Red Chile Turkey Tamales

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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 5 hr 30 min
  • Active: 1 hr 45 min
  • Yield: about 24 tamales
Making tamales can seem like a big project, but the delicious result is more than worth the effort. If you plan ahead, you can cook the turkey in red chile sauce the day before and assemble and steam the tamales the next day. This recipe is also a great way to use up leftover turkey — you'll need about 4 cups of shredded turkey and 5 cups of broth, either purchased from a store or homemade from the turkey carcass.


For the Turkey and Husks:

For the Chile Sauce:

For the Dough:


  1. Cook the turkey: Combine the turkey, chicken broth, onion, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and 1 tablespoon salt in a large wide pot. Add 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and gently simmer, partially covered, until the turkey is tender but not falling apart, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (skim off any impurities from the surface periodically). Remove the turkey to a platter to cool. Strain the broth and discard the solids. When the turkey is cool enough to handle, shred the meat, discarding the skin and bones. Reserve the broth and meat.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse the corn husks and place them in a large pot. Add water to cover, then place a plate on top to keep the husks submerged. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat and let the husks soak, covered, until softened, at least 1 hour.
  3. Make the chile sauce: Remove the stems and seeds from the guajillo and pasilla chiles, keeping the chiles in large pieces. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat; add the chiles and toast briefly until slightly darkened, about 30 seconds per side. Add enough water to cover the chiles and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat; add the onion, cover the pot and let sit until the chiles have softened, 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Transfer the chiles and onion to a blender; discard the soaking water. Add 1 cup reserved turkey broth, the garlic, vinegar, cumin, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Puree until very smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Dry the chile pot. Add the vegetable oil and heat over medium heat. Add the chile puree carefully (it might spatter) and simmer, stirring, until darker in color, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded turkey and another 1 cup turkey broth. Simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens and coats the turkey, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, make the dough: Beat the lard, baking powder and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium low and add the masa harina, 1 cup at a time, until fully combined. Gradually pour in 3 cups of the turkey broth, then increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy and the texture of peanut butter, 3 to 4 minutes. The dough should feel moist but shouldn’t stick to your hands. If the dough is too dry, beat in up to 1/2 cup more broth; if it’s too sticky, add more masa harina, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  7. Assemble the tamales: With the wide end of a corn husk facing you, spread 1/4 cup dough into a 5-inch square with a spoon or offset spatula, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the bottom edge. Place 2 tablespoons of the turkey filling in a log down the center. Fold in the sides of the husk to enclose the filling and then fold in the narrow end of the husk, leaving the other end open. Repeat with the remaining husks, dough and filling.
  8. Steam the tamales: Set up a deep steamer basket in a large pot filled with 2 inches of water. Arrange the tamales standing up (open-ends up) in the steamer basket. Cover and bring to a boil. Steam over medium heat until the tamales are cooked through, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. To test for doneness, remove a tamale from the steamer and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes; if it unwraps without sticking to the husk, it’s done. Let the tamales cool slightly before serving.