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What's a Good Sauce to Serve with tamales?

Happy New Year, Chowhound Chefs!
Here in SF the Mexicatessens specialize in making tamales for the holidays, and I got my share today (chicken). Trouble is, they look kind of bare...like they need some sauciness, some saucing up. Have you got a recipe for a nice simple sauce that would be nice to serve with them?

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  1. Ask for some of the extra sauce they put into the tamales.

    1. I would make a red sauce and a tomatillio green sauce and let the guests decide!

      1. I do, trouble is they are not "nice and easy".

        The tamales that I make, I always make a red and a green sauce for the pork and chicken tamales. The red sauce requires the soaking of three different dried and cleaned chilies, beef broth garlic and seasonings, and etc, stewed and then blended and strained. And the green, the tomatillas stewed in chicken broth cilantro, garlic onions, serranos or jalapenos, etc.

        Both are just killer, but they are not easy....But so worth it, beacause everyone always comments on the sauces.

        11 Replies
        1. re: chef chicklet

          Well, don't tease me, easy is nice but I'm game, what are your recipes please?!

          1. re: niki rothman

            Sorry I just found this, I'll post it tomorrow -are you serving these this weekend?

            1. re: rosweed

              Rosweed and NIkki, I apologize all over the place that I did not get back to you. Three birthdays for my son, grandson and husband, in a row and the news that I will be planning an event for a client.
              I really try to find any past post that I previously contributed to and then respond, but this one did not come back or I simply missed it.

              My tamales recipes are the red for the pork and green for the chicken. I have worked and worked on them and made them succesfully for years tweaking them every now and again. Thare are handwritten and I cannot find them. I made them during the holidays so they are here in my office. I will locate them today or recreate and post the recipes for my version of:
              Spicy Pork Colorado Tamales with rich red sauce
              Chicken Tamales with Tomatillo and Cilanto
              I will surely find it. I better.

              1. re: chef chicklet

                You are fabulous. As an ex-Californian, now in Brooklyn, the tamale cravings are reaching epidemic proportions. I made some pretty great pork shoulder tacos with homemade tortillas and mango/pineapple/jalepeno salsa. WOW. Pretty good while I wait.


                1. re: rosweed

                  Well I tore my house apart, bugs me when I lose my precious recipes. Dang I sure hope that I didn't throw them out.. Anyway, I began to rewrite them last night. I have made them so many times I can do that. I'll have the recipes done before eod. Tamales are wonderful little concoctions. I know some prefer them dry or with a vinegar sauce (I've never seen that, could be good) but mine are saucy because that's the way we like them. I use prepared masa, a great brand we have here, called Margarita's it is white corn and I then just add homemade chicken broth, and it like a dumpling. They are definitely the best right out of the steamer!
                  Thanks for understanding.
                  Ohhhhh, I love the sound of your tacos the salsa sounds very good with a spicy pork taco!
                  getting hungry!

                  1. re: rosweed


                    Well I began to write the recipe down from memory and I just couldn't stand it, so I started making the Red Tamales for my family too. The recipe came about from a friend at work, she and her husband are Mexican, 2nd generation Californian's and their Grandparents and parents moved here years ago from a little village in Mexico.
                    We started very early in the morning that day. We made Red and Green Tamales on the stove top. Refried beans (real ones with lard)and bacon, Red Spanish rice,a gorgeous fresh ensalade. But what was so great was that his Grandmother sent to us fresh homemade corn AND flour tortillas!! We drank Mexican Beer and listend to a tape cassette- haha) that taught "proper" Spanish. It was so memorable, and such good tamales. Over the years I've changed them a bit and I'm sure you'll put your own stamp on them. I think they are now better and much hotter for sure. You will have people that will tell you, "I like the red", and others that will say, "I like the green", so invariably you will make both!
                    I start often with a frozen pork butt, just because I will get inspired and I'm impatient. It's a two day process, but I don't care it's well worth it. The pork has to cook awhile, and even if you use one that is not frozen. It needs to braise at least 8 hours to get the best results for flavor and tender pork bites. yum. Makes great burritos, or a nice landing for a tostadas etc.
                    So here it is,enjoy, and the Chicken with Tomaatillo Cilantro Sauce for Tamales will follow in the next day.

