Red Chile Chicken Tamales

These red chile chicken tamales are non-traditional tamales that are easy to make, simple assembly, and canola oil in place of lard.

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In New Mexico, making tamales is a holiday tradition where families and friends gather in the kitchen and spend the day cooking, assembling and steaming dozens upon dozen of tamales. It’s a great tradition with a delicious outcome.  There’s really nothing better than a tamale right out of the steamer. So in keeping with tradition, Bobby and I made two different types of tamales for the holidays this year – Corn, Mushroom and Green Chile and these Red Chile Chicken Tamales.

The tamales we make are not the traditional tamales where the masa is made with lard then layered with a pork filling onto a corn husk.  If you saw my corn, mushroom and green chile tamales from last year you may remember that I replace the lard with canola oil and instead of layering the masa and the filling, I mix them together, making the assembly process A LOT easier and faster.  As a friend of mine said “It all comes together in the mouth anyway.” 🙂

Using canola oil in place of lard has a couple of benefits: the first being just overall health benefits – lard is almost 50% saturated fat whereas canola is less than 10%.  The second benefit is in the texture of the tamales.  It is a little different but different in a good way.  One of the problems with tamales made with lard is that by the time you warm up the leftover tamales, the masa has become somewhat dry and tends to fall apart when you put a fork in it.  This is especially true for tamales that have been frozen.  The canola oil masa prevents this from happening.  We have found that the leftover tamales, even after having been frozen, are just as delicious as the freshly steamed ones in both taste and texture.  The masa stays moist and holds together.

If you’ve never made tamales because you think they are just too much work, then you need to give these a try.  For tamale making – it’s a much easier process, takes less time in the kitchen and the results are outstanding!  Like us, you’ll be making tamales year round, rather than just during the holidays.

Red Chile Chicken Tamales

These red chile chicken tamales are non-traditional tamales that are easy to make, simple assembly, and canola oil in place of lard. #tamales #redchile @mjskitchen

Red Chile Chicken Tamales Recipe
45 mins
1 hr 15 mins
Total Time
2 hrs
An easier than normal red chile chicken enchilada, made with canola oil rather than lard. 

"*" See Kitchen Notes for more information or links to special ingredients.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican, New Mexico, Southwestern
Yields: 18 tamales (about)
Recipe Author: MJ of MJ's Kitchen
Recipe assumes you already have the red chile, the cooked chicken and the chicken stock made.
  • 2 dozen corn husks
  • A flat casserole dish large enough to hold 2 dozen corn husks and hot water
  • Another casserole dish that fits inside the larger one.
  • A steamer large enough to hold 18 tamales
  • A large bowl or mixer for mixing the masa and filling
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 2 cups chicken stock*
  • 1 ½ - 2 cups diced cooked chicken*
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • ½ to 2/3 cup red chile sauce*
  • 1 loosely packed cup grated cheddar cheese
To rehydrate the corn husk
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

  2. Lay the corn husks in a flat casserole dish.  Pour the boiling water over the corn husks.  Place another dish on top to submerged the corn husks.

    A great method for rehydrating corn husks for tamales |
For the masa
  1. NOTE: Mixing the masa and adding the filling can be done manually using a spatula or in a mixer with a flat beater or paddle.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the masa harina and salt. Stir to combine.

  3. Add the canola oil and broth. Mix to combine ingredients.
  4. To the masa add the chicken, onion, red chile sauce and cheese. Mix until filling ingredients are well incorporated into the masa. Your masa mixture should be the texture of a quick bread batter.
To assemble the tamales
  1. Transfer a few of the husks from the water to a plate or bowl. Take one of the smaller, thinner husks and pull lengthwise into long thin strips that will be used for tying up the tamales.

  2. Spread about ½ cup masa mix down the middle of a husk starting at the top edge and ending halfway down the length of the husk. Fold the sides of the the husk around the mixture. Fold the empty half of the husk up, and tie around the middle of the tamales with one of the corn husk strips.
    Wrapped chocolate tamales with port infused cherries #chocolate #tamales @mjskitchen
  3. Continue to assemble the tamales until all of the masa mixture has been used.
To steam the tamales
  1. Add some water to the bottom of a steamer below the steaming rack.

  2. Place the tamales vertically (open end up) in the steamer. Use the extra corn husks to separate and support the tamales. Lay a couple of husks flat on top of the tamales to aid in the steaming process and to prevent water from dripping into the open ends of the tamales.
    A pot of steamed tamales
  3. Cover and steam for an hour*.  After an hour, remove the cover and let the tamales sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove a tamale and test for doneness. If the tamale pulls away from the husk, it’s done. If it sticks to the husk, steam for another 15 minutes and let rest again. (Before reheating, make sure you have enough water in the bottom of the steamer.)

