of the husk, spread 2 tablespoons of the masa dough 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.

Spoon 1½ tablespoons of the chicken filling down the center of the masa. Fold both sides of the husk 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 or baking twine 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.

oval shaped green plate with a stack of chicken tamales still in their husks with a side of salsa verde to the side.

Steam

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, placing the folded side against the sides of the other tamales to keep them from unwrapping during steaming. Cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid.

Set heat on high and bring to a boil, letting it cook for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Refill steamer periodically with water so tamales do not burn. Keep lid on tightly. To test if they are done, place one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.

EXPERT TIP: Place a penny at the bottom of the pot – when you hear the penny rattle, that means the water level is low and it is time to add more water to the steamer.

Instant Pot: Want to steam tamales in your Instant Pot? Follow these instructions.

overhead shot of chicken tamales stacked vertically in a terracotta colored roasting pan with a bowl of salsa verde on the side.

Serve!

Warm some extra Salsa Verde in a small saucepan to drizzle over tamales. Feel free to garnish with a dollop of guacamole salsa or crema. Enjoy!

More of a visual learner? You can watch the tamal-making video here.

homemade tamales on a wooden board with one unwrapped and drizzled with salsa verde.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I freeze tamales?

Heck yeah you can! This is one of my favorite parts about making tamales – they are THE BEST for meal prep. Make them up to the point of steaming, then place in zip top bags; they should last in the freezer for up to 6 months. To reheat, simply steam as suggested in the recipe.

Do I have to use salsa verde?

Nope! Green chile chicken tamales are one of my favorite flavor combos, but you can feel free to use whatever style of cooked salsa (read: NOT pico de gallo style) that you like.

Why do you wrap them in corn husks?

This is the way tamales have traditionally been made in Mexico. The husks act to protect the dough and filling while the tamales steam, and are an excellent use of the whole corn plant. If you prefer, feel free to substitute banana leaves; just know that they will impart a bit of a different flavor on the resulting tamales.

Can I make vegetarian tamales?

Sure! Instead of lard, opt for using a plant based shortening. Then fill with your filling of choice of stuffing. I’m a big fan of cheese and roasted chiles, or zucchini and corn.

More Tamale Recipes

And if you’re not quite ready to tackle making homemade tamales yet, give my adorable Tamale Shaped DIY Christmas Ornaments a try instead!

If you make this recipe for Easy Chicken Tamales with Salsa Verde, 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.

latina blogger holding a painted terracotta roasting dish filled with chicken tamales stacked vertically for steaming.

 

terracotta plate with chicken tamales verdes and a silver fork.

Roasted Chicken and Salsa Verde Tamales

5 (1 rating)
This is the perfect stress-free rotisserie chicken and salsa verde tamales to prepare during the holidays. With Thanksgiving around the corner these tamales can also be made with leftover shredded turkey. Packaged like a small gift waiting to be unwrapped, tamales are one of Mexico's most popular party foods. There are many steps involved in tamal making but the process is actually easy. Host a tamalada (tamal-making party) and gather a few friends to help with the assembling.

Ingredients

Instructions 

FILLING:

  • Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir for an additional minute.
  • Add shredded chicken and salsa verde. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring continuously to keep it from sticking to skillet. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

PREPARE OJAS (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.

MAKE MASA:

  • Dissolve bouillon in a bowl of hot water and set aside. In a stand mixer whip the lard till fluffy, scraping sides so the lard stays in the center of the mixing bowl. (The flat beater is the ideal accessory for mixing.) Add masa and baking powder and mix. Slowly add broth and mix until combined.

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 1½ tablespoons of chicken 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 to 2 1/2 hours. Refill steamer periodically with water so tamales do not burn. Keep lid on tightly. To test if done, place one tamal on a plate and take off the corn husk. If it comes off without sticking to the tamal they are done.

TIP:

  • Place a penny at the bottom of the pot, when you hear the penny rattle that means the water level is low and it is time to add more water to the steamer.

Serve:

  • Warm some Salsa Verde in a small saucepan to drizzle over tamales. Or drizzle tamales with Guacamole Salsa.

Notes

  • You can make masa, dough made from ground corn, but this recipe is made with corn masa flour, which is easier to find.
  • More of a visual learner? You can watch the tamal-making video here.
  • EXPERT TIP: Host a tamalada (tamal-making party) and gather a few friends to help with the assembling.
  • Instant Pot: Want to steam tamales in your Instant Pot? Follow these instructions.
Calories: 226.62kcal, Carbohydrates: 13.12g, Protein: 13.91g, Fat: 12.8g, Saturated Fat: 2.99g, Cholesterol: 37.8mg, Sodium: 310.88mg, Potassium: 262.62mg, Fiber: 0.96g, Sugar: 2.74g, Vitamin A: 283.19IU, Vitamin C: 2.25mg, Calcium: 35.85mg, Iron: 1.6mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks 
Originally published: November 2017.