                    Spicy Pork Chili Colorado Tamales- Makes about 45

                    Put half of the folling seasonings, herbs and aromatics,into the bottom of a crockpot setting on high: onions and etc. on the bottom of the crock pot or your pot.
                    The other half will go on top, i do it this way to ensure flavors get to the bottom of the pork roast while it begins to cook the first few hours since its frozen.
                    You will need:
                    1 5 lb bag of premade Masa and 3 bags of Ojhas or cornhusks
                    4-5 lb Pork Butt or whatever cut you prefer bone or not.
                    1 Large (huge)Onions White or Yellow
                    6 Large Cloves Garlic – Sliced – they break down
                    Chicken Broth – Use homemade broth or canned, 2 Serrano Chilies – Seeds and membrane left in chop fine.

                    Best done the night before, put into a crock pot –and on the bottom, 1T olive oil, 1⁄2 of the onion sliced, 3 cloves of garlic sliced, 1T Mexican Oregano crushed in your palm, 1tsp dried basil, 1 T onion powder,1T garlic powder, 1 1/2 T ground cumin,1 T Knorr’s Caldo de Pollo

                    Add the pork butt. 1/2 cut up stalk of celery, the other half of the onion, the same measurements for the dry spices, only not the cumin, and add 6 cups of chicken stock.The aromatics, place on the top the tomato chopped coarsely along with the chopped serranos.

                    You can use whatever combo, this is mine.
                    Dried Chilies – wash them well, remove all the seeds and membranes
                    3 Ancho
                    4 Pasillas
                    4 Guajillo
                    4 T ground California Chilie

                    3-4 cups of the broth from the pork to soak the dried chilies. Soak for about 45 minute or until really nice and soft/pliable.You don't want any pieces left in the sauce.
                    This stuff can be messy, be careful to let it cool first.Then using a ladle, put into a blender,(cover it with a towel) add the now pliable chilies and 2 cups of broth, whirl, add more broth adding 2 Tables of ground chilie powder to the chilies. 2 cups of tomato puree, blend. Keep adding chilie powder until you like the consistency. Should be on the thick side, a thick darkish sauce.( This is like the mother sauce to add to the pork broth. Run the chilie sauce through a sieve,then add the chipotle pepper,blend, then 2 small cans of Salsa Casera and blend again.
                    Set aside to cool it will naturally thicken as it cools.

                    Once the pork is done, remove it from the crock pot – strain the broth through a fine sieve or cheese cloth into a bowl,remove the aromatics you only want broth. Put it back into the crock pot, add the chili sauce to the crock pot, to thicken sauce quickly whisk in a little masa or flour and water slurry place heat on high to thicken. Once the sauce is thickened and salt and pepper is to your liking, Place the whole pork roast back into the pot with the sauce until ready to make tamales and turn on low. Or simmer on stove top.
                    The hardest part now, is keeping everyone out of the pot at this point.
                    About 30 minute prior, Soak the ohjas (corn husks) in a cooler using hot water. Push them up and down to remove any dirt. Be sure to give them a little wipe for excess water.
                    Masa – I use pre- made most of the time, there is a good brand here where I live, Margarita's, its lighter in color.
                    Take it out of the fridge to make it easier to work with.
                    Add a little warmed chicken broth to loosen it up and keep it moist.
                    When you are ready to wrap, take two ojhas with the widest part meeting together (glue with a little masa) and place about 2 T masa and smear into a thin rectangle, place the 2 T of saucey pork on the center of the masa roll the whole thing up. Make sure you have torn strips ahead of time to tie the tamales. After they are rolled and tied, I steam them in a Chinese bamboo steamer 2 layers deep. Steam about an hour for the masa to cook all the way.
                    if you've added just enough broth to your masa, they will be fluffy, moist and delicious.
                    Serve hot tamales with Extra Sauce, Cheese, Sour cream, fresh tomatoes, a little red onion chopped fine, and cilantro.
                    I apologize if this skips around, I tried to keep the process in the steps that I take when doing this.
                    But for sure your back will be killing you, but it's well worth the pain, because everyone will love you!

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Please note I made some changes to my own recipe!
                      Omit the tomato puree for a more "chili mole sauce"
                      The other changes I made were: Don't thicken it, and I used almost 3 T of the chili powder. I don't know really how much is changed it from my other recipe, but it is SO GOOD!

