Traditional Tico Tamales Are Worth a Try

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.

Enjoy your Costa Rican tamal with a cup of coffee to complete the Tico experience. (PRNewsfoto/Costa Rica Tourism Board)

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
  • Oil


  • 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


  • Chicken meat
  • Rice cooked with annatto paste
  • Stuffed olives
  • Capers
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Sweet whole kernel corn
  • Strips of roasted peppers
  • Petit pois
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • 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


  • Clean plantain leaves
  • Butcher’s twine


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.