  4. Leave wrapped and covered until ready to eat.
Kitchen Notes

Assembly – Mixing the chicken filling in with the masa saves A LOT of time compared to the traditional method of tamale assembly. If you want bigger tamales, add more masa mixture to each corn husks. Just be careful not to make them too thick. If the tamales are too thick, they will take longer to steam.


Chicken – This is a great recipe for leftover chicken or turkey. If you don’t have leftover chicken, then cook some chicken thighs and/or legs in 5 to 6 cups of water.  Use the cooked meat for the tamales and the chicken broth for the masa liquid.


Chicken Stock - If you don't have chicken stock, you can easily make it using a base like Better Than Bouillon or just use water.


Red Chile Sauce -The amount of red chile sauce depends on how hot the sauce is and how hot you want the tamales to be, but this is where it becomes tricky. The masa suppresses much of the heat from the chile, so it’s best to add more than you think you need. For this batch I use 2/3 cup HOT chile sauce. These tamales are deliciously spicy but not so hot as to require a glass a milk as a chaser.



These red chile chicken tamales are non-traditional tamales that are easy to make, simple assembly, and canola oil in place of lard.


If you don’t make your own red chile sauce or you can’t find it locally, you can always order it online from any of these New Mexico sources:  Chile Monster (Santa Fe Seasons)New Mexico Chile Products (Cervantes Red Chile Sauce), and The Chile Shop (Santa Fe Ole’).  I guess you could use salsa, but if you do, cut back to 1 ½ cups stock when making the masa.  After adding the filling and the salsa, add more water if needed.  A tomato-based salsa could be too watery for these tamales, but since I’ve never tried it, I can’t say for sure.

What is Masa Harina? – Masa harina is a gluten-free corn flour made from corn that has been cooked in an alkaline solution (usually lime or wood ash), rinsed, dried and ground into a flour.  The treated corn is called hominy; therefore, sometimes you’ll see masa harina described simply as ground hominy.

What is Masa? – Masa (Spanish for “dough”) is a dough made from hominy.  Fresh masa is made by grinding freshly cooked hominy.  Fresh masa can usually be purchased at Mexican markets, especially around the holidays.  When fresh masa is not available, you can make masa by adding water or stock to masa harina.


TThese red chile chicken tamales are non-traditional tamales that are easy to make, simple assembly, and canola oil in place of lard.

Recommended serving ideas:

These Red Chile Chicken Tamales freeze very nicely. When ready to use, thaw, wrap in a damp paper towel, and heat in the microwave for 2 minutes and they are ready to go!

Other tamales you’ll love:

Corn, Mushroom and Green Chile Tamales

Black Bean Chipotle Tamales with Spicy Mango Sauce

Red Chile Cheese Tamales


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60 Responses to “Red Chile Chicken Tamales”

  1. Sheila Fuller December 31, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    We had a family tamale-making party yesterday, me being the expert after making them once at home. We added a small bit of additional leftover shredded chicken in some for the added texture. Blame it on all the tamales we’ve eaten that take the longer method of preparation.
    Question. Both times I’ve made them I’ve had trouble deciding when the tamale is “peeling away from the husk.” We steamed for an hour, rested ten minutes, tested, steamed another 15 minutes, tested. The tamale comes away from the husk, but it leaves a small residue on the husk and the tamale appears a bit sticky. Dough not stiff enough? Is it possible to over-steam? However, they tasted magnificent and appeared done inside. We used NM Dixon chile powder to make the red chile sauce and it was wonderful. Thanks for the recipes, Mary Jane! Next time we’re adding chopped roasted green chile.

    • mj December 31, 2015 at 11:39 am #

      Hey Sheila! Happy New Year!! Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! Thanks for your feedback and comments! From my experience, I do find it harder to know when tamales are done when they are made with oil/butter rather than lard. I don’t think these can be over steamed. The trick I have found is when they are done steaming (1 hour to 1.25 hours), to remove the cover and the husks or whatever you used to cover the top, and allow the steam to dissipate. Right out of the steam pot or pulled to soon, they can be “sticky” if still moist from the steam. To really prevent this, after the rest, transfer to a plate and let cool a few more minutes out of the pot. We did the green chile tamales on Christmas Eve. I put two on each plate. The first ones were a little sticky, but the second ones, that had set longer, were perfect and that was after a 1 hour steam.

      Isn’t Dixon chile powder the best? That and Chimayo red are my favorites. Thanks again and Happy New Year!!!

  2. Nettie Moore March 1, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    These look fantastic! I have had such a hankering for tamales! sharing on Moore or Less Cooking Facebook! Nettie

    • mj March 1, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

      Thank you Nettie and thanks for the share!!!

