Hallacas Guajiras de Pollo (Chicken Tamales)

This is a recipe for Venezuelan or Colombian style chicken tamales. These are unlike Mexican tamales since they are wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks. If you absolutely cannot find banana leaves (I buy them frozen sometimes and always find them in a Latino market) you can just use aluminum foil to make the packets. That would be a pity, though, because the banana leaves impart their flavor to these in a most appealing way. These are really easy, but a little tedious to make. The tendency is to make them too big, so curb your enthusiasm! Pun intended.

Hallacas Guajiras de Pollo (Chicken Tamales)



Chicken filling:

  • 3 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sazon goya con culantro y achiote or 3 tablespoons ground achiote
  • salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 2 tablespoons capers (rough chop if large)
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, minced
  • 3 tablespoons golden raisins



  • 1 pound yellow masarepa (precooked corn meal – not masa harina)
  • 5 cups hot water
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons achiote oil


  • 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 tablespoon sazon goya, con azafran
  • 1/2 cup water (more if needed)
  • banana leaves or aluminum foil




In a large saucepan, combine chicken, onion, garlic, chopped red and green peppers, green onions, cumin, sazon, salt and water; bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and cook until the chicken is very tender, about an hour (most of the water will have cooked out).  Let cool a bit, then shred chicken, discarding bones and skin.  Place chicken back in the sauce pan and add in the peas and carrots, green beans, capers, minced red bell pepper, and raisins.

Meanwhile, prepare the alinos by placing all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and processing to form a paste; you will only use 1/2 cup of this, but the rest can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for longer storage (it is fantastic in rice, soups, or stews).


Now place the masarepa in a large bowl; add water, salt, 1/2 cup of the alinos, and achiote oil.  Mix with your hands until smooth.


To assemble: On a clean work surface, place a banana leaf, then place another one perpendicular to sort of form a cross.  Spread out about 5 tablespoons (not rounded) in the center and top with 3 tablespoons of the filling.  Make a package by folding up the inner banana leaf, then the other; tie with kitchen string.  This is the proper way to do it, but I usually just use one piece of banana leaf and don’t go crazy with the trying to be neat about the tying.  I wrap the packet in aluminum foil to hold it together anyway.  Also, when you close the packet the masa will sort of form around the chicken to enclose it.  Neat, huh?
Repeat with remaining masa and filling.
Place a steamer basket the bottom of large, covered stock pot.  Place water under the steamer basket.  Stack packets in the steamer basket.  Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and steam, covered, until the masa is tender and cooked through, about 45 minutes.

Makes 30 packets.  Serves 15.

3 thoughts on “Hallacas Guajiras de Pollo (Chicken Tamales)

  1. I love tamales, and really enjoyed this version. I made some with chicken and some with pork. Really loved the ones with pork! Thanks for sharing. Made for Culinary Quest Summer 2014.


  2. Craved tamales so wanted to try your recipe as I knew yours would be authentic. As far as buying Latin American grocery products it is mighty difficult (other than taco mix, salsa, chips, and tortillas) that being said I had two choices at grocery store for corn meal- cornmeal you use for cornbread or instant corn masa flour made by Maseca so bought their product as bag said it is used for tamales. I did go to their web site and they had several recipes for tamales. Ended up making 1 and 1/2 pounds worth of masa mixture as I had lots of filling left after using first pound’s worth of corn flour. Incorporated leftover liquid from simmering chicken into masa mixture along with 2 cubes of chicken bouillon and hot water. Did use 1/2 teaspoon of salt in masa mixture and wish I had added a bit of baking powder. Added 20 minutes to steaming time but might have needed longer time because I do not own a steamer so rigged up my stockpot with vegetable steamer then topped with round cooling rack and water to height of vegetable steamer– guessing it had too much water? The filling tastes great, love the vegetables and your alino mixture, but masa mixture is not what I hoped for but due to wrong corn flour product. Made for Culinary Quest 2014.


  3. I have found that if you fold the inner cross over , fold the left and right sides of the outer together and fold the tails over before tying, it makes a neat package. I don’t even bother with the steamer basket. I just stack tightly in a large pot , add water and simmer for about an hour. They stay moister For the Masa, I add 1/2 C lard, 1tsp baking powder and use chicken or beef broth instead of water. You should also whip the masa until it is fluffy. It will not get tough as wheat flour does


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