I love Tamales. They’re possibly my favorite traditional Mexican dish. Unfortunately they’re also time consuming, labor intensive and they involve items you may not keep on hand. The basic ingredients are simple though and if you’re willing to open up your definition of what makes a “tamale” (and I am), you can enjoy something “tamale-like” any time.
I make my Tamale Cake with masa harina. In addition to this recipe, I also started making my own corn tortillas this past year so I’ve been careful to make sure I always have a good supply on hand. Beyond that you only need broth or stock, vegetable shortening (or lard), butter, some seasonings and some kind of filling. You only need about a cup and a half of filling so this technique is great for using up leftovers. You also need a good rice cooker. You want to steam the cake and this really is the easiest way.
Tamale Cake Recipe (Chicken)
For the dough:
1.5 cups masa harina
2 cups chicken broth (hot)
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening (room temp)
2 tablespoons melted butter
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin*
1/4 teaspoon coriander*
1/4 teaspoon paprika*
1/4 teaspoon turmeric*
pinch of dried oregano
pinch of chili powder
pinch of garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
* I’m just guessing here. Make it your own. Season to taste. I don’t measure these things.
For the filling:
1 cup cooked chicken (cut into small cubes)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons salsa or picante sauce
Add the masa harina, seasonings (except salt) and baking powder to a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine.
Add the shortening in chunks and cut it into the dry ingredients. Heat the chicken broth in the microwave and add it to the corn mixture. The dough shouldn’t be runny but still looser than traditional tamale dough. Stir in the melted butter. Taste the dough at this point and add salt as needed. It should be well seasoned and how much you add will depend on your preference and how salty your broth is. I buy low sodium chicken broth so I usually need to add a pinch of salt to get it just right. Place plastic wrap directly on the dough and put it in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes or so while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the filling simply dice the cooked chicken in to small cubes and mix in the salsa.
After it’s had a chance to rest for a bit, get the dough out of the refrigerator and add half of it to the rice cooker’s bowl. Place the chicken on top leaving space around the side and put the cheese on top of that. You may want to press the filling down gently into the dough mixture to make it easier to make the cake level.
Add the remaining dough being sure to cover all the filling and gently smooth the top with a spatula.
Place the bowl in the rice cooker and cook for 45 minutes on the “cake” setting.
When the cake is finished, turn it out onto a plate and serve hot with whatever additions suit your fancy.
And that’s all there is to it. Maybe 15 minutes of prep and 45 minutes of unattended cooking time. Other filling to consider might include grilled steak or braised pork shoulder. As I mentioned previously, it’s a great way to use up leftovers. I haven’t tried it but I’d bet you could also make a tasty vegetarian version using vegetable broth and a filling of seasoned refried black beans and cheese.