American Tamale Pie

Both Jim and I stake claim to Mexican cooking “know-how” in our household. Our reasonings, mind you, are totally unfounded. Jim thinks he’s Mexi-King because he spent a year in Southern California eating at “authentic” taco stands and burrito joints (and also doing drugs, which is why I discount his authority of taste during that time). Me, I think I’m the top tortilla because I’m generally the more-food-knowledgeable one, I’ve dated a few Spanish guys, and more importantly, I have a thing for Spanish literature, especially authors like Borges (who’s actually Argentinian), Márquez (who’s Colombian). No, not Mexican, so yes, that point is totally worthless, but somewhere in my unthinking brain I associate my fondness of translations (note: I can’t even read Spanish) with my ability to cook.

Moreover, we’re both highly competitive. Most of the time, we are able to function because we have different specialties–me cooking, him writing–but because I also write and he cooks, we have some overlap that usually ends in long conversations about why one knows more than the other.

The dish I’m blogging about today, however, proves that while we may know how to eat Mexican food, neither of us can hold bragging rights on how to cook it. Especially not me, since I’m the one who cooked this.

It started with me craving Chicken Pot Pie, then wanting to switch the chicken for beef, then wondering what this could be called—beef pot pie, burger pie, etc—and after a google search of “beef instead of chicken pot pie,” finding a bunch of recipes for Tamale Pie. One look at the words Monterey Jack Cheese, and Tamale Pie became dinner.

Instead of scoping out the many I’m-sure-delicious recipes on the internet, I decided to give this recipe a go on my own—confident that my Mexican-prowess would result in something sabroso!

The end product of my experiment wasn’t Mexican, though it was flavorsome. We wolfed the pie down in one satisfying sitting and my tamale pie was deigned a success, but something was off about the flavors, and we couldn’t pinpoint what wasn’t Mexican enough about it.

Wanting to know whether I had been way-off with my attempt at the dish, we turned to wiki-pedia, finding that Tamale Pie is only a “meat mixture covered with cornbread topping that resembles a Mexican dish” and actually has American origin. So, my dish is authentic Tamale Pie, though it seems I’m more confused about authentic Mexican than I thought!

Tamale Pie

Oven Temp: 375º

  • ½ lb. lean ground beef
  • ½ lb. hot chorizo sausage (about 2 links), out of the casings
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 poblano peppers, sliced (reserve some slices for decoration later)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. frozen sweet yellow corn (about ¼ of a bag)
  • 6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp. ground chili pepper
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon

for the topping:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 T. butter

In a medium dutch oven, begin to saute onions and peppers (reserving a few slices of the poblano for later). When onions are translucent, add garlic, ground beef, and chorizo and break it up into peices. Cook for 10 minutes then add cheese, corn, and spices.

Meanwhile: Bring water, cornmeal, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring, until cornmeal thickens. Turn off heat, add butter, and stir.

Using a rubber spatula, spread cornmeal mixture over the meat mixture. Decorate with reserved poblano slices. Bake, uncovered, in the oven for 40 minutes. ¡Buen apetito!