Chuchitos: A Traditional Guatemalan Tamal Recipe

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Chuchitos are one of the most popular Guatemalan tamales along with the legendary tamales colorados. Chuchitos are a small type of Guatemalan tamal filled with pork or chicken and a tomato-based recado or sauce and wrapped in corn husks. In this post, you will find the best recipe for Guatemalan chuchitos with easy step-by-step instructions for making these delicious traditional tamales at home. 

traditional Guatemalan chuchito recipe

As you may know, Guatemala is at the Heart of the Mayan world, with a rich history dating back thousands of years. Most Guatemalan traditions are a fusion of the Mayan and Spanish culture, whose legacy still lives on, especially in its food scene. Corn, the main ingredient in this classic Guatemalan recipe, has always been a key element of Mayan culture and mythology. This staple ingredient goes back to the Mesoamerican period, where growing and harvesting corn was considered sacred. When the Spanish introduced pork to the Americas, it started to be used, along with chicken, as a filling for tamales.  

I have always wanted to learn how to make this Guatemalan traditional dish and once I successfully made my first chuchitos at home I was determined to share this recipe. If you are here because you love chuchitos as much as I do and want to make them at home I hope that you find this recipe clear and easy to follow. 

What are Guatemalan Chuchitos?

Chuchitos are small Guatemalan tamales made with corn dough. They are stuffed with chicken or pork in a tomato-based sauce called recado. They are smaller than the Guatemalan tamal colorado and are wrapped in corn husks instead of banana leaves. 

best Guatemalan Chuchitos recipe

These small chicken or pork-filled tamales are steamed over low heat. The women in a family usually get together to make these in a cooking party called a tamalada.  You can eat them any day of the year, but this Guatemalan-style tamal is frequently made during holiday celebrations and special festivities. 

Why are They Called Chuchitos?

Although I researched extensively no one really knows why these tamalitos are called chuchitos. However, I can tell you chuchito is the diminutive for the Guatemalan slang word chucho (dog). The most direct translation for chuchito would be small/ dog. 

Guatemalans love to make words sound more friendly by using the word diminutive using  “ito” or “ita” to make anything sound cute. Such phrases like “let’s get a cafecito (little coffee)” or “let’s go out for a cenita romántica (small romantic dinner)” are expressions you will hear when visiting Guatemala. But regardless of word origins and meanings, there is no doubt in my mind this “puppy” will blow your taste buds away! 

What Are the Ingredients for Guatemalan Chuchitos Recipe?

  • Corn-based dough
  • Recado (tomato-based sauce)
  • Meat (chicken or pork)

The main ingredient is a warm ball of corn dough. It is stuffed with tasty bits of meat and a splash of savory recado (tomato-and-pepper-based sauce) and then wrapped in corn husks or tusa, ready for steaming. 

Guatemalan chuchitos recipe with easy steps

At first glance, it seems that the recipe has only three ingredients, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Each one of the key components requires a separate cooking procedure with its own list of ingredients. Nevertheless, you will find my recipe easy to follow, with step-by-step instructions on creating this traditional Guatemalan food.

Guatemalan Tamales vs Chuchitos 

Although they may seem remarkably similar, the differences between these two Guatemalan dishes can be noticed in their size, flavors, dough ingredients, and the leaves used for steaming. 

The traditional Guatemalan tamales are made with a savory mixture of dough, meat, and a rich sauce wrapped in banana leaves. On the other hand, chuchitos are tamales (or in this case tamalitos since they’re smaller) with a thicker corn dough consistency, stuffed with a recado (sauce) and meat, folded into corn husks. 

Best authentic Guatemalan tamal recipe

The ingredients for Guatemalan traditional tamales can either be corn, potato, or rice-based dough. The filling varies from chicken, pork, and even chorizo with a spicy sauce to a sweeter Christmas version with nuts, fruit, and sugar. In contrast, the dough for the chuchitos is usually made only from corn, with a simpler tomato-based sauce and chicken or pork as meat fillings.

As for the size, tamales are bigger, with a softer, moister dough, while chuchitos are a smaller, more compact version of the Guatemalan tamal. That’s why the former is typically eaten as a main meal, while the latter is considered more of an appetizer or small side dish.

