One of the fond memories of the 1970s—besides leisure suits and beehive hairdos—was the Tamale Pie. Supposedly it resembled a deconstructed tamale, but that was a hard comparison to make.
Most housewives had a recipe for the cornbread and meat concoction, usually handwritten on a 3 x 5-inch card copied from a friend or taken from the old standby: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.
Several dishes of Tamale Pie were sure to show up at a church pot luck supper or family reunion. Kids smiled happily anytime the casserole appeared at mealtime.
There were many variations on the flexible recipe. You could include olives, or not; beans were optional, and green chilies were subject to family taste. Some recipes called for tomato sauce, while others used diced tomatoes or Ro-tel. You could use a cornbread muffin mix or a cooked cornmeal concoction for the topping.
An Online Favorite
This recipe was on Oprah.com, which gives it lots of creds in most kitchens. It’s was adapted from a version in Mario Batali’s Big American Cookbook. Batali included the recipe in his listing of the Three Best Recipes in America. (The other two were Yankee Pot Roast and Red Beans and Rice.)
Online commentators agree that the casserole is even better the second day, though if you’re feeding a family there’s not likely to be leftovers. The meat portion can be made ahead, frozen and combined with the cornbread/cheese when ready to cook. I’ve not tried to freeze any leftovers, but I intend to test a small portion to see how it fares.
- 4 cups water
- 2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 3 Tbs. olive oil or bacon fat
- 2 pounds ground pork (or ground beef)
- 1 lb. fresh chorizo sausage
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 jalapeños, finely chopped (I use just one)
- 2 cups fresh corn kernels (may sub frozen)
- 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 2 Tbs. chili powder
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
In a 3-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt.
While whisking, slowly add the cornmeal and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the mixture is thick, about 30 minutes. (I found it didn’t take near that long.)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Heat the oil in a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan and add the pork, chorizo, onion and garlic. Cook until the meat is browned and the onions are soft, about 8 minutes.
Add the jalapeños, corn, tomatoes, chili powder, black pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Mix well and set aside.
When the cornmeal mixture is ready, spread the meat evenly in the baking dish.
Spread the cornmeal mixture evenly over the meat. Top with the shredded cheese. Bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is set and nicely brown. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. It’ll be even better the next day.