Preparation info

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This is a good dish to serve at a party. It was inspired by a visit I made to the Carullo supermarket headquarters in Bogota. After I had had a tasting of all manner of exotic fruits, I was taken round the staff canteen. The cooks were preparing tamales for the evening shift, and I’d have loved to stay to eat with them. If possible, try to get one or two helpers. Ideally, the tamales should be wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, but foil or greaseproof paper will do.


  • 1 lb / 455 g yellow polenta flour (cornmeal)
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • chicken or beef stock, to mix
  • 1 lb / 455 g raw boneless chicken
  • 1 lb / 455 g pork spare-rib chops
  • 1 lb / 455 g lean pork
  • 8 oz / 230 g belly of pork, derinded
  • 8 oz / 230 g chipolata sausages
  • 1½ lb / 680 g onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb / 455 g tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
  • 12 olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 oz / 60 g capers, drained
  • 3 oz / 85 g seedless raisins
  • 12 oz / 340 g cooked haricot, cannellini or other white beans


Sift the polenta, flour and salt together into a bowl. Mix in the olive oil, vinegar, cumin seeds and enough stock to make a smooth paste that is firm enough to handle. Dice the chicken and all the pork and sausages. Cook in a heavy saucepan with a little of the onion and tomato for about 30 minutes. In a separate pan, cook the remaining onion and tomato until soft, in a little oil if necessary.

Cut greaseproof paper into eight or ten in 20.5 cm squares. Spoon 3–4 tablespoons of the polenta paste into the centre of each, and flatten it to about ½ in 1 cm. thick. On top, pile a little meat, some of the tomato and onion mixture and some olives, capers, raisins and beans. Top with some more polenta paste, and smooth the top and bottom together to seal the filling inside. Carefully wrap the greaseproof paper around the tamale so that it is watertight. Wrap each parcel in the same way, tying if necessary. Steam for 2 hours.

The tamales can be served with a hot sauce, if you like, made by mixing finely chopped spring onion or leek, tomato, fresh chillies and fresh coriander leaves with lime juice or vinegar. Eat in the fingers when cooled a little, or with knife and fork.