Turkey Tamales (Made From Leftovers)

Turkey Tamales
These tamales are made with the leftovers of a roasted turkey—the meat and the broth made by boiling the bones. photo (c) Robin Grose
  • 4 hrs 45 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins,
  • Cook: 4 hrs
  • Yield: 12-15 tamales (serves 12-15)

I love trying all sorts of creative and tasty ways to use turkey meat left over from holiday dinners, and these turkey tamales are one of the best. This recipes makes good use not only of the little miscellaneous pieces of meat, but also of the turkey bones—and all this goodness is wrapped up in a batch of fragrant tamales!

Boiling the carcass of your holiday turkey gives you not only one of the richest broths known to man, but also yields turkey “lard” or fat, which will go into your tamales instead of pork lard. What a wonderful way to take advantage of a part of the bird that so often just gets discarded!

Of course, after having helped prepare a holiday feast, you may not feel like cooking again for a while. That’s okay--turkey meat, broth, and fat can be very successfully frozen, provide you package them separately and use within three months. Take them out again in late January, say, to make tamales for the Feast of the Candelaria (February 2nd), an occasion on which tamales are traditionally eaten by one and all in Mexico.

What You'll Need

  • 1 carcass from a roasted turkey (meat removed)—from which we will make the broth and “lard”
  • 25-30 dried corn leaves
  • 2 cups of masa harina
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded turkey meat

How to Make It

Serve tamales immediately or (as many prefer to do) refrigerate them overnight and eat the next day.

  1. Make your turkey broth and lard: Place the turkey carcass—bones, skin, cartilage—into a large pot and cover it with water. Cover the pot and boil over medium heat for 2-3 hours, adding hot water as necessary to keep the bones covered.  Take the broth off the heat and allow it to cool down somewhat.

  2. Strain your broth, discarding all the solids. Refrigerate it overnight. The next day, scrape off the white fat that has accumulated at the top of the broth. Measure 2/3 cup of the fat and set it aside; this is what we will use for the tamales. (If for some reason there is not enough turkey fat to equal 2/3 cup, add pork lard to make up the difference.)

    Measure out 2 cups (1/2 liter) of the turkey broth for our tamale-making; use the rest for another purpose (such as making turkey noodle soup) or freeze it for another occasion.

  1. Prepare your corn leaves and masa: Place the corn leaves into  a large container and cover them with hot water. Allow them to soak for an hour or so, until they are quite soft and pliable. Once they are ready, drain off the water.

  2. Combine the masa harina with the baking powder, salt, 2/3 cup turkey fat and 2 cups turkey broth. Stir very well, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands, until very well mixed.

  3. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon for at least 15 minutes more, without stopping—ideally, you would have one or more helpers to take turns with at this point. The more you beat the masa, the lighter and fluffier your tamales will turn out.

  4. Assemble, cook, and serve your turkey tamales: For each tamale, spread some of the masa in the center of a corn leaf. Place a few pieces of shredded turkey and a tablespoon of mole or other sauce on top of the masa. Fold the corn leaf in such a way that the masa completely encloses the filling. Fold in the two ends of the leaf. If you like, wrap this little package of goodness inside another corn leaf, then tie it up with a long strip torn off of another corn leaf. Repeat this until you run out of masa. (If you need further directions, see these detailed instructions for wrapping tamales.)

  5. Place your tamales into a tamale pot or other steam cooker. Cover and seal the pot well. Steam your tamales for about an hour, until cooked through.

    To know if the tamales are done, grab one with tongs and open it. If the filling falls easily away from the corn leaf, the tamales are done. (If not, wrap it back up, put it back in the pot, and steam for a while longer.)

    Once the tamales are done, take them off the heat and take the lid off the pot. Let them sit for at least a couple of hours so that they can firm up.