These tamales are among the most popular tamales in Mexico, particularly in the center of the country. They are also one of the most commonly known tamales in the United States, along with Tamales de Puerco. The word tamal comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli, meaning “wrapped.” Tamales are steamed in a leaf wrapper, usually a corn husk or a banana leaf, but other wrappers include avocado leaves, hoja santa, and other nontoxic leaves found in Mexico.
• Instead of the lard, you can use shortening or even vegetable oil.
• To beat the dough, I usually use a hand mixer, but I use a stand mixer when making a large batch of dough.
• When assembling tamales, cooks do not actually measure out the specific amounts of dough and filling that are added to every husk. Instead, they spoon on the amounts that they deem appropriate, while trying to stay within a consistent range. The amounts used can depend on how much area the corn husk has (they may vary in size), as well as how large the cook wants the tamales to be.
• You can tie the tamales with a strip of corn husk. It is not necessary, but it does help to keep them intact during the cooking process (this is especially true when making larger tamales). Some people use the strip as an indicator when making different types of tamales, only tying one type so that it’s easy to tell which is which without having to open them.
• If you need to add more water to the pot when steaming the tamales, make sure to pour it as close to the wall of the pot as possible, avoiding the tamales. If water gets into the tamales, they will lose their flavor and the dough will be soggy.
• One trick Mexican cooks use is to place a coin at the bottom of the pot underneath the steaming rack. If the water evaporates, the coin will start rattling, letting you know that you need to add more water to the pot.
• Tamales can be frozen in plastic bags for up to 4 months. You can reheat frozen tamales in the microwave for 2 minutes per tamal if they are frozen and 1 minute if they are thawed, re-steam thawed tamales for 15 minutes, or place thawed tamales, with the corn husks still on, in a skillet over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. The corn husks will start roasting, which will add an extra smoky flavor to the tamales. Turn them 2 or 3 times until warm.
- To make the chicken: Place the chicken, onion, and garlic in a large stockpot. Cover the ingredients with water and cook over medium heat for 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Remove the chicken, let it cool, and then shred it with two forks.
- While the chicken is cooking, make the salsa: Place the tomatillos, peppers, and garlic in a large pot with enough water to cover the ingredients. Cook, covered, over medium heat until they are cooked and tender, 15 to 18 minutes.
- Transfer the tomatillos, peppers, and garlic to a blender, and blend until smooth. Season the sauce with the salt and mix with the shredded chicken. Set aside.
- To make the dough: Place all the corn husks in a large bowl with warm water to soak for about 30 minutes; this will help make the husks soft and easily pliable when preparing the tamales. Remove the husks, drain any excess water, and set aside.
- Place the lard in a large bowl and begin to beat it by hand or with a hand mixer until it acquires a lighter color and a slightly fluffy texture. Slowly incorporate the masa harina, baking powder, and warm broth. Continue mixing until all the ingredients are well incorporated, then season with the salt. If the dough looks too dry, add a little bit more broth to it, a couple tablespoons (30 ml) at a time.
- To assemble the tamales, place a corn husk on your work surface with the wide end facing toward you. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons (15 to 30 g) of the dough in the center of the corn husk, closer to the bottom of the husk (the wide end). Using the back of a large spoon, evenly spread the dough toward the left, right, and bottom edges. The dough should reach all the way to the bottom edge (or just before it) but leave an inch (2.5 cm) of space on the left and right sides. Top the dough with 2 tablespoons (38 g) of the chicken filling. Fold the right and left sides of the corn husk in toward the center, overlapping each other and completely covering the dough and the filling. Next, fold the narrow end of the husk up toward the center. Repeat this process for the remaining 35 husks, dough, and filling. I usually line up the formed tamales on a tray as I make them.
- To steam the tamales, place a steamer rack inside a large stockpot. Add enough warm water so that it almost reaches the steamer rack, then line the rack with a layer of corn husks. Place the tamales in the pot in an upright position, with the open ends facing up. Cover them with a generous layer of husks, then cover the pot. Steam the tamales for about 1 hour over medium heat. During the steaming, check the pot to see if it has enough water (be careful when removing the lid), adding more if needed (see Notas). To check if the tamales are ready, remove one from the pot, wait 5 minutes, then open it. If the husk separates easily from the dough when you open it, that means that the tamal is ready. If the dough sticks to the husk, place it back in the pot and cook for 15 more minutes.
- Serve the tamales while still hot; just let them rest for 5 minutes first so the dough can firm up.