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Ancho Chilli Chicken Tamales by Karla Zazueta


Makes 15

Cooks In

1 hour, prep 45 minu



This is a special recipe, perfect for special occasions. The chicken is cooked with an ancho chilli sauce that gives the dish a rich and deep flavour, then the tamal dough is flavoured with chicken stock to make it extra tasty. If you want to make this a vegetarian option, you can substitute the lard for vegetable shortening, we like to use Trex and the chicken stock for vegetable stock. Swap the chicken for fried strips of portobello mushrooms or better yet enoki mushrooms which fit perfectly in the tamal.


To cook the chicken for the filling

Place the chicken in a saucepan along with the tomatoes, roughly chopped onion, garlic and salt, cover with water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the broth and set it aside to cool. Strain the broth into a jug to reserve, also reserve the tomatoes and onion in the strainer. Shred the chicken once cooled. 

To make the ancho chilli sauce for the filling

Clean the ancho chillies, remove the stems and seeds, place them in a bowl, cover with just-boiled water, and place a small plate on top of them to keep them submerged. Soak until soft, about 15 minutes. Then place them in a jug suitable for a stick blender or a blender goblet with the reserved tomato and onion in the strainer. Blend until smooth. Set aside

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the shredded onion. Fry for 3 minutes over medium heat, then add the shredded chicken, pour in the ancho chilli sauce and add half a cup of the leftover chicken broth. Cook for 15 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare tamal vegetable

Slice the carrot, potato into sticks and prepare the olives. Set aside.

Soaking the corn husks

Separate the corn husks and remove any corn silks. Place the husks in a bowl and cover with warm water,  place a small plate on top to keep them submerged. Soak for around 30 minutes, until pliable enough to fold easily. Remove from the water drain and they are ready to use.

To make the tamal dough 

Beat the lard or vegetable shortening in a large bowl with an electric egg beater or mixer, until it changes to a lighter colour. Add the masa harina in three lots, beating in each addition until thoroughly combined, then beat in the chicken stock and salt. To see if your dough is light and fluffy ie aerated, perform the float test by dropping a small blob of dough into a glass of cold water, if it floats it is ready to use, if not place the dough in the refrigerator to chill down, then beat vigorously and repeat the test. The dough needs to be smooth and creamy.

Wrapping the tamales

Take a corn husk and spread on xxx of the dough with a tablespoon to the centre of the husk leaving a 1 cm edge on each side. Add a tablespoon of the ancho chilli chicken filling to the centre of the dough, add a carrot stick, a potato stick and a green olive. Fold one side of the corn husk over the dough, then the other half over, so the dough encases the filling, then fold the top and the bottom side, to make a rectangular parcel. Continue doing this until the dough has finished.

To cook the tamales

In a large pot, place 3 cups of hot boiling water and 1 tbsp of salt. Then place on the bottom a metal steamer basket, line with some corn husks, then carefully place the tamales around. Cover the pot with the lid and cook at high heat for 5 minutes, then low the heat and cook at low heat for 55 minutes more.

To make sure that they are properly cooked, open a tamal and if it removes easily from the husk, then it is ready. Enjoy with some refried beans.