  3. Jodee Weiland January 11, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Wow! These tamales look wonderful! I’ve never made tamales before. We always bought them, but these look too good, so I have to try my hand at tamales soon. Thanks, as always, for showing me something new to try!

    • mj January 11, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

      Thanks Jodee and thanks for sharing this post on G+! I hope you do give these a try!

  4. Charles January 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    I think these look and sound absolutely lovely. It’s not the easiest thing to make here – corn husks can’t really be “bought”, and you can make your own of course, but even buying corn individually isn’t super cheap. Love the colour of them – bet they taste amazing!

    • mj January 11, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      Thank you so much Charles! Yes – I have discovered through others comments that in your area of the world, you can’t buy corn husks. You have to dry your own. Maybe that’s why tamales are so popular here. You can find corn husks just about any where over here so lucky me. 🙂

  5. Bill January 10, 2014 at 5:57 am #

    I’m so glad to find this recipe, MJ. My colleague is married to a guy from Costa Rica and they make tamales for Christmas each year. She was just telling me about it. I love tamales and this recipe sounds fantastic! Thanks for a great post!

    • mj January 11, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

      Thanks Bill! I’m sure Costa Rican tamales are different from these and just as good. You should give tamales a try. They are fun to make and quite enjoyable to eat. 🙂

  6. Nami | Just One Cookbook January 8, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Yeah that’s what my friend told me and invited us over for tamale making! Unfortunately we were traveling and couldn’t make it, but it’s so fun to make with family and friends. Your homemade tamale must be so delicious!

    • mj January 9, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

      Thanks Nami! If you get the chance, you really should join your friends in making tamales. It’s a fun way to pass the time with friends. 🙂

  7. Helene D'Souza January 7, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Happy New Year to you and bobby MJ! =)
    I have never heard of tamale before, completely new to this dish. I like the way it is wrapped in the corn skin or whatever one calls them. Our corn season is during the monsoon, so I will be looking forward to make this in july and august. btw thanks for the shortcut, better like this =P

    • mj January 9, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

      Thanks Helene! And a happy new year to you and yours as well! So glad to have been able to introduce you to a new food. It’s quite common here and we do eat a lot of them. 🙂

  8. Soni January 6, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Happy New Year MJ!These look so delicious with your red chile sauce!! I’ve never made them but I’m dying to taste them! Wish you lived closer 🙂

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      And a Happy New Year to you too Soni! I wish you lived closer as well. It would be fun making these together.:)

  9. bellini January 4, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    Sad to say I have never made tamales MY, but I will be in Mexico soon so I hope to at least have the opportunity to try them.

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      You really do need to try them. Have fun in Mexico!!

  10. Hotly Spiced January 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    What a fun way to cook. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tamale. Nor do I think I’ve ever seen one! I love the presentation – how they’re presented as little presents. xx

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      They do look like little present don’t they? 🙂 Oh, you need to try a tamale. They are SO good!!! You can always order the masa harina and make them yourself. 🙂 I think I like making tamales like you enjoy making cakes.

  11. Donalyn@The Creekside Cook January 3, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    MJ, these look magnificent! I even saved some corn husks from last year’s garden, so I don’t even have to search for them in the store [not a common item here in Upstate NY!] Thanks for the great recipe 🙂

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      Thanks Donalyn! Amazing that you saved your own corn husks! Now you have a use for them. 🙂

  12. Asmita January 3, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    These look delicious! I will have to try this out soon. Wishing you a very Happy New year!

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Thanks Asmita! Happy New Year to you too!

  13. Katerina January 3, 2014 at 3:05 am #

    Beautiful tamale recipe! I wish to you and your family a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year!

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      Thanks Katerina! A Happy New Year to you and your family as well!

  14. Deb January 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    What an irresistible tamale recipe! Love the canola oil alternative! BTW: Lard is also used for tamales here in central California.

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

      Thanks Deb! I’ve actually grown to prefer tamales made with canola oil over lard. Not near as dry.

  15. swathi January 2, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Mj, this tamale looks delicious. I was planning to make tamale for long time. This one is easy. I need to buy corn husks, then I will make it.

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

      Hope you get a chance to make them Swathi! The process is fun and the results – delicious!!

  16. wok with ray January 2, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Tamale is one of my favorite and I drool everytime I see one. I clicked on your link on red chili sauce and that was a super drool. Wishing you and Bobby the best of the New Year my friend. 🙂

    • mj January 6, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

      Thanks for much Ray!!! I love making my visitors drool. He He. Looking forward to sharing and chatting in 2014!

  17. Giulietta | Alterkitchen January 2, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    Happy new year to you, MJ!
    I fell in love with tamales thanks to your Mexican cuisine book, but I’d love to taste yours!


