A Hideously Unphotogenic Tamale Pie

14 Feb


For the past 4 months, I’ve been lying to my fiance. After a catering job, I happened to bring home a huge bag full of leftover tortilla casserole for him to — essentially — burrow into and ravage with a honey badger-like rage. Since then, I’ve been making it myself about every month or so… and for some reason, he’s persisted in calling it “tamale pie.” Our conversations tend to go like this every time:

“Hey, I made tortilla casserole.”

“Tamale pie? Yes!!”

“T-O-R-T-I-L-L-A C-A-S-S-E-R-O-L-E.”

“Tamale pie!”

“Yes. OK.”

This week, I decided to try a new tack: making anactual tamale pie. I rolled over in bed, pulled out my handy copy of America’s Test Kitchen’sSlow Cooker Revolution (just $17 on Amazon, kids!), and thumbed through to their Tamale Pie recipe. It called for such pantry stalwarts as instant polenta (what) and Minute tapioca; I called bullshit, and formulated a plan.

A lot of the recipes I found on the web suggested cornbread batter as the topper on the casserole, which seemed a little too dense for me. And also, wouldn’t that just make it a pile of chili with cornbread on top? Isn’t that just a little… stupid? So I went with polenta, but just the regular kind that you have to simmer for a half hour. If I’m gonna slave over my stove, I’m gonna slave, damn it! (But I can’t turn down a perfectly done rotisserie chicken from Holy Land! Or a jar of Rick Bayless’ enchilada sauce. Or some very seasonal canned beans and corn. Oh no sir.)

All in all, I think tamale pie, while more difficult to make than “tamale pie,” is fucking delicious. The only problem I had with the dish was its appearance. Casseroles are just so hideous. Even the fascistically styled dishes on corporate websites look like abominations of Biblical proportions. Well, ain’t no cure for ugly.

Tamale Pie

  • 2 C polenta
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 C cooked chicken meats / TVP
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • A coquettish dusting of cumin
  • 1 16-oz jar of enchilada sauce
  • 1 15-oz can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 15-oz can of (possibly creamed) corn
  • 1.5 C cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Cook the polenta in 6 cups of water. Once you get it to a boil, lower the heat and stir frequently until creamy and thick. Add salt and butter if that’s your jam. Spread half of it onto a 9″x13″ baking dish.

Saute the onion and garlic in a 2-quart pan. When vegetables become translucent, add chicken and cumin and lower heat. In about a minute, add enchilada sauce. If the mixture seems dry, add a little water. When the chicken starts to break down, add the beans and corn and turn off the heat. Mix well and ladle into the baking dish.

Spread the last half of the polenta on top of the filling. It’ll be chunky and a little hard to handle, but I just broke it up with my hands. No sweat, it’s going to be haggard anyway. Scatter the cheese on top and bake!

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3 Responses to “A Hideously Unphotogenic Tamale Pie”

  1. Kris February 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    “I called bullshit.” Love it!! Also, this sounds like delicious, ugly comfort food. Just the way it was meant to be. It’s not comforting if your food it prettier than you are some days.

  2. khaiti July 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Hope you will be continuing this blog- you are so very funny, and a great writer!


  1. Hideously Unphotogenic Tamale Pie and Recipe Roundup | The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog - February 16, 2012

    [...] souffles, hideously unphotogenic tamale pie, tostadas, lamb meatballs in red wine sauce, apple turnovers, Chilean sea bass, and baked trout. [...]

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