5.0 from 9 votes

Red chicken tamales

Experience the enchanting flavors of Red Chicken Tamales. Commonly known as Tamales Rojos in Spanish, It is such a popular recipe all across Mexico and has been an integral part of the culture for generations. There are over 300 known types of tamales in Mexico alone with many similarities as well as few differences in the cooking process . Not only are they popular, but also have the benefit of adding options everyone can enjoy. From veggie oriented tamales de rajas, to the meat-lover ones made either with pork, chicken, or beef; you are not short of options.

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Red chicken tamales

These chicken Tamales Rojos recipe is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate. The softness from the masa, mixed with the red sauce, just creates an enchanting experience. It is a recipe with the potential to live in your kitchen forever, once you try it. There is something special about tamales that make them unique and easy to fall in love with. In fact, your kitchen will smell delicious throughout the process. The excitement when you open up a glorious and already cooked tamal is an experience worth having. Lovely!

You will not be short of options when it comes to tamales accompaniments. First of all, there is a very strong preference towards a delicious atole to go along. Enjoying all these flavors at the same time may sound too good to be true, but it is possible. However, let’s just say you’re not into atoles for some reason; well, no need to feel left out. It is also common practice for people to pair them with a cup of coffee. Therefore, it is fair to say options are plentiful to enjoy these delicious Red Chicken Tamales.

Cooking Process

The preparation and cooking process for tamales can be rather long, but the results make it worthwhile. It is a labor of love, yes, but the reward makes this recipe irresistible. The dish has been crafted and enjoyed for generations. There are different ways to go about making them. For instance, the tamales cooking process may vary based on the region, the materials used, and personal preference. Overall, It will not disappoint and you will have the opportunity to taste what Mexican cuisine is all about.

YOUTUBE VIDEO tutorial on how to make red chicken tamales

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Red chicken tamales

Recipe by Villa Cocina
5.0 from 9 votes
Course: MainCuisine: MexicanDifficulty: Medium


Prep time


Cooking time


Total time





Tamales rojos is a recipe that is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate. The softness from the masa, mixed with the red sauce, just creates and enchanting experience. This is a unique delicious red chicken tamales recipe that will live in your kitchen forever, once you try it. There is something special about tamales that make them unique and easy to fall in love with.


  • Chicken/broth

  • 4 lbs chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on 

  • Salt, generously

  • Black pepper, generously

  • 2 TBSP Avocado oil

  • 1 gallon water 

  • 1 head of garlic, slice end off 

  • 1 ea onion, quartered

  • 3 ea bay leaves

  • 1 tsp all spice, whole

  • 5 ea sprigs mint leaves, fresh

  • 5 ea sprigs thyme, fresh  

  • 5 ea sprigs oregano, fresh

  • 1/4 bunch cilantro, fresh 

  • Red sauce 

  • 12 ea guajillo chiles

  • 8 ea puya chiles

  • 2 ea ancho chiles

  • 2 TBSP avocado oil  

  • 1/2 ea white onion, roughly diced

  • 6 ea garlic cloves, peeled

  • 1  tsp Mexican oregano, dry

  • 1/2 tsp cumin, whole

  • 5 cups chicken broth, warm 

  • Salt to taste

  • Wrapping 

  • 36 ea corn husk

  • Masa – dough 
  • 6 cups corn masa harina

  • 2 1/2 tsp kosher salt

  • 1 TBSP baking powder

  • 1/2 cup pork lard

  • 1 cup avocado oil

  • 1 cup chili sauce – reserved

  • 3 – 4 cups chicken broth, warm


  • Brown chicken/Broth: Season both sides of the thighs generously, with salt and black pepper. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Sear and brown both sides of the thighs. Do this step in batches, to prevent over crowding the pot. Once the last batch looks good, carefully, pour in the water. Place the rest of the chicken back into the pot. Add the garlic, onion, bay leaves, all spice, cilantro, mint, thyme,  and oregano. Bring to a boil, and remove foam from the surface. Then, lower the heat to medium-low. When it reaches a gentle simmer, cover the pot and allow the chicken to fully cook, about 30 minutes. 
  • Red sauce: remove the seeds, veins, and stem from the guajillos, puyas and anchos. Wipe them clean with a damped paper towel. Cut into smaller pieces and set aside to dry out. 
  • Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the broth and set aside to cool down. Carefully, strain the broth and set aside until needed. 
  • Finish sauce: in a medium sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until slightly softened. Stir in the oregano and cumin, cook for a minute. Add in the prepped dried peppers (chiles) and toast for a couple of minutes. Stir continuously and avoid burning them. As soon as they become fragrant, turn off the heat, and pour in 3 cups of the hot chicken broth. Hydrate them for about 10-15 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, remove the skin and bones from the chicken and discard them. Shred the chicken and set aside until needed. 
  • In a blender, process the hydrated pepper mix until smooth and the chili skin has completely broken down. Allow the blender to do the best job possible. And, if you still end up with big pieces of chili skin, strain the sauce. Place a medium sauce pan over medium heat, pour in the sauce. Pour the additional 2 cups of chicken broth into the blender, swirl to get the last bit of sauce and pour into the pan. Stir and bring up to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat, until it slightly thickens and turns a deeper color.  Remove a cup of the sauce and set aside. Stir in the salt and shredded chicken until well combined. Cook for two minutes just until the chicken reheats. Then allow it to cool down. 
  • Prep Husks: sort through the leaves. Pick medium-large in size, without holes or dark spots (at least, without many.) Soak in warm water for 15-30 minutes, place a plate on top to keep submerged. Rinse, remove corn silk, and drain.
  • Masa-Dough: In a large bowl, mix the corn masa harina, salt and baking powder by hand, until well distributed. In a separate large bowl, beat the lard by hand until smooth, fluffy and turns a whiter color. Will take about 5 minutes. Mix the oil gradually, as you stir continuously. Once fully incorporated, mix in half of the masa mixture. Then, incorporate the other half. By the end it should resemble the texture of wet sand. Knead in the one cup of red sauce reserved. Now, gradually knead in 3 1/4 cups of the still warm broth (could take more or less broth.) And, knead in between additions. When the dough forms a mass, feels very soft, and is fully moistened, knead for 5 minutes. The characteristics we are looking for in our masa dough are: (very soft) softness, keeps a shape, hydration, and very spreadable. Cover with a kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out. 
  • How to easily wrap a tamal (click link) : Step by step, picture and written procedure. 
  • Cook the tamales: You will need a large steamer pot with its rack on the bottom. Pour a generous amount of water inside the pot and stop right before you reach the rack.Turn the heat to medium-high. Cover the surface of the rack with husks. Then make a base with three tamales in the form of a T, open side towards the center.  Lay the rest of the tamales all around, open side up. Place a few husk leaves on top to cover them. Then, lay a damp clean kitchen towel to enclose the leaves. Once it reaches a boil and you see the steam coming up. Cover the pot, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for about 50 minutes to 1 hr 10 minutes, or until the dough is fully cooked. 
  • Check for doneness : Remove a tamal from the pot and let it cool down for 5-10 minutes. Then, unwrap it. They are done,  if it releases easily from the husk, sets up, and does not taste like raw masa. Turn off the heat, keep the pot covered and ENJOY! 

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