Both recipes are authentic staples of Guatemalan food culture. A great way to see the difference between these traditional dishes is to taste these two delicious Guatemalan tamales for yourself. 

How to make Guatemalan Chuchitos:

Yields about 35 portions

To make things easier for you, I broke down this recipe into sections with clear step-by-step directions.

Ingredients

For the Recado (sauce):

  • 1 Guaque pepper (guajillo pepper)
  • 1 Sambo pepper (poblano peppers)
  • 15 Tomatoes
  • 4 Miltomates (green tomatoes)
  • 2 Red bell peppers
  • 1 Medium onion
  • 3 Garlic cloves

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 lbs. of chicken, cut into small pieces 
  • Salt and powdered chicken bouillon to taste

For the Dough (Masa):

  • 2 lbs. of instant corn flour
  • 2 Sticks of butter, softened
  • 3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • Salt and powdered chicken bouillon to taste
  • 1 lb. of Tusa (dried corn husks)
  • Water

How to make the Recado (sauce):

  1. On a skillet or comal, roast the guaque and sambo peppers. Once roasted, place the peppers in a bowl filled with water for about 20 minutes to reduce their spiciness. 
  2. Get rid of the water and blend the peppers until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of fresh water. Pass it through a strainer to remove any seeds. Set aside.
  3. Use the skillet again to roast the tomatoes, miltomates (tomatillos), garlic, onion, and red peppers. Then, blend until well combined and strain everything to make a rich sauce. 
  4. In a pot, pour the tomato sauce, add the pepper mixture to the sauce, and bring to a boil. If the sauce is too thin, add two tablespoons of corn flour and stir until thickened. 

Guatemalan pepian sauce

Chicken Meat Filling:

  1. Cut the chicken into small pieces and add them to a pot with little water. Boil the meat until cooked (about 10 minutes), seasoning with a pinch of salt and chicken bouillon. 
  2. Drain the water and set the chicken aside for assembling.

the best Guatemalan chuchito recipe

Time to Prepare the Dough:

  1. Prepare the dough by mixing the corn flour with water, careful not to use too much water. It is best to add half a cup of water at a time until the batter has reached the desired consistency. 
  2. Add the oil, butter, salt, and chicken bouillon to taste, mixing it with your hands until you get a smooth dough (it should have a soft consistency). 
  3. Cover the dough with a clean, damp cloth to avoid dryness.  

How to Assemble a Chuchito:

  1. Soak the corn husks in hot water (not boiling) for about an hour. Double-check that the husks are completely submerged so they become flexible and easy to fold.
  2. Place a large spoonful of dough in the center of each tusa (husk). Then make a hole in the middle of the dough with a small spoon. Place a piece of cooked chicken in the center, and pour recado sauce on top.
  3. Using the same spoon, cover the hole with the dough you placed first. Fold the husk towards the center and upwards, tying with a strap (cut a few strips from a single sheet of the husk as straps to fasten all the wrappings).
  4. The dough must be well wrapped. If needed, fold an additional piece of husk before tying it. Repeat until all the dough is stuffed and wrapped up.
  5. In a large steam pot, place the chuchitos with the tied side up. Add enough water to steam them (a couple of inches is enough) and cover with a lid. Cook on low for about 30-60 minutes, checking the water level every 10 minutes or so. 
  6. The dish is ready when the dough is soft and quickly pulls away from the husks. Serve them with a bit of recado (sauce) and a sprinkle of grated cheese on top.

best recipe for Guatemalan chuchitos

Make Ahead of Time

After learning firsthand how to make this recipe and understanding all the steps it takes to achieve great results, I recommend you make the recado (sauce) the day before. This way, you can focus the next day on making the dough, cooking the meat, and assembling the tamales 

If you go with chicken stuffing, cook it the day before and store it in your fridge until ready to use. But as for the dough, it is better to make it the same day, as it may dry out and become less manageable. Also, remember to soak the corn husks in water before starting so they are flexible enough and the dough doesn’t pop out. 

