Lisa’s Tamales with Chicken & Pork from Panama

tamales Panama

These chicken and pork tamales traditional to Panama are not just for the holiday season, says one of our favorite Panamanian home cooks Lisa Kear. She loves to make these corn masa delicacies year round, no matter the occasion. (Life goal: get ourselves invited.)

For Lisa, Christmas means being with family and neighbors. And what better way to spend quality time with people she loves than to put them to work, everyone making tamales together, she jokes. Lisa emphasizes that the authentic (and most fun) way to make tamales is assembly-line style. 

Growing up in Panama, she remembers her grandmother had a large table in their laundry room. Everyone would gather around the mesa, assigned their own task. Every step of the recipe had a person (or two!) in charge, she says—from preparing the banana leaves to tying the tamales. Lisa recommends designating one person as the cook who stands at the stove, stirring and chopping more of everything, in case any of the stews or other ingredients run out. 

What makes these tamales so extra-special for Lisa—other than the joy of making them together—is how they taste. Slowly sauteing the chicken and pork in sofrito (a mix of onion, peppers, garlic and culantro) tenderizes the meat and results in mouth-watering flavor, she says. While using any part of the chicken yields delicious results, Lisa fondly remembers her family in Panama cooking the entire chicken. Boiling the bone, cartilage, and skin adds richness and flavor, says Lisa. And anyone who got a tamale with a chicken wing inside was the luckiest of the night, she recalls. But for ease, this recipe calls for boneless pollo. Feel free to improvise, she says.

While Lisa’s family boiled their tamales outdoors in a large pot covered with banana leaves, Lisa says the tamales she makes now inside her house, boiled on the stove, are just as “excellent.” As a special touch, Lisa’s Panamanian family likes to use capers in their filing, in honor of the Greek family heritage of some members.

Hungry for more traditional Panamanian family recipes from Lisa? Check out Lisa’s delicious sancocho de pollo, empanadas de carne, empanadas with guava and cheese, enyucado coconut cake, yuca and beef carimañolas, and the familyfavorite flan she grew up eating in Panama.

A Celebration of Pasteles, Tamales and More!

Curious about masa-stuffed pasteles and tamales around el mundo—and the many other names they go by?

In honor of the festive holiday season this year and every year, Familia Kitchen is honored to spotlight special family-famous recipes of masa-stuffed wonders across Latino cultures. Whether they are called tamales, pasteles, hallacas, humitas, check out these beloved family-famous recipes:

 Luis’ Guatemalatamales;
• Liliana’s Venezuelan beef, pork and chicken hallacas;
• Doña Paula’s Belizean tamales;
• Nanni’s Mexican tamales with pork & guajillo chiles;
• We even celebrate legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s favorite red pork tamales!

If you want to go deeper, check out our history of food in Puerto Rico and the history of tamales in Mexico and across Latinx cultures.

Ready to Try Making Lisa’s Traditional Tamales from Panama?

Lisa’s Tamales with Chicken & Pork from Panama

4 from 8 votes
Recipe by Lisa Kear Cuisine: Panamanian


Prep time


Cooking time






  • For the Annatto Oil
  • 1/3 cup 1/3 annatto seeds, whole

  • 3/4 cup 3/4 vegetable oil

  • For the Chicken and Pork Stews
  • 2 lbs 2 boneless chicken, chopped into 2-inch cubes

  • 2 lbs 2 lean pork, 1 1/2-inch cubed

  • 2 to 3 Tbsp 2 to 3 vegetable or olive oil to brown the chicken and prok

  • 1 1 onion, large

  • 7 cloves 7 garlic, large, minced

  • 1 1 green pepper, large, chopped

  • 1 1 red pepper, large, chopped

  • 1 cup 1 tomatoes, diced

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 white wine vinegar

  • 5 leaves 5 culantro, minced (or 1 cup cilantro if you can’t find it)

  • 1 1 habanero pepper minced (optional, to your taste)

  • black pepper, to taste

  • salt to taste

  • For the Tamales Fillings & Wrapping
  • 1 pound 1 yellow corn masa

  • 1 cup 1 roasted red pepper strips

  • 1 cup 1 manzanillo stuffed spanish olives

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 capers

  • 1 cup 1 raisins

  • 24 24 banana leaves, washed


  • Make the Annatto Oil
  • In a medium pot, gently cook the annatto seeds in the vegetable oil on medium heat. Once the annatto seeds stop sizzling, remove the pot from the stove and the strain oil in a heat-proof glass container. Discard the seeds. You will have a beautifully flavored, red-orange-colored annatto oil.
  • In two separate skillets with about 1 Tbsp of oil each, brown the pork and chicken. Remove from the heat.
  • Make the 2 Stews: Pork and Chicken
  • Make your sofrito. In a blender or a food processor, blend onion, garlic, peppers, culantro and salt.
  • Divide the sofrito in two halves and pour equal amounts into the two separate skillets of pork and chicken.
  • Add ¼ cup of annatto oil to both pork and chicken. Add 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes to both pork and chicken skillet, and half the vinegar for each skillet.
  • Cook the two pans with meat and sauce on low heat for a few minutes.
  • To each skillet, add: 2 cups of water and, salt and pepper to taste. Let each cook and stew covered for another 20 minutes.
  • Make the Masa
  • Separate the cooked pork and chicken from the stew liquid. Reserve both in separate containers.
  • Pour the stew liquid into a very large glass measuring container. Add enough hot water to the stew liquid to make 6 cups liquid in total.
  • Pour the 6 cups of stew-water liquid in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and 1/4 cup of the reserved annatto oil into the bowl.
  • Slowly stir in the corn masa into the mixture, creating a soft dough. If the masa is not pliable enough, add a little more warm water and mix together. Add more salt if needed, to taste. Set aside for at least 20 minutes, covered by a kitchen towel or plastic wrap.
  • Stuff, Wrap and Boil Your Tamales
  • Clean and trim banana leaves to 12- or 14-inch squares in warm water to soften.
  • Place a trimmed banana leaf on a working surface. Place 1 large cooking spoon of corn masa dough in the center of the leaf.
  • Flatten the dough with the back of your spoon. On top of the dough, add 4 pieces of pork or chicken stew or a combination of both. Add 2 olives, 3 capers, 3 strips of roasted red pepper, and a few raisins.
  • Wrap the tamales and leaf into the shape of an envelope—top side down, wide sides in. Tie with cooking thread so they stay closed. Double tie a knot on all four side of wrapped tamales.
  • Fill a 24-quart stock pot half full with water. Bring the water to a boil and place as many tamales as you can fit in the pot. The tamales should be boiled for 1 hour at a constant simmer. Remove, drain and serve!


  • Lisa recommends making these tamales in a large batch and freezing any that are left over. She squeezes the air out of their packaging using a meat sealer, and says that they can last 18 months and easily enjoyed year round. 
  • Lisa fills the tamales with the pork stew, chicken stew or a combo of both. All three versions taste amazing, says Lisa.
Lisa, center, with daughter Sarah and Mary-Elizabeth Kear
Lisa, center, with daughter Sarah and Mary-Elizabeth Kear.
Panama tamales
LIsa loves to boil tamales for breakfast.
Panama tamales

Got a question or suggestion?

Please rate this recipe and leave any tips, substitutions, or questions you have!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *