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Sauces That Go With Tamales

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With their steamy filling enveloped in soft corn dough, tamales have always occupied a cherished spot in countless kitchens. The question often arises: what sauce goes with tamales? The right choice can truly elevate this dish, turning delicious Mexican tamales into an unforgettable experience.

From the profound richness of a mole sauce to the refreshing tang of pineapple salsa, these accompaniments harmoniously blend time-honored recipes with modern flair.

A tamale on a plate topped with mole sauce.

Before diving into the world of sauces, if you are wondering “what are tamales?”, we have that covered as well.

Classic Tamale Sauces

Among the array of sauces for tamales, red chile and mole are the uncontested champions.

The red chile sauce, bursting with warmth, celebrates the sun’s bounty with its chilies, while mole sauce artfully blends chocolate, spices, and chilies into a captivating fusion. These sauces encapsulate traditional culinary arts, enhancing each tamale bite.

Red Chile Sauce

Red chile sauce has a dynamic combination of ancho and guajillo chiles blended with authentic Mexican spices. Toasting unlocks the chiles’ aromatic essence, while soaking ensures a bitterness-free sauce. Complemented by onions, spices, sugar, and cider vinegar, this sauce pays homage to generations of culinary tradition.

A bowl of red chile sauce.

Mole Sauce

Dive into the rich tapestry of mole sauce. This medley of chiles, nuts, seeds, and a hint of chocolate provides a backdrop that splendidly complements tamales, weaving the rich threads of Mexican culinary history into every serving.

Mole sauce on top of enchiladas.

Fresh Takes on Tamale Sauces

Each tamale presents a flavor adventure waiting to be embarked upon. Introducing our unique sauce pairings: the velvety White Enchilada and the fiery Red Chimichurri. Both redefine the tamale experience, introducing global influences that tantalize the taste buds.

White Enchilada Sauce

Savor the creaminess of white enchilada sauce, enriched with the aromatic warmth of cumin and the depth of Monterey Jack cheese. The tangy sour cream contrasts with tamale fillings, striking a delightful flavor balance.

White enchilada sauce in a skillet.

Red Chimichurri Sauce

Experience a taste of Argentina with the vibrant red chimichurri sauce. The union of smoky paprika, zesty lemon, and roasted red peppers crafts a robust flavor profile. Traditionally paired with grilled meats, its dynamic essence finds a harmonious ally in tamales, celebrating the culinary synergy of two distinct traditions.

A dish of red chimichurri with a spoon in it

Pairing Tamales with Sauce

Tamales come with an array of fillings, from savory meats to cheeses, beans, vegetables, and even fruit-based variations for sweet tamales. Choosing the right sauce enhances the filling’s nuances.

  • Meat-filled Tamales: These pair impeccably with bold sauces. Mole’s intricate flavors, the zest of salsa verde, avocado crema’s creaminess, chimichurri’s herbaceous tones, or cilantro lime yogurt sauce’s refreshing notes offer tantalizing combinations.
  • Cheese or Veggie Tamales: Their milder profiles shine alongside light or creamy sauces. Classic picks include green tomatillo salsa and white enchilada sauce. Diversify your palette with salsa verde, refreshing pico de gallo, smoky chipotle cream sauce, velvety guacamole, or a burst of fruity mango salsa.
  • Sweet Tamales: They’re best enhanced with contrasting sauces like caramel, chocolate, or even whipped cream.

For a diverse collection of sauces, from traditional Mexican to inventive fusions and others that beautifully accompany Mexican dishes, explore our Mexican sauces and condiments category.

Mixing and Matching

Beyond traditional pairings, a universe of flavors awaits exploration. Combining sauces, akin to layering flavors in a gourmet dish, can yield unexpected and delightful results.

Think of balancing fiery red chile sauce with cooling white enchilada sauce. The heat and the creaminess strike a harmonious chord, offering a taste experience that’s both exhilarating and comforting.

Similarly, pairing smoky mole sauce with a touch of red chimichurri accentuates and enriches the smoky nuances. Combining a chunky salsa with a smoother sauce introduces a delightful textural contrast, heightening the overall tamale experience.

Storing and Using Leftover Sauces

Sauces often mature beautifully overnight as their flavors meld. Most can be refrigerated for up to a week, and many can be frozen for extended use.

However, certain sauces can deteriorate in texture or flavor when frozen and thawed:

  • Cream-Based Sauces: Dairy-inclusive sauces can separate or turn grainy upon freezing and reheating.
  • Emulsified Sauces: Those like vinaigrettes may break or separate when frozen.
  • Fresh Herb Sauces: Some, like chimichurri, might darken or lose their vibrancy upon freezing.
  • Guacamole: This dip, though not a sauce, may discolor in the freezer and lose its fresh appeal.

Freezing Tips:

For dairy sauces, gently reheat on low, whisking continuously to minimize separation. Revive herb-based sauces post-thawing with fresh herbs to restore vibrancy. Store all sauces in sealed containers, ensuring minimal air exposure, to retain their flavor and prevent freezer burn.

So if you have wondered “what sauce goes with tamales?”, the answer is as varied and flavorful as the dish itself. From traditional favorites to inventive modern pairings, the possibilities are endless.

Do you want to know what to eat with tamales? We have some suggestions for that as well.

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Dahn Boquist

Dahn is a retired nurse, recipe creator, home cook, baker, and self-proclaimed foodie. She loves creating in the kitchen and cooking for family and friends. She lives in Washington State with her husband and dog. When she isn't cooking or baking, you can usually find her spending time with her grandchildren or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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