Panamanian Tamales

Total Time:
4 hr 50 min
50 min
Inactive Prep:
4 hr
12 large tamales


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large free range chicken (about 5 pounds), quartered
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced green pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • 1/2 cup sliced Spanish green olives
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 3 cups masa harina (not instant masa)
  • 2 cups lard
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 pounds banana leaves
  • Fried plantain strips, sliced lengthwise, for service, optional


In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and brown the chicken pieces. Add the onions, pepper and celery, and cook, stirring, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, 1 teaspoon of the salt, oregano, coriander, pepper, raisins, capers, green olives and pine nuts. Simmer until the chicken is very tender and the sauce is reduced by half, about 2 1/2 hours. Remove the chicken from the bones; return the chicken to the saucepan and cook until sauce is almost completely reduced; let cool.

In a food processor, combine the masa harina with the lard and salt and mix well. While the machine is running, slowly add the broth until it is fully incorporated. The mixture should resemble a thick cake batter. Cut the banana leaves into pieces about 10 or 12-inches square. Spread 6 tablespoons of the masa along the center of each piece of banana leaf until all of the masa has been used. Add 3 tablespoons of the filling in a line down the center of each portion of the corn masa. Fold the banana leaf up, 1 side at a time, so that the masa edges meet to enclose the chicken filling, and fold the banana leaf into a neat rectangular packet and secure with butcher's twine. Continue this process until all the tamales are wrapped and tied.

Position a steamer basket inside a large pot (such as a stockpot or pasta pot) and line the steamer basket on the bottom with some of the extra banana leaves. Add as much water as possible to the steamer bottom (water should not touch the bottom of the steamer basket). Add the tamales to the steamer basket, cover the steamer, and bring to a boil. Steam the tamales until masa is completely cooked through and tender and tamales are set, about 1 hour. Remove tamales from the steamer and allow to cool briefly before serving with fried plantain strips, if desired.