Words and photos by Amanda Callahan of Callywood Farms
Tamales are a flavor-packed staple in many Mexican kitchens (and other countries, too), but the process of preparation is fairly time-intensive. It requires preparing a filling such as meat, vegetables or a combination, and a wrapper, usually corn husks soaked in water to make them pliable, or banana leaves. Once filled, the bundles are steamed and finished with sauces and accoutrements. When you don’t have time to make them from scratch, this fantastic dish will give you the flavors and textures in a format more accessible to weeknight dinner.
It features Mexican-spiced meat with a cornbread-like topping. As with the original inspiration, feel free to modify the protein in this recipe: pork, chicken and green chiles, mushrooms, black beans and corn, etc. all make stellar variations. You’ll have to adjust cooking times, but the possibilities are truly limitless.
Recipe note: The day before or morning that you want to serve this for dinner, start on the beef. You can either pressure cook or slow cook the roast. I actually used my pressure cooker to slow cook the beef. The reason I did this was to brown the meat in the pot first and not lose the flavor from the bottom. In addition to that, I can use my pressure cooker pot to reduce the sauce after cooking using the “sauté” function.
Beef Tamale Pie
For the beef
- 4 lb chuck roast
- Salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, coriander
- 1 onion, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 10 guajillo chiles (dried poblano peppers), seeds and inside ribs removed, torn into pieces. You can find these in the Hispanic section of most markets, online or visit a Mexican grocery store.
Substitutions: Ancho Chile, Pasilla Negro Chile, Cascabel Chile
- Cooking liquid (beer/wine, stock, water)
For the tamale pie
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 green peppers, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup freeze dried corn
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk or buttermilk
- 2 limes, zested
- 1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
- Refer to the recipe note above, and decide how you will cook your beef. Cut it into pieces, if needed, to sear. Season all sides with a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, and coriander. In a hot pan or pressure cooker, coat the bottom in oil and sear until each side is deep brown and forms a crust. Use more oil and sear more pieces, if needed.
- Add onions and garlic to the hot pan, and sauté for just a few minutes. Add chiles. Pour a cup of the cooking liquid into the pan (beer/wine is your choice here, if using, or use preferred stock or water), and use a study spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom. Place the beef back in and spoon the onion/pepper mixture on top. Cover the beef with additional water/stock. Slow cook on low for 8 hours, or pressure cook for 60 minutes and let it naturally release. Shred the beef while still warm and allow to cool in the cooking liquid. If cooking the beef the day before, place it in the fridge (preparing a day in advance will get you the most flavorful meat).
- About 60 minutes before you want to eat, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Remove beef from cooking liquid (you may have to warm it up a bit if it was in the fridge). Place the beef in a 13×9 baking dish. Place the cooking liquid over a boil and reduce it by ⅓-½ to concentrate the flavors. Puree the liquid using a blender or processor. You only need 1 cup for the rest of the recipe, but the extra sauce can go in the freezer as future enchilada or tamale sauce. I had about 4 cups of reduced cooking liquid.
- Start the tamale pie. Heat a medium sized saucepan over medium and add some oil. Once the oil is warm, add and sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 5-8 minutes until the onions are translucent and peppers are soft.
- Empty the cooked vegetables over the beef. Add the corn and one cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Stir everything together and taste for seasoning. Mine needed additional salt and pepper.
- Mix the cornbread topping: in a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a large measuring cup or another bowl combine the eggs and milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir. Add the zest and pour in the melted butter, continuing to whisk while doing so. Whisk until everything is uniformly combined.
- Pour the cornbread over the beef mixture, and spread evenly with a spatula to each edge.
- Bake at 425 for 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is lightly browned on top. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with your favorite Tex-Mex toppings if desired such as chopped cilantro, onions, sour cream shredded cheese, etc.