Belizean tamales are a traditional Maya and Mestizo food. In northern Belize, in Corozal and Orange Walk Districts tamales come in two varieties: “Collado” and “torteado”. This recipe is for the toredado tamales. In Western Belize there is a third variety of tamales called “bollos” (Source: Endevora Jorgenson). There is a also a variety that closely resembles the more typical Mexican tamale which in Belize is called a “tamalito”. I can still hear the bicycling tamelito man’s horn and hawking: “Tamalitos!…Tamalitos!…Aqui Estan Los Tamalitos!”.
Unlike the typical Mexican tamale, Belizean tamales are not wrapped in corn husks but are instead wrapped in plantain or lacking plantain, banana leaves. This recipe might be a little difficult to make properly State side but it has been done. The accompanying images were made in Michigan in the dead of winter. It can be done.
Belizeans pride themselves with their individual take on the tamale. Some like lots of sauce, others like a little, some like it so spicy it makes you cry, others like a lots of chicken. Tamales vary in Belize by maker. My aunt makes them for sale still, and she prides herself with the quality of her sauce and the large portions of chicken in each tamale. We’ll leave those choices up to you.
For Belizeans making tamales is often a community effort. Making Belizean tamales is very labour intensive and often Belizean women will gather together to make dozens of tamales for a special occasion, a wedding or a funeral, or a birthday party or sometimes to sell to neighbors.
How To Make Belize Style (Belizean) Tamales
First Things First:
A Short Lesson on Belizean (Mayan) Names for Tamales Ingredients
- The Special Tamale Filling Sauce is called “Cull”. We found that cull is sometimes spelt “col”, it’s a Mayan word (Ibid). Cull is a thick red gravy and is a chicken stock and recado seasoning based sauce.
- Where “masa” is not available Belizean tamales are wrapped in corn dough made with maseca brand corn flour, water, salt, oil or fat ie. lard.
- Red Recado, is the red variety (there is also a black recado, commonly used in soups chimole and relleno) of Belizean (Mayan) “curry” of spices. Recado is made of a combination of several dry spices and fresh annato seeds (thus the red coloration), fresh garlic and onion which are ground together to form a paste. Recado is often sold in Belize as a slightly moist ball about the size of a quarter or shilling. Belizean recado is nearly impossible to find State side. If you contact us we can special order Belizean recado…
Belizean Tamales Ingredients
- Plantain leaves (3 packages) or foil often can be found frozen from Philippines, in Los Angeles we recommend looking in Thai, or Pacific Islander focused grocery stores for plantain or banana leaves. They are out there…)
- Corn Dough
- Chicken (quartered whole chicken, but other meat can be substituted: pork or beef most commonly.)
- Green peas
- Habanero slices (We recommend slices in case you get a super-hot pepper and wan to be able to pick out the peppers, dice at your own risk.)
- Chopped green sweet peppers
- Tomato slices
- Onion slices
- Chopped cilantro leaves
How To Assemble Belizean Tamales
Tamale Shell Ingredients (for the corn dough only)
- 4 pounds – Maseca Corn Flour for making masa
- water about half gallon…more or less
- 2 cup – Corn Oil or Manteca (pork fat)
- 2-3 tsp – salt (salt to taste)
How To Make Masa (Corn Dough):
- To maseca flour add salt and oil and slowly add water to make a thick mound of corn dough. Corn dough needs to be soft and spreadable but not sticky. Too much water will make it difficult to form a nice fist size ball of dough. Four pounds of maseca makes about 25 to 30 corn dough shells.
- Tamale leaf sheets are prepared by soaking plantain leafs into boiling water till soft and pliable.
- Leafs are removed from boiling water and wiped dry with a cloth. They should be cut into 12×12
I. The Belizean Tamale Filling
How To Make Cull & How To Prepare the Chicken Filling For Belizean Tamales(made after the chicken has cooked)
- 1 whole chicken cut up into 10 pieces
- 2 lbs pork ribs cutup into 1-2 inch pieces
- Red Recado seasoning about a 4-6 tablespoons (the amount determines the color of the cull…if you want it very red just add more recado other wise your cull will be pale red in color.)
- 6 plugs garlic
- About 6 oregano leaves
- About 6 allspice seeds
- About 6 Apazote leaves if vailable
- 1 tablespoon whole pepper corn
- 1 tablespoon chile molido (ground cayenne pepper if you want it a little bit spicy.)
- About 3 tablespoon chicken broth powder Consomme de pollo
- 1 Chopped up onion
Belizean Tamale Cull and Chicken Filling Cooking Instructions:
- Prepare chicken by washing well with a diluted mixture of lime juice or vinegar in
- Rub Ricardo and other seasonings on chicken add salt and black pepper or red ground cayene
pepper to taste.
- Brown chicken with onions or if you are in a hurry skip this step and put everything in a a big pot where you will add about 4 quarts of water as if you were going to make chicken soup.
- Add water, cover, and stew meat until tender.
- Remove meats from pot and proceed to strain soup before the next step of making cull.
- You strain the soup to remove your spices so the cull is smooth.
- To the collected strained soup you will add a blend of maseca paste to thicken it.
- The paste is just about 1 pound of Maseca to which you add water to make a thick paste.
- The paste is added to the soup which is on the stove. As you add the paste you stir vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. The goal is to get a a gravy of a nice thick but flowing consistency. Tip: Like condensed milk.
- Keep stirring the cull/gravy till it starts to boil. After boiling gently for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
- Allow the Cull (gravy) to simmer. Tip: Do not allow the cull to thicken to much.
How To Prepare the Belizean Tamale Corn Dough Shell
- Blend corn maseca powder, corn oil/fat, salt and water to form a thick dough which is
spreadable but not sticky. Form fist size balls.
- Flatten each corn dough ball with the Maricona (a tortilla press, commonly a molded aluminum apparatus which squeezes the corn dough into a perfectly flat sheet with a totally consistent thickness) or just your hands as if to make a tortilla
- The easiest way is to place corn dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and spread it out with your finger tips to make a thin flat tortilla. Remove upper layer of plastic and invert tortilla over unto a laid out tamale plantain leaf sheet.
Add 2-4 tablespoons of cull/gravy to mixture spread it into tortilla circle and place choice bits of chicken and pork meat, add chopped cilantro leaves, chopped green peppers, onions, green peas, tomato slices, and hot habanero pieces.
- To wrap tamale bring 2 sides together as if gift wrapping a package.
- You may use butcher string to hold package together.
- Stack packages in a large steamer pot. When full add enough water to steam tamales for one
hour. If you do not have a steamer you need to need to make a rack of some sort so tamales
packages can be placed to enhance steaming.