Until taking time off to go to travel in Mexico and visit her grandmother in Nayarit, Alice Huerta worked as our sous chef at Tacolicious Valencia. Today she’s back at the restaurant working as a server (hey, you can’t argue with the allure of tips), but she still cooks in her spare time. Alica just returned from Visalia, her hometown, where she, her sister Lucy, and her mom Xochitl, whipped up over 100 tamales for the holidays. She shared her recipe. This is the kind of recipe that demands friends and family. Do not try this at home alone!
Chicken Tamales Estilo Nayarit
Makes a ton (like 100? ask Alica)
Three 8-ounce packages of corn husks
5 pounds prepared masa (from La Palma if you live in SF)
3 cups manteca (lard)
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 whole boneless skinless chicken breast
3 dried chiles California
3 dried guajillo chiles
2 pounds tomatoes, sliced in half
3 cloves garlic
1/2 yellow onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
kosher salt to taste
3 inch long carrot sticks (one for every tamale)
Rajas de jalapeno en escabeche
Soak in hot water to make pliable.
Mix the masa, manteca, chicken broth, and salt to taste. (Alica’s mom uses a hand mixer.) To check if there is enough manteca in the mixture, she drops a bit into a glass of water and if it floats, it’s ready.
Bring a pot of water to boil and reduce to a simmer. For added flavor, throw in some onion, garlic and salt. Add the chicken and simmer for about 45 minutes, until cooked all the way through. Remove from water, let cool, and shred.
Remove seeds from the chile California and guajillo chiles. In a small pot of simmering water, cook until soft. Remove the softened chilies from the water and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut-side down, and roast until slightly charred and soft. Remove from the oven and let cool. To a blender, add the tomatoes and chiles, as well as the garlic, onion, cumin, dried oregano, ground pepper, and salt to taste. Blend until smooth and set aside. Over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Add the chicken to the pan and combine with the blended sauce. Cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry.
Take some of the soaked corn husks and tear them to make long strings. The strings will be used to tie the tamales. (Take care not to make them too thin or else they will rip when you attempt to tie the ends.)
Set up your tamale-making making station. It should include the masa, whole corn husks and strings, chicken in sauce, carrots, jalapeños, and olives.
Gather your friends and give them something alcoholic to drink. Now start the process of assembling the tortillas. Take a corn husk into the palm of your hand and spread about a 1/3 cup of masa into the center of the husk with a big spoon or spatula. (It really depends on the size of the husks because they vary in size, so you must portion accordingly.) Next, add about 2 tablespoons of chicken into the center of the masa. Be sure not to spread it out. Then, add your carrot stick, a raja of jalapeño, and an olive or two. Lastly—but definitely the trickiest part—tie the ends: To do this, roll up the tamale by taking one side and folding it over the filling. Then take the other side and fold it over so it closes. Take the corn husk string and make tight knots on both ends—tight enough so the masa and all the other goodies stay in. (To watch a really awkward video hosted by a woman with very curled hair about how to fill and tie a tamale, check out Saveur’s right here.)
Next pile the tamales into a steamer with water in the bottom and cook on medium to low heat for about an hour. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate and warm in a steamer when you’re ready to eat.
Give to all of your friends for the holidays!