Costa Rican Tourism Board Shares Recipe for Traditional Tico Tamales

Introducing unique traditions from around the world into your family festivities is a fun way to celebrate the holidays. In Costa Rica, tamales are a must at Christmas time. Ticos gather days beforehand for a tamaleada—an occasion where the whole gang comes together to prepare and cook delicious tamales, making for an excellent activity to enjoy with loved ones. Once the tamales are ready they are served at holiday parties and shared with other families, friends and neighbors.

While tamales are a common dish throughout Central and South America, Ticos have their own twist on the recipe. Authentic Costa Rican tamales include rice, garbanzo beans and potatoes. They can also be made with chicken, beef, pork or a combination of these. For a new take on holiday dinner traditions, invite family and friends over, turn on the festive music and give this traditional chicken tamal recipe a go.

Costa Rican Chicken Tamales Recipe

The recipe below uses two whole chickens, but can easily be replaced with any meat of your choice.


Meat and stock

2 whole chickens, cut into pieces
3 bunches celery, cut in large chunks
2 red bell peppers, cut in chunks
2 onions, cut in slices
2 carrots, cut in large pieces
1 bunch of cilantro
1 bunch of parsley
Fresh oregano and thyme
Salt, pepper, Worchester sauce, annatto paste
1 garlic head


6 cups ground corn masa
6 cups mashed potatoes
250 grams base of ground pork rind
1 ¼ cups pork lard
16 cups stock from the meat
Salt and pepper
3-4 Tbsp complete seasoning
Powdered hot chili pepper (optional)
1 tsp garlic powder

Fillings (your choice)

Chicken meat
Rice cooked with annatto
Garbanzo beans
Sweet whole kernel corn
Strips of roasted peppers
Petit pois
Black beans
Peeled carrots, cut in julienne strips and cooked al dente with salt and sugar
Green beans, cut in pieces and cooked al dente with salt and sugar
Wrap,clean plantain leaves.


In a heavy pot, in oil, fry chicken until golden brown. Then add 20 cups of water, which you will bring to a boil. Once boiling, add vegetables, garlic, Worchester sauce, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat, until chicken is tender. This should yield about 16 cups of stock, but you can add more water if necessary. Shred chicken by hand and reserve stock.

Mix ground corn masa and mashed potatoes together. In food processor, blend pork rind and pork lard with stock and add to masa. Process for a few minutes, until smooth—the consistency should be like a soft porridge. Add complete seasoning.

Cut plantain leaves into 12 inch rectangles. Align the two leaves—one horizontal, the other vertical. In the center of the leaves place a cup of corn masa, a piece of cooked chicken, a tablespoon of rice, 2 olives, 4 chickpeas, 1 tablespoon of corn, capers, raisins, one prune, a little petit pois, green beans, carrots, mashed beans and a slit of roasted pepper. For a vegetarian option, tamales can instead be filled with mashed potatoes, beans and vegetables.

To close the tamal, roll from the center and fold the edges towards the inside. Proceed likewise with the second plantain leaf and securely tie together with butcher’s twine. Line the bottom of a large pot with extra plantain leaves. Fill the pot halfway with water, bring to a boil and add salt. Place tamales in water and cook for 45-60 minutes. Serve warm.

Traditionally, Costa Rican tamales are cooked over a firewood fire to enhance their flavors. Try this method and enjoy your tamal with a cup of coffee for a complete Tico experience.

SOURCE Costa Rica Tourism Board

By: Laura Alvarado, The Costa Rica Star

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