From cookbook Peppers of the Americas, Chef Maricel Presilla presents a big tamal pie filled with chicken in chile ancho adobo, which is a beautiful, time-saving, and practical way to enjoy tamales.

“A big tamal (or tamalón) wrapped in banana leaves and baked in the oven is practical because it saves cooks the trouble of wrapping dozens of individual tamales. It is also a thing of beauty—a spectacular way to showcase the elegance of an ancestral food cooked in the embrace of banana leaves and unveiled at the table. As you open the package, the musky aroma of the charred banana leaves mingles with the sweet scent of corn and the earthy aroma of the adobo, awakening the appetite. I like to use a handsome terra-cotta-colored earthenware baking dish, like a cazuela, which you will find at kitchenware and gourmet shops that sell Spanish ingredients and cookware.” -Maricel E. Presilla

Reprinted with permission from Peppers of the Americas: The Remarkable Capsicums That Forever Changed Flavor by Maricel E. Presilla, copyright © 2017. Published by Lorena Jones Books/Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography credit: Romulo Yanes © 2017. Click here to purchase your own copy. 


For the Adobo

  • 100 grams (about 6) ancho chiles 
  • 1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled 
  • juice of 2 oranges (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
  • 2 tablespoons achiote-infused oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

For the Chicken

  • 1 (3 1/2 pound) chicken 
  • Kosher salt 
  • freshly ground black pepper 
  • 2 quarts water 
  • 230 grams (1 medium) white onion, cut in half 
  • 1 bunch cilantro

For the Tamal Dough (Masa)

  • 8 cups/1 1/2 grams (about 16 ears) fresh corn kernels 
  • 2 tablespoons achiote-infused oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely minced 
  • 230 grams (1 medium) yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 340 grams (about 4) plum tomatoes or canned plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1 tablespoon crushed or ground hot red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt, plus more 
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth 
  • 1/2 cup whole milk 
  • 1/4 cup salted butter, softened 
  • 1 cup/140 grams fine yellow cornmeal, or more as needed 

Serves 4


  1. Unfold the banana leaves and rinse under cold running water until soft and flexible, handling gently and being careful not to rip them. Pat dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel. Working on a cutting board, use a small sharp knife to cut the leaves into eight 12 by 6-inch/30.5 by 15 centimeter rectangles. If not using immediately, keep the leaves between sheets of damp paper towels or store in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp kitchen towel. 
  2. To make the adobo: Seed, toast, and reconstitute the anchos in water. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid. Add the softened chiles and reserved soaking liquid to a blender, along with the garlic, orange juice, vinegar, cumin, oregano, achiote oil, and salt and process into a smooth puree. Set aside. 
  3. To prepare the chicken: Season the chicken inside and outside with salt and black pepper. Place in a pot with the water, onion, and cilantro. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until just barely tender. Remove the chicken from the broth. Strain the broth and reserve 1/2 cup; refrigerate the remaining broth and save for another use. 
  4. Strip the meat from the bones, removing the skin if you like, and cut the meat into 2-inch/5 centimeter pieces; place in a bowl, pour the adobo over the chicken and set aside to marinate for 1 to 12 hours, refrigerating it if marinating for more than 1 hour. 
  5. To make the dough: Put the corn in a blender or food processer and process into a smooth puree. In a heavy pot, warm the achiote oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until lightly gold, about 20 seconds. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until translucent and golden. Add the tomatoes, cumin, ground hot pepper, and salt and sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the corn puree, broth, milk, and butter and stir to combine. Stream in the cornmeal while stirring continuously and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until thick and creamy. 
  6. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a round 10 by 21/2-inch/25 by 6 centimeter) cazuela or other baking dish with the banana leaves layered in a crosshatch pattern. Spoon in half of the corn dough and cover with the chicken. Add the rest of the dough over the filling and smooth with a spatula. This second layer needs to be just thick enough to cover the filling. Fold the leaves over the top to close. To prevent the leaves from burning, cover with aluminum foil.
  7. Bake the tamal for 1 hour, then remove the aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes more to brown the top and form a delicious crust. If you bake the tamal in a cazuela, do not bother transferring it to a serving plate. Or, transfer it to a large round serving platter or rustic wooden cutting board using two large spatulas. Unwrap the tamal at the table. Slice the tamal into generous wedges or scoop out as you would a spoonbread. Serve with a spoonful of salsa and spoonsful of the pickled onions.