                2. re: rosweed

                  Well for some reason this particular thread is not appearing in my chow, or anywhere else when I try to bookmark it. Kind of frustrating...

                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    How about posting it your recipe as a seperate thread?
                    It wouldn't be buried here among the sauce postings.

                    1. re: munch_kin

                      Thanks munch kin,

                      This is a really good topic to discuss. I appreciate the suggestion.


              2. Use a simple warm red and a green salsa with a sprinkle of Anejo (crumbly and light) or Chihuahua Cheese on top.

                1. Hi,

                  I generally do what you do, that is, make red chile sauce to go with. Traditionally (Diana Kennedy as source) I understand a simple tomato sauce is used. I've tried getting a bottle/can of sofrito at my local Mexican market (which in my neck of the woods, Milwaukee) comes without tomato and simply combining with a tomato puree or..... It's very mild and needs a good tamale to flesh it out.

                  1. My favorite way of serving tamales is smothered (not too much though) with Stokes canned green chile w/ pork and some cheddar cheese. It's sort of the trashy, Tex Mex style, but that's what I'm accustomed to being from Colorado.
                    I suppose if you wanted a classier version you could use a better (ie fresher, specialty) type of green chile.

                    1. Maybe you're thinking of American canned tamales?

                      In the Mexican tradition tamales aren't traditionally served in sauce, just with some salsa on the side. Sometimes the filling can be fairly juicy and they don't need anything.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I have to agree with Mr. Lauriston - "In the Mexican tradition tamales aren't traditionally served in sauce..." -although he could have left out his initial remark.

                        But I know that some tamales can be pretty dry so I am with Monku with the extra sauce suggestion.

                        1. re: kare_raisu

                          I mentioned the canned tamales because when I read the original post I remembered having seen huskless tamales in sauce, and it took a while to remember where.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Lord what horrible memories that evokes of college days- about the 28th of most months, I'd be down to slicing up canned tamales and frying the pieces- I;ve forgotten what I used for sauce, fortunately. The 29th, it was a baked potato with mushroom soup on it.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I wasn't intending to reheat them in a big pot of sauce or anything, but I suppose I should have been very, very specific. What I have in mind are sauces to sit in bowls and be passed around so the eater can spoon a bit on the tamale before sectioning off and spearing a piece and inserting in mouth.
                          Maybe a couple of sauces - one red and one green so one could spoon each on successive mouthfuls. Fun, no? After some of the helpful hints here I'm thinking a tomatillo salsa verde, a pico de gallo, and maybe a chipotle red sauce (I've got a can of them in adobo in the pantry).

                          Another question for everyone: do you think tamales would be OK to freeze? Once I tried freezing polenta and the result was a major tragedy - not a tragedy like Iraq, but I had to throw away the polenta (when defrosted, the polenta and the water that had gone into making it reverted to 2 separate entities).

                          And thanks to everybody for the sauce ideas - but how about some specific recipes?

                          1. re: niki rothman

                            Two things here. One, this is probably too late to help you out, but for next time, here's a recipe. Two, in my post above, I feel like the eye witness on the stand who suddenly recants. After searching my 4 Diana Kennedy cookbooks, I can't find, what I swore was there, that is, for tamales, "serve with a simple tomato sauce." Anyway, here's an adaptation of a Kennedy recipe, a green sauce

                            1 lb. of tomato verde
                            4, or to taste, serranos
                            1/2 a white onion (i like onion)
                            and a scant bit of dried epazote.

                            Remove husks. Boil tomato verde till soft. I run the serranos under the broiler to toast slightly, I like the flavor better than the boiling method. Chopped onion, tomato verde, and serranos in to the blender with a bit of the water, till smooth. Fry the sauce, adding salt as needed and epazote, till reduced.

                            The other thing I use for red sauce is Mark Miller's red chile sauce, but you've probably used that.

                        3. I also usually reserve some of the sauce from the filling which is kinda time consuming (toasting, soaking etc various dried chilies)What I have found to be a good accompaniment is a salad/pickle made simply of thiunkly sliced red onion & red cabbage- salted & sugared, then dressed with plain white vinegar and let to sit at least overnite. The purple color really brightens up the plate and the tartness is a nice contrast.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: torty

                            You make an excellent point. I often buy tamales from a local Salvadorean restaurant that serves a lot of items with curtido, a delicious tart cabbage slaw similar to what you describe. But this year I bought my holiday tamales from a Mexicatessen (La Palma on 24th. street in SF).

