Fiery Tamales

For Cinco de Mayo, I decided to tackle a recipe I have been wanting to try for a while now: tamales.

Of course, I used some serious shortcuts. I made stewed chicken in the slow-cooker for my filling. I bought a tamale kit that included masa mix and corn husks. For a labor-intensive recpie like tamales, shortcuts are your friend.

1 tamales kit (alternatively, purchase corn husks and masa ingredients separately)
3-4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 jar of prepared salsa (I used Rick Bayless’ Chipotle Salsa)
1 cup shredded cojita or cheddar cheese
Optional fixins- sour cream, extra salsa, avacado, cilantro, lime
Serve with beans or rice

Step 1:
Add boneless chicken thighs and jar of salsa to slow-cooker. Cook on high for six hours if frozen, low for four hours if thawed. When finished cooking, shred chicken with two forks and discard extra liquid.  You will probably want to do this ahead of time- I started my chicken cooking at lunch so it would be ready for dinner prep, but you could even do it a couple of days ahead and refrigerate.

photo 3 (1)

Shredded chicken

Step 2:
Prepare masa according to package or recipe. Lay out corn husks- soak if necessary


Tamale assembly line

Step 3:
Spread about a third of a cup of masa on each corn husk, then top with shredded chicken and cheese. Roll up:

Step 4:
Arrange tamales in a steamer basket standing up on folded end with water simmering at the bottom of the pot. Steam for 60 minutes.

photo 4

The beautiful finished product (before I cooked them to death)

Step 5:
Top with sour cream, salsa, and avacado and enjoy!

Unfortunately, things did not go quite so easily for me. I didn’t have a steamer, but I did have a steamer basket that came with my rice cooker. I figured it was made for cooking and was probably silicone, so it could withstand heat. This assumption proved incorrect.

I put a ring of tinfoil at the bottom of a large pot, filled with about an inch of water, then added the steamer basket on top to set the tamales in. Knowing it would cook for an hour, I left it to go watch a little Shark Tank. I was literally watching this fireman pitch his idea for a device that would shut off an emergency sprinkler system when my fire alarm started blaring, and when I walked into the kitchen, I realized that there was a weird smell, and that my pot was full of smoke. I threw the pot outside, and frantically fanned the smoke detector while I assured the security company that there was no fire, just some smoking Cinco de Mayo tamales.

photo 5

FAIL. The melted steamer basket and ruined pot- sitting on the back porch to try to prevent my house from smelling any more like burnt plastic than it already did.

When things calmed down, I took the tamales out of the deformed steamer basket. They looked pretty ok. Like, there was a scorch mark on a couple of them, but I figured they were wrapped in the corn husks so they were probably naturally protected from all of the toxins released by the burning plastic. Plus, I had put a lot of work into these. Plus, I was really hungry. So what did I do? I ate two of them. Did they taste like burnt plastic? kind of. Do I feel sick? Kind of. But hey. I guess that’s what Cinco de Mayo is all about.*

So I learned my lesson- next year I will stick to margaritas.

*I have no idea what Cinco de Mayo is all about.



  1. Those are some good looking tamales. A former (mexican) colleague told me that the old school way to do it when you don’t have a steamer setup is to put enough beer (or soda, no pop) cans in the bottom of the soup pot so that they provide the platform for the tamales to sit on. Then you fill the pot up to about an inch or two below the top of the cans and you have a steamer ready to go. Make sure to put some water in the cans too so they don’t float and dump your tamales in the water.

    Also, most rice cookers have steamer attachments.

    *Cinco de Mayo is about celebrating the birthday of the Mexican revolutionary Philipe Rundblado

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