    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Thanks my friend! Sounds like you’re really enjoying that cookbook. YAY!

  18. Nisa Homey January 1, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Gosh! MJ, this looks so yum and I am learning a lot things from you……wish you a very Happy New Year!!

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:14 am #

      Thanks Nisa!…and vice versa!

  19. Anne@FromMySweetHeart January 1, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    Gosh, MJ….I haven’t had a tamale in a long time. And I’ve certainly never tried to make them. I once went to a restaurant that gave tamales filled with white chocolate on your way out. But these look really fabulous….and the presentation is so lovely. Hope you spent a wonderful holiday season with your family. I’m so glad we ‘met’ and I hope you and Bobby have a very happy and healthy new year! : )

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:13 am #

      Happy New Year to you Anne!!! Oh YUM – white chocolate filled tamales. Now those I need to try! Thanks for you comments and looking forward to our continued friendship in 2014!

  20. Carolyn Jung January 1, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Now, that’s the way to start off a new year. Mmm, love tamales. And home-made is irresistible.

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:12 am #

      Thanks Carolyn! Oh yes – everything is better homemade.

  21. Terra January 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I love that you share an alternative for lard. I remember in Tucson how I could buy a crazy amount of lard to easily. Not sure if that delicious lard they used is here in NC…..but either way, I would rather not use it;-) Your tamales look amazing!!! Happy New Year my friend!!! Here’s to an amazing 2014, Hugs, Terra

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:11 am #

      I know what you mean Terra! The Mexican market has stacks upon stacks of lard this time of year. 🙂 I think you’d love the canola replacement. Thanks Darin and hope your 2014 is off to a great start!

  22. Tessa January 1, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    I’ve always wanted to learn how to make tamales! Thank you MJ! Have a wonderful New Year!

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:09 am #

      You are most welcome Tessa and thank you!

  23. Sissi January 1, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Tamales is one of the dishes I have discovered thanks to your blog and which are typical of your cuisine: delicious, extremely exotic (at least for me) and of course spicy! These beauties would look perfect at a party (if I ever managed to find corn husks here – maybe when corn is in season, I should dry some for the rest of the year…. – I would surprise every single guest! Thank you for making me travel again! Happy New Year, dear friend!

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:09 am #

      Thanks so much Sissi! Now there’s a great idea – to dry your own corn husks, and if there is one person I know that would do that, it’s you. 🙂 I would love to be a fly on the wall if you were to serve these to you guests. I bet half of them wouldn’t have any idea what they were eating. 🙂 Don’t you just love traveling through food! Hope you’re having a fantastic start to 2014!

  24. Debra January 1, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Your friend is right. It does just get all mixed up anyway! I love the canola idea.

    Happy New Year!

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:05 am #

      Thanks Debra! For me the canola takes the guilt out of eating tamales. 🙂

  25. Angie@Angie's Recipes January 1, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    wow I wish I could have one now. These tamales look fantastic!
    Happy New Year, MJ.

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Come on down Angie! 🙂 Thanks and Happy New Year!

  26. John@Kitchen Riffs January 1, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    I’m one of those that never makes tamales. And they’re so good! I really need to get my act together and try these. Terrific recipe. Happy New Year!

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Thanks John! Even when they are easy like this, tamales are still something you have to plan for so it’s understandable that you’ve never made them. Ever since I started making them like this, I’ve made them a lot more to where it’s almost like making a quiche. 🙂

  27. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef January 1, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Wow.. I have leftover turkey and I was looking for something really interesting to do with it. I’m making tamales!

    Happy New Year!

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:01 am #

      Thanks Maureen! Oh I love leftover turkey tamales! Let me know when they’re ready and I’ll be there. 🙂

  28. Vicki Bensinger January 1, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Happy New Year MJ. Wow these sound amazing. I have a friend who makes these for Christmas and New Years for her family the traditional way and have asked her if I could watch her make them. However yours sound fantastic and look so perfect. After I crawl out of bed I’m going to get on my PC and print this off.

    Thank you for sharing. I just took 2 weeks off from my blog, now to get back on. I wish you and your family all the best in 2014.

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 8:00 am #

      Thank so much Vicki! If you want to make tamales for the first time, these are a good one to start with. I hope you give them a try.

  29. Ramona January 1, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Happy New Year MJ!! Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous New Year 2014,Thank you for your friendship. 🙂

    I love that these tamales are mixed together… you know I love shortcuts. I could eat a few to tide me over for breakfast. 🙂

    • mj January 2, 2014 at 7:59 am #

      We’re definitely two of a kind Ramona – always looking for the shortcut. 🙂 Thanks!


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