                            For anyone interested I've duplicated curtido at home and it's a wonderful accompaniment to many Latino food favorites and very easy to make. Shred cabbage as thinly as possible (green in this case - although you're right - purple does sound pretty), grate a small amount of carrots, mince a little onion (I think scallions would be OK too), and add some bruised oregano, salt, and white or apple cider vinegar. Place in the fridge for 2 days, turning the container over to soak the ingredients periodically.

                            1. re: niki rothman

                              Skip the vinegar. Proper curtido is salt only, like real choucroute.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Here in Mexico, it's called *encurtido*. Leave out the vinegar AND the sugar.

                                And skip the sauce when serving tamales. I've lived in Mexico for 25 years and the only tamales I've ever seen served with any kind of salsa (which means *sauce* in Spanish) are uchepos from Michoacán. They're unfilled sweetish tamales made from green corn and are served in a bowl, topped with crema and salsa de chile perón.

                                Yes, tamales freeze successfully. However, don't re-steam them or microwave them to reheat. You can take them straight from the freezer to a hot ungreased griddle, still in their cornhusk wrappers. Let them heat on the griddle till the cornhusks are all but blackened. Unwrap them at table. The tamales will be moist, slightly crisp along the edges, and more delicious reheated than they were when you ate them the first time around.

                                I think the bottom line here is whether you want a Mexican experience of tamales or whether you want something of your own invention. Naturally you get to choose...

                                1. re: cristina

                                  I agree with Cristina. I think if the tamales are good enough they will be able to stand on their own without the help of salsa. The masa (dough) will shine through without salsa. My mom makes a very simple sauce of tomato sauce, diluted with a bit of water, raw onions and oregano. I don't like that sauce, so I prefer my tamales solo.

                                  1. re: cristina

                                    Thanks for the reheating tip, Cristina, much appreciated. Sounds delicious, I have cast iron pans and will be sure to try that!

                            2. I usually use Bufalo Jalapeno hot sauce on mine.

                              1. I have never had traditional tamales served with sauce.
                                I do like MINE with sauce on the side, though. Red or green chile sauce works well. Also you might enjoy a mole sauce.
                                It seems that many confuse salsa (for dipping) with chile sauce.

                                Just do what you think you and your fellow chowhounds at home would like, and don't worry if it is "authentic."

                                1. In Yucatan, it's all about Saucy Tamales. Typically we make a simples sauce made of Roma Tomatoes, Garlic, Onions, Whole Habanero (for flavor) and Oregano. Sautee this all in a pan with some olive oil until they meld. You can leave it chunky, or you can puree it (You can leave the Habanero in or out).

                                  I also love Mole drizzled on my tamales. :) Especially the Cheese and Jalapeno ones... :)


                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Dommy

                                    What about fillings? What else is typical of tamales in Yucatan that make them different? Do you use raisins, or fruit?

                                    1. re: munch_kin

                                      Gosh no! LOL! The filling vary, mostly chicken, turkey and pork in a light 'recado', nothing heavy like Chile Verde or Salsa Roja.

                                      Here's my Yucatecan Tamales 101:



                                      1. re: Dommy

                                        Thank you so much! I am curious about the Mucbil Pollos.

                                  2. Huitlacoche Sauce

                                    1/4 cup olive oil

                                    2 shallots, peeled and minced

                                    1 clove garlic, peeled and minced.

                                    1/4 cup huitlacoche kernels*

                                    1/4 cup corn stock

                                    Salt and pepper to taste

                                    *Canned huitlacoche is available in most Mexican markets.

                                    In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute until translucent, about 10 seconds. Add the huitlacoche and cook until tender, about one minute. Deglaze with corn stock and simmer until reduced by half. Remove from the heat, season, and reserve, keeping warm.

                                    1. Okay, so this might not be something I would do for "company" - but we really like Trader Joe's Mexican Red Sauce. It is far better than any other bottled mexican sauce I've tried, doesn't have corn syrup or any of the nastiness in it, and we really like it. Cheap and good, great for a weeknight. We've tried it with taquitos, fajitas, tacos - you name it.