Learn how to make tamales in the Instant Pot with these chicken no lard tamales. It’s a small batch so you can learn without an all day commitment.

You just need a place to start when you’re learning so you don’t get overwhelmed. Tamales are easy and a small batch just makes it easier.

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Even better, these are healthier tamales! Making healthier tamales is easy when you remove the lard and substitute a smaller amount of a light oil like the safflower oil I’ve used. You could even make these vegan with potatoes, jalapenos, tomatoes or beans as the filling.

Recipe | Making Masa Dough | Making No Lard Tamales | Can You Cook Tamales on the Stove?

I’ve had lots of emails from people wanting to try making tamales but there was so much involved in the Traditional Mexican Pork Tamales that it seemed intimidating.

Using chicken, especially leftover chicken, eliminates all the time involved in slow cooking pork or beef. I’ve used a jar of salsa verde instead of making it from scratch.

Learn to make this small batch recipe for chicken tamales and you’ll be able to tackle any of my tamale recipes.

Christian Guzman

Make a small batch of tamales

The typical tamale recipe makes about 45-50 tamales. It takes several hours. The time is intentionally reduced in this recipe since it’s a small batch and only makes 15 or 16 tamales.

Have a look at my other Tamale Recipes to see the variety of different flavors you can make. You can either make these full tamale recipes or adapt them to this small batch tamale version.

Lastly, I’ve used an Instant Pot for steaming the tamales. The Instant Pot is the perfect steaming tool for making boiled eggs and it works perfectly for tamales too.


Let’s talk about ingredients. To remove some of the steps, I’ve used some pre-packaged products instead of making everything from scratch.

Start with your protein

For this small batch of tamales, I used some leftover chicken. You need about a pound of boneless chicken which makes around 2 ½ to 3 cups or so when shredded.

If you have other leftover meat, you can use this recipe and swap out the chicken for beef or pork.

You can even use the plant-based “meat” crumbles if you want to make vegan tamales. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock to keep it vegan.

Swap out the salsa verde for a red salsa sauce, if you like.

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Or have a browse at all24Bite recipes to customize your own search.

Make your masa tamale dough

I use Maseca masa harina for all my tamales. It comes in a regular corn masa version and a tamal masa version. You can use either for tamales. We buy whichever is available.

If you want to try out your own corn tortillas too, you can buy the regular Maseca masa harina and use it for both tamales and tortillas.

Can you make tamales without lard?

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Yes! I’ve used Safflower Oil instead of lard. Safflower oil has only 1 gram of saturated fat per tablespoon so it makes a nice healthier alternative.

You can use the oil of your choice for this recipe. Vegetable oil is a great alternative. You can also use coconut oil, which is more trendy, but remember that coconut oil contains up to 14 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon.

Making Healthy Tamales

All fat is fat, no matter what. But, you CAN make choices about the fat you use.

The more saturated fat, the more unhealthy it will be. I’m not sure why coconut oil is so trendy with that much saturated fat. Lard only has about 5 grams saturated fat making even lard more heart healthy than coconut oil.

Stick with safflower oil, olive oil, vegetable oil or avocado oil for lower saturated fats.

Corn husks

The corn husks are used to shape your tamales during steaming. You don’t eat them. They’re just wrappers.

We can usually find corn husks in 10 ounce, 12 ounce of 16 ounce packages. This is a small batch chicken tamales recipe so you will be fine with the smaller package.

Check out your corn husks before using. Check for at least 16-18 nice average size corn husks. The smaller ones can be used to line the bottom or sides of the steamer. The large ones can be split or used to cover and protect the tamales while cooking.

When you’re inspecting the corn husks, check for any discolorations. Discard the ones that look like they have a lot of dark spots.

While developing this recipe, I wondered whether we could make our own corn husks. And, yes, you can! You can read about making your own corn husks at eHow. I’m not sure that I’ll ever give it a try, but it’s something to think about if we ever have a big corn harvest.

More pantry ingredients

We always have these La Costeña pickled jalapeños in the pantry. They’re delicious all by themselves. They’re also great in cornbread. Try them with our Mexican jalapeño cornbread too.

You’ll find all the typical seasonings in these tamales: onion powder, garlic powder and cumin.

Salt is optional since there’s already so much salt in the pickled jalapeños and chicken stock. Jalapeño powder is also optional for those who want more spicy heat.

Baking powder will help keep your tamales at the right texture.

I’ve used a 16 ounce jar of Herdez Salsa Verde. It’s tasty and works great to cut corners.

Homemade Salsa Verde

If you like, try this Restaurant Style Salsa Verde recipe if you prefer to make it yourself.

Herdez Salsa Verde green sauce is mild but flavorful. It’s not overpowered by tomatillo and is delicious. We always have some in the pantry for chips and sauce for tacos, tostadas and, of course, tamales.

You can mix a little sour cream into a small bowl of salsa verde to make a delicious cream verde sauce too. It tastes great on top of these chicken tamales.

Tamale Assembly

Using the back of a serving spoon, smooth a three or four tablespoon amount of masa dough onto the smooth side of a corn husk.

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You want to make a flat surface that’s about 3 or 4 inches, depending on the size of your corn husk. If your dough is sticky, you can keep a bowl of water handy to dip your spoon.

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If you plan on using the Instant Pot, make sure that your tamales aren’t too long.

You’re going to fold the corn husk over vertically from edge to edge, so leave at least ½″ where they will join.

Push the edge toward the masa dough to set it up into a cylinder then roll it all the way.

Fold under the short edge of the corn husk to make a nice little package. Set them all aside until you’re ready to cook them.

Cooking tamales in the Instant Pot

I’ve been wanting to try cooking tamales in the Instant Pot. It’s the perfect way to cook them since you can so easily steam them.

The trick is to make your tamales more wide than tall so they will fit easily in the Instant Pot. If you can’t get a good connection with the lid, it won’t build pressure.

Cover the tamales with extra corn husks. This will keep the condensation on the lid from pouring into your tamales.

If you don’t have an Instant Pot, have a look at this 6-Quart Instant Pot which we use. We’ve had it for several years and it still works great. (This is an affiliate link, by the way. If you click it and buy, I may get a little something something from them at no extra cost to you.)

Can you cook these tamales on the stove?

If you have a tamale steamer, you can use it with this recipe. I’m guessing, though, that you’re using this recipe as a way to learn to make tamales.

This recipe will work with any stock pot you have, as long as the tamales can sit upright. Use a steamer basket to keep the tamales above the water.

When you check the tamales, you may need to add more water if it’s evaporated. When you lift the lid, don’t allow the condensation under the lid to fall onto the tamales.

It will probably take the same 60-90 minutes to finish cooking. Using the Instant Pot is kind of a misnomer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that things cook faster.

Instead, what I like about the Instant Pot is that you don’t need to babysit it. You can let your tamales cook the entire time without worry.

Using the stovetop method means that you will need to check it and especially check to make sure the water doesn’t dry up.

How to serve tamales

Everyone loves tamales but eating too many isn’t all that healthy. You can make it more of a healthy meal by using moderation and including other healthier sides to even things out.

Serve tamales with black or pinto beans, saffron rice and a side salad.

I’ve put together an entire feast of ideas to serve with tamales at What to Serve with Tamales here.


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