How to Make Paches de Pollo, the Ultimate Guatemalan Comfort Food

These potato-based tamales remind cookbook author Sandra Gutierrez of growing up in Guatemala.

Photo: Julia Estrada
Active Time:
1 hrs 15 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs 45 mins

Like many of you, I missed out on exciting travel during the past three years, and so, when the world opened up again, I took the first chance I could to visit my family in Guatemala. My nephew's wedding in the small southern city of Antigua provided the best excuse to travel. Not only would I get to see my entire family, but I'd be visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world—pebbled streets, colorful stucco homes, churches on every corner and exquisite ruins (a reminder of tremendous earthquakes that destroyed the ancient city in 1773 and again in 1976).

Days before my trip, cravings for my favorite Guatemalan comfort foods began to taunt me. What did I want to eat first upon my arrival? Black bean paste slathered on corn tortillas and topped with creamy fresh cheese, perfectly grilled steak with chirmol (a roasted tomato salsa) or tamales? Hands-down, a steamy-hot tamal, served on the banana leaves used to cook it in and sprinkled with a generous splash of lime juice, rose to the top of my list. But not just any tamales would do; my craving was specifically for paches, which are made with potato dough and recado (a Mayan tomato sauce). This is my favorite of all because the potatoes stay a bit chunky so that at each bite I can grab a bit of dough, a bit of meat and a lot of sauce without it falling apart.

My husband and I arrived just before lunchtime on a sunny day and made our way to my mother's apartment in Guatemala City. Luckily for us, she received us with a bountiful lunch including many traditional dishes. There were rolled tacos slathered in tomato sauce, plump chiles rellenos filled with beef and vegetables and, to my delight, my beloved paches. It only took one bite of the velvety dough bright with citrus to feel the exhaustion of the trip lift away. Finally, I was back home again.

Suffice it to say that one pache wasn't enough to satisfy my craving; I kept eating different versions of them wherever I went, taking mental notes on what I tasted each time. Luckily for us, paches are not hard to make at home. Armed with newly honed taste buds, I set out to re-create them as soon as I returned from my trip, picking my favorite aspect of each one I had tasted.

Paches are very different from other kinds of tamales. Most tamales are made with corn dough; others feature a dough made from rice, plantains or a mix of root vegetables, but paches are made with mashed potatoes mixed with red sauce and lard. Paches are always wrapped in banana leaves, filled with meat and then topped with more sauce. Think of each one as a meal of mashed potatoes, chicken and gravy wrapped together into a neat package. However different the flavor profile is from what you are probably used to, trust me—they are delectable. The ingredients are so familiar that it doesn't take a leap of faith to try one or a prayer to fall in love with them.

I think that most cooks are intimidated to make tamales at home because the process seems daunting—it truly isn't and I made sure to streamline it for you so you can make them any day of the week. With a bit of organization and the right ingredients, these paches are super easy to craft. The only technique you'll need to learn is how to make the banana leaves pliable so you can wrap the tamales—my recipe takes care of that—and, don't worry, banana leaves are not difficult to find. Also, because most tamal recipes produce dozens, cooks shy away from crafting them; this recipe makes only six so you can make them any day of the week.


  • 1 pound banana leaves, thawed if frozen (see Tip)


  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, halved (about 5 large)

  • 1 small white onion, peeled and halved

  • 1 clove garlic, unpeeled

  • 1 tablespoon pepitas

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  • 2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded (see Tip)

  • 1 tablespoon achiote paste

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves


  • 2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 large)

  • ½ cup masa harina (see Tip)

  • ¾ cup warm water

  • ½ cup canola oil

  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 6 slices or 6 chicken tenderloins

  • 6 bird's eye chiles or 1 large jalapeño sliced into 6 strips

For serving

  • 3 limes, halved (optional)

  • French bread (optional)


  1. Unfurl banana leaves on a counter. With scissors, cut away the tough outer vein from the sides of the leaves; discard. Cut 6 leaves into 14-by-11-inch rectangles. Cut 6 leaves into 11-by-9-inch rectangles. Reserve the remaining leaves. Turn a gas burner to medium-high and, working with one leaf at a time, pass it quickly back and forth directly over the flame just until it turns bright green and becomes pliable; set aside. (Alternatively, bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the banana leaves to the pot; simmer until they turn olive-green, about 2 minutes. Drain and cool completely.)

