Makes 14 to 16 tamales
- 3 ¼ cups corn masa flour for tamales or tortillas, about 1 pound (masa harina)
- 2 3/4 cups chicken broth, plus 1 cup for chicken filling
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste, divided
- 1 cup lard or vegetable shortening
- 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 2 oz or 3 tablespoons achiote paste
- 3/4 pounds, or about 3 very ripe roma tomatoes, cut into chunks
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup coarsest chopped white onion
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Banana leaves, fresh or thawed from frozen, cut into 15 pieces of 10”, plus more for covering the steamer
In a large bowl, combine the masa flour with the chicken broth using your hands, kneading the dough until thoroughly mixed, not “grainy” and very smooth.
Pour 1½ cups water and ½ teaspoon of salt in a large Dutch oven or casserole set over medium heat. Once it begins to simmer, reduce heat to low and add the masa in batches, working it as you do, with the wooden spatula, so it mixes with the water a bit –it wont dissolve, but the water will become thicker and thicker until it is all incorporated – until it is all added and all mixed. Incorporate lard, and work it, with the wooden spatula until it is all incorporated and the masa appears “cooked”, it will smell like corn tortillas and appear to be lightly browning, about 3 to 4 minutes. It will look like very thick potato purée. Remove from heat.
In the blender, add the achiote paste, tomatoes, garlic clove, white onion, oregano, allspice, remaining 2 cups chicken broth, remaining teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper and purée until completely smooth.
Heat the oil in a pot or casserole, over medium heat, once hot, add the puréed sauce, careful because it will splatter, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 8-10 minutes with the lid partially covering, until it turns into a thick sauce that is also darker in color. Add the shredded chicken, stir and continue cooking for 8 to 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is very moist but not too wet –like a sloppy Joe- and most liquid has been absorbed. Set aside.
Turn on a burner on low heat. Slowly, pass each banana leaf over the fire on both sides and set aside (so they will be resilient, malleable and not break).