Tips for making Chuchitos Guatemaltecos

  • Sugar changes everything: As you may (or not) know, tomatoes, when cooked, make any sauce a little acidic. Adding a pinch of sugar to any tomato-based sauce will cut the acidity and create an overall more harmonious sauce. So next time you are making an Italian spaghetti sauce from scratch, remember this tip!! 
  • Different meats, different tastes: One great advantage of this recipe is that you can play around with the stuffing. Use chicken or pork meat, whichever you like best. And if you are a cheese lover like me, switch it up with “Queso de Capas” (farmer cheese) or a Monterrey Jack; it is a game-changer!
  • Leftovers are the best! The recipe for the recado sauce is the same base as the one used in my Pepián de Pollo recipe. If you have leftover sauce, use it to make another traditional Guatemalan dish. Better yet, if you made a double batch, save it for another day, and you can then decide which Guatemalan recipe you are in the mood for.

Guatemalan tamales chuchitos

Can You Freeze Chuchitos?

The answer is a resounding YES! As long as they have been tightly wrapped, you can refrigerate them for a couple of days or freeze them for up to 6 months. If you think making a large batch will save time and leave you with delicious leftovers for a rainy day, then go ahead, cook away! 

But now you may be wondering, do I freeze them cooked or uncooked? Let me help you figure out the best approach for each method.

How to Freeze Cooked Chuchitos

As time-saving goes, freezing the cooked version of this recipe will make the reheating step more manageable, and the best part is that they will keep their original flavors! 

You might have gone a little overboard and are now stuck with lots of leftovers, but don’t worry. Follow these simple tips and enjoy chuchitos any day!

    • After steaming the tamales, let them cool down at room temperature before putting them in the freezer; it should take about an hour. But make sure you don’t let them sit outside too long and risk bacterial growth that can cause illness.
    • Wrap each chuchito in aluminum foil or heavy plastic wrap and lay them flat inside a freezer bag, carefully stacking one on top of another. This way, they have an extra layer of protection from other frozen foods while helping them maintain their original shape. 
    • Label the freezer bag so that you know how long they have been sitting in your fridge. Now it is finally ready for the freezer.
    • Defrosting: Leaving the Chuchitos inside your refrigerator overnight (or until thoroughly defrosted) is the safest way to thaw the frozen dough.
    • To reheat, set a pot with an inch of water and place the wraps inside. Cover with a lid and heat them over medium for 10 minutes. 
    • Bonus Tip: Use your microwave oven to save time! I have reheated hundreds of these delicious puppies this way, and it’s a great time-saving technique. Just remember to unwrap and take away the corn husks before placing them in the microwave.

traditional Guatemalan chuchito recipe

How to Freeze Uncooked Chuchitos

I am less inclined to freeze uncooked food, and here is why: once you freeze raw corn dough, it tends to fall apart when thawed. It can cause the dough not to hold the stuffing properly, causing a mess during the cooking stage and losing some of its texture and flavors. But if you like, you can follow the right tips for a better result:

  • Freeze the stuffing, the recado sauce, and corn dough separately. You can always assemble everything after all the ingredients are thawed. The one downside is that it will take up more space in your freezer.
  • Use an airtight container to prevent condensation from leaking into the dough. It will help with maintaining its consistency. Don’t forget to label it!
  • Steam the tamalitos in “frozen mode.” If you decide to freeze the chuchitos already assembled, the defrosting process is easier. Place them in a steamer with water and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, careful not to overcrowd the pot. Open one to check if the stuffing is hot before taking the whole batch off the stove.

What To Serve with This Traditional Dish?

Traditional chuchitos are often served as a stand-alone appetizer or snack, and in some Guatemalan regions, they even take the place of bread for dipping into soups and salsas. However, I always make them the star of any meal at home, served with savory refried black beans, guacamole & chips, and the classic Guatemalan “pan Frances.”

Other Traditional Guatemalan Recipes

  • Chiles Rellenos: This traditional Guatemalan recipe is somewhat different from the Mexican chiles rellenos. It is made with sweet peppers, filled with a concoction of beef and veggies, served drizzled with tomato sauce.
  • Tostadas: The tostadas are a traditional Guatemalan food often served as snacks or appetizers during holiday festivities. Tostadas are made of salsa (tomato sauce), refried black beans, and guacamole over fried tortillas.
  • Pollo En Jocón (Tomatillo Chicken Stew): This easy and healthy recipe for pollo en jocón, tomatillo, and cilantro chicken stew, is a traditional dish from Guatemala. Delicious and easy to make, it’s the perfect cold-weather comfort food.
  • Torrejas: Very popular during Christmas and Lent, torrejas is a traditional Guatemalan dessert. It is a mouthwatering sweet dish that uses panes dulces (lard or sweet bread) as the main ingredient and dipped in delicious syrup.
  • Buñuelos: Buñuelos are fried wheat-based dough balls, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, covered in white sugar, and served in a light syrup with a hint of anise.

