What are Fillings (Rellenos)?

As we have previously explained, a tamale is usually made up of a dough (masa), a filling (relleno) and a wrap. It is true that a good masa is the foundation, the base of a great tamale, but it is the relleno which is really the star of the show. A relleno can be savory or sweet, it can contain veggies, chicken, pork and even seafood such as fish or shrimp. A relleno can be made pretty much out of anything, as long as it plays well with the flavors of your masa


When it comes to fillings the sky is the limit and what I am hoping is that after trying a few of these recipes you will venture and start creating your own recipes and variations. We will learn to braise, sautee, roast and much more! I will always let you know which filling is pair with which masa, but feel free to experiment and mix and match, I believe that a lot of the fillings I’ve created can go with any of the masas, as long as it makes sense to your palate.

What’s important to consider when adding filling to your masa is that ratio is very important, it doesn’t matter how delicious your filling is, more is not better, so make sure you don’t get carried away and overfill your tamales, you want the amount to be just right, also you don’t want your filling to be so heavy that it overflows and comes out of the tamale during the steaming process, it’s ok if you have leftover filling! I’ll share some yummy recipes and ideas on what to do with that!

Most of the fillings here are cooked, but sometimes we will add raw fish that will get cooked as we steam the tamale, for example when making bollos with albacore or shrimp, so it is important to keep an eye for this, we don’t want to overcook or undercook our seafood, so a good kitchen timer is your best friend.

Savory Fillings

These are the most popular fillings and as such there are hundreds of recipes and combinations that can be achieved. For folks who ride the vegetarian train, there are a lot of vegetarian fillings like our Poblano Pepper & Corn filling, which provides amazing textures and flavors. If veggies are not your thing, you can also go with a meat and sauce recipe such as a Beer Chipotle Braised Chicken.

Flavor Guideline

With the endless combinations that can be achieved, it is very easy to become overwhelmed and opt for just following a popular recipe. Now, we are not discouraging you from using time tested recipes, but part of the fun of making tamales is to come up with your own recipes and combinations. Here is a quick filling guidelines that we hope will serve as a map for your tamale making journey.

Sweet Fillings

Sweet or dessert tamales usually contain some sort of mash or marmalade as its filling. Although sometimes the sweetness of the tamale is mixed within the dough, like in our Nutella Hazelnut Tamale, the creation of a separate sweet filling is more popular.