  2. To prepare sauce: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  3. Place tomatoes and onion, cut-side down, and garlic on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until softened and slightly charred, about 25 minutes. Peel the garlic; set aside.

  4. Meanwhile, toast pepitas in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Add sesame seeds to the pan; toast, tossing often, until golden, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the plate with the pepitas. Remove the pan from the heat and add guajillo chiles; toast for 20 seconds on each side (the residual heat will toast them). Transfer the chiles to a bowl and cover with 1 cup of hot (not boiling) water; steep for 10 minutes.

  5. Combine the roasted tomatoes and onion, the peeled roasted garlic, the seeds, the chiles and 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid in a blender. Add achiote paste, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, allspice and cloves; blend until smooth. Set aside.

  6. To prepare dough: Place potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and let cool at room temperature for 5 minutes. Peel and cube the potatoes.

  7. Combine masa harina and 3/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix until combined. Add the potatoes, oil and salt. Mix at low speed for 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the sauce and mix at low speed until the dough is uniformly colored and mashed but still retains small chunks of potatoes, 1 to 2 minutes more.

  8. Place a large banana leaf rectangle on your work surface and center a small leaf rectangle in the middle. Scoop about 1 cup of the dough in the middle of the banana leaves. Shape the dough into a 6-by-4-inch rectangle in the center of the small banana leaf. Press a piece of chicken and a bird's eye chile (or jalapeño strip) into the center of the dough. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make each pache. Pour about 1/4 cup sauce over the chicken in each pache (it will spill over to the sides a bit). Fold the long sides of both banana leaves over the filling; with the sides of your hands, press the leaves down to mark the perimeter of the pache. Fold the sides of the leaves over the filling (as if you were rolling an egg roll). Roll the pache upward and over to finish wrapping it. Tie each with a piece of twine in a crisscross fashion (as you would a present).

  9. Place a wire rack or steamer basket in the bottom of a large pot and add 2 to 3 inches of water. Arrange one or two layers of the remaining banana leaves on the rack or basket (discard the rest) and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Layer the paches over the leaves snugly. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and steam the paches for 1 1/2 hours (add more boiling water to the pot every 30 minutes to prevent scorching).

  10. Working with one at a time, remove a pache from the steamer and place on a clean cutting board. Cut off and discard the twine. Place the pache, seam-side up, on a plate and carefully open it. Use scissors to cut off the excess leaves that hang from the plate (always serve the paches still on their leaves; do not eat the leaves). Serve with limes and bread, if desired.


Kitchen twine


Banana leaves can be used to wrap foods before barbecuing, baking or steaming, lending a subtle sweet flavor and aroma to whatever is folded inside them. They're sold frozen and fresh at Asian and Latin American markets.

Guajillo chiles are dried mirasol chiles. They add fruity heat to many Mexican dishes. Look for them with other dried chiles at well-stocked grocery stores and Latin American markets.

Masa harina is made from corn kernels that are dried, treated with lime and then ground into a fresh dough. The dough is dried and ground into a powder to make masa harina (which means dough flour). Look for it stocked with other flours or Latin ingredients at the grocery store.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

448 Calories
23g Fat
44g Carbs
19g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 6
Calories 448
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 44g 16%
Dietary Fiber 6g 21%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 19g 38%
Total Fat 23g 29%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Cholesterol 41mg 14%
Vitamin A 1840IU 37%
Vitamin C 24mg 27%
Vitamin D 1IU 0%
Vitamin E 4mg 27%
Folate 46mcg 12%
Vitamin K 23mcg 19%
Sodium 754mg 33%
Calcium 75mg 6%
Iron 3mg 17%
Magnesium 92mg 22%
Potassium 1218mg 26%
Zinc 1mg 9%
Omega 3 2g

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

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