Recipe courtesy of Salsa Brava

Achiote Chicken Tamales

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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 6 hr (includes resting time)
  • Active: 50 min
  • Yield: 15 servings
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One 1-pound bag dry corn husks

6 cloves garlic

4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeds removed

4 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeds removed

1/2 white onion, cut into 2 wedges

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

2 ounces achiote paste

Extra-virgin olive oil, for cooking and making masa

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 pounds fresh corn masa

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 pound jack cheese, cut into 1-ounce sticks


  1. For the red chile sauce: Soak corn husks in hot water until pliable, about 2 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, boil garlic, guajillos, pasillas and onion in water until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Blend the vegetables in a blender with 1 cup of the cooking liquid until smooth (see Cook's Note). Strain the mixture, discarding the seeds and pulp.
  3. Heat the canola oil in a saucepan over low heat, then add the flour and cook, whisking, until a roux has formed, a few minutes. Add the chile mixture, then season with salt, pepper and cumin. Cook for an additional 15 minutes. Set aside.
  4. For the achiote chicken thighs: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  5. Mix achiote paste with 3 ounces olive oil by hand until a soft paste forms. Rub chicken thighs with the paste and place in a roasting pan. Bake until cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Chop the chicken into 1/4-inch cubes and mix well with 1 cup red chile sauce.
  7. For the tamales: Mix masa, baking powder, chicken stock and 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil by hand until it is spreadable but still holds its shape.
  8. Spoon about 2 tablespoons masa into the center of the wider portion of the husks, then place 2 tablespoons achiote chicken in the center along with a piece of jack cheese.
  9. Roll up the husk, keeping the top open, and folding the narrower side over to seal the bottom.
  10. Place the tamales, open-end up, in a steamer basket and steam over a pot of boiling water, covered, for 1 hour.
  11. Let the tamales rest for 1 hour, then serve with additional red chile sauce.

Cook’s Note

When blending hot liquid, first let it cool for five minutes or so, then transfer it to a blender, filling only halfway. Put the lid on, leaving one corner open. Cover the lid with a kitchen towel to catch splatters, and pulse until smooth.