March 17, 2013
Recipe: Skillet Tamale Pie from Cook's Illustrated
Our repertoire of home made Mexican meals is slim. We often have tacos which are usually served with sangria and refried beans, but otherwise there is nothing we have regularly. On occasion we've had fajitas and we have made tamale pie using a mix from the supermarket a few times, but that's about it.
The tamale pie that we had on this St. Patrick's Day did not come from a box. I looked up a recipe from America's Test Kitchen to try. Their version is for a skillet tamale pie which minimized the number of dirty dishes, but does mean you will want to transfer the leftovers to another pan as a 12" skillet doesn't fit well in the refrigerator. This pie was very easy to make. Preparing the ingredients, the "mise en place", takes a little time but once this is done and the cooking starts, the dish is completed pretty quickly. The filling is first prepared on the stove top, the cornbread batter is spread on top of the filling, and the whole thing goes into the oven to bake the cornbread. Rather than buy a quart of buttermilk, then only use a small portion of it, I used a powdered buttermilk substitute which worked just fine. (Though I recently read that leftover buttermilk can be frozen, particularly if it will be used in baked goods.)
The tamale pie turned out well but the flavor was a little weak. This may be due to the use of lean ground beef which lacks the flavor provided by the fat. It could also have been due to the generic, and perhaps too old, chili powder that we had on hand.
The tamale pie makes a pretty complete meal by itself. To go along with it, though, I wanted something bright and fresh to complement the heavy pie so I prepared a fresh garden salad. We had a good selection of fresh vegetables as our CSA box had arrived shortly before and I picked up a few more at the supermarket. It included: green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, cilantro (just a little), cucumber, celery, carrot, mini sweet pepper, almond/cranberry accents, and tomato. It was served with a perfectly acceptable, drinkable, and affordable store-bought sangria.
We eat dinner outside for as much of the year as we can. As daylight saving time had just arrived and the weather was nice, this was our first outdoor dinner of the year. (Which improves my food photography more than anything else I might do as we don't get much natural light inside our kitchen.) I look forward to having this Mexican version of Shepherd's Pie again in the future but I might try another recipe next time to see if it provides a boost in the flavor.
Tamale Pie works well leftover as it can be simply warmed in the microwave and served. We froze some as we went out of town for a few days before using it all up and this worked well, too.