Please let me know how this Guatemalan chuchitos recipe turned out for you! I love sharing recipes from my home country, and I tried to keep this traditional Guatemalan dish as easy to follow as possible. My goal is to make cooking a pleasant experience while highlighting the incredible Guatemalan food culture unknown to many. 

 

Guatemalan tamales chuchitos

Guatemalan Chuchitos

Yield: 35
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Chuchitos are a delicious tamale-style Guatemalan dish stuffed with pork or chicken, a tomato-based sauce (recado), and wrapped in corn husks.

Ingredients

For The Recado (Sauce):

  • 1 Guaque pepper (guajillo pepper)
  • 1 Sambo pepper (poblano peppers)
  • 15 Tomatoes
  • 4 Miltomates (green tomatoes)
  • 2 Red bell peppers
  • 1 Medium onion
  • 3 Garlic cloves

For The Meat Filling:

  • 2 lbs. of chicken, cut into small pieces 
  • Salt and powdered chicken bouillon to taste

For The Dough (Masa):

  • 2 lbs. of instant corn flour
  • 2 Sticks of butter, softened
  • 3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • Salt and powdered chicken bouillon to taste
  • 1 lb. of Tusa (dried corn husks)
  • Water

Instructions

How To Make The Recado (Sauce):

  1. On a skillet or comal, roast the guaque and sambo peppers. Once roasted, place the peppers in a bowl filled with water for about 20 minutes to reduce their spiciness. 
  2. Get rid of the water and blend the peppers until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of fresh water. Pass it through a strainer to remove any seeds. Set aside.
  3. Use the skillet again to roast the tomatoes, miltomates (tomatillos), garlic, onion, and red peppers. Then, blend until well combined and strain everything to make a rich sauce. 
  4. In a pot, pour the tomato sauce, add the pepper mixture to the sauce, and bring to a boil. If the sauce is too thin, add two tablespoons of corn flour and stir until thickened. 

Chicken Meat Filling:

  1. Cut the chicken into small pieces and add them to a pot with little water. Boil the meat until cooked (about 10 minutes), seasoning with a pinch of salt and chicken bouillon. 
  2. Drain the water and set the chicken aside for assembling.

Prepare the Dough:

  1. Prepare the dough by mixing the corn flour with water, careful not to use too much water. It is best to add half a cup of water at a time until the batter has reached the desired consistency.
  2. Add the oil, butter, salt, and chicken bouillon to taste, mixing it with your hands until you get a smooth dough (it should have a soft consistency).
  3. Cover the dough with a clean, damp cloth to avoid dryness.

How To Assemble A Chuchito:

  1. Soak the corn husks in hot water (not boiling) for about an hour. Double-check that the husks are completely submerged so they become flexible and easy to fold.
  2. Place a large spoonful of dough in the center of each tusa (husk). Then make a hole in the middle of the dough with a small spoon. Place a piece of cooked chicken in the center, and pour recado sauce on top.
  3. Using the same spoon, cover the hole with the dough you placed first. Fold the husk towards the center and upwards, tying with a strap (cut a few strips from a single sheet of the husk as straps to fasten all the wrappings).
  4. The dough must be well wrapped. If needed, fold an additional piece of husk before tying it. Repeat until all the dough is stuffed and wrapped up.
  5. In a large steam pot, place the chuchitos with the tied side up. Add enough water to steam them (a couple of inches is enough) and cover with a lid. Cook on low for about 30-60 minutes, checking the water level every 10 minutes or so.
  6. The dish is ready when the dough is soft and quickly pulls away from the husks. Serve them with a bit of recado (sauce) and a sprinkle of grated cheese on top.

Notes

You can play around with the stuffing using chicken or pork meat, whichever you like best. You can also switch it up with “Queso de Capas” (farmer cheese) or a Monterrey Jack.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 35 Serving Size: 100 gr
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 132

bes Guatemalan chuchitos recipe

 

 

traditional Guatemalan chuchitos recipe

 

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