Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chicken Tamale Pie

It snowed last weekend. I mean, it SNOWED last weekend. Inches and inches and inches, not to mention there were ferocious gusts of wind that whipped across the lake. Comfort food was definitely on the menu Sunday to top off our frigid weekend. I chose a recipe I’ve wanted to try for months:“Granny’s Tamale Pie” from the October/November 2009 issue of Cook’s Country magazine.

The recipe came from a recipe contest for “America’s Best Lost Suppers.” According to the article, “Some 70 years ago, the elderly wife of a sheep rancher bestowed this unusual recipe on Betty’s family. Now Betty is sharing it.”

Well, Betty, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing.

The casserole by itself is somewhat plain (not bland, just plain), but the spicy sauce is what makes this a rockin’ recipe. Instead of cooking the sauce in the casserole, it’s served on the side as gravy. I think what makes this dish so comforting is it really mimics a meal of corn bread, chicken, and gravy.

You need a Dutch oven for the pie—the casserole is too deep for a standard casserole or baking dish. You also need a roasting pan since the tamale pie is baked in a water bath. I just used a disposable aluminum roasting pan.

Finally—this recipe takes at least 3 ½ hours to make and there are a lot of steps (nothing’s difficult; there’s just a lot of stuff you have to do). This is also a recipe you want to read over before trying to make it.

And did I mention this recipe has bacon? Crispy bacon? No? Well, now you have another excuse to make it.

Granny’s Chicken Tamale Pie (6-8 servings)
3 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup vegetable oil
3 cups chicken broth
8 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (15 oz) can creamed corn
1 (4.75 oz) can chopped black olives, drained
2 cups yellow corn meal
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
Boiling water

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
Salt & pepper

Begin by blotting the chicken dry with paper towels and season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat 1 ½ teaspoons of vegetable oil in a dutch oven for medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until well browned (about 5 minutes on each side). You may need to do this in two batches-I got all the chicken browned in one batch. Remove the chicken to a plate and remove the skin.

Heat the 3 cups of broth in the Dutch oven, and use your spoon to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the skinless chicken thighs to the liquid, and bring it to a boil. Once it’s reached a boil, reduce to a simmer (medium-low heat). Cover the pot and simmer the chicken for about 1 hour.

Transfer the meat to a plate and let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, take the chicken off the bone and shred it (two forks work well here).

Strain the broth—save 1 ½ cups to use in the sauce, and you can save the rest of the stock for another use.

Move one of your oven racks to the lower-middle shelf and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Cook the bacon in the Dutch oven until crisp, and then use a slotted spoon to move the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate.

Cook the onion in the bacon fat for about 6 minutes (until its softened), and then add the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes, corn, olives, ½ teaspoon of pepper, and the remaining oil (just shy of ½ cup) and bring to a boil

Now to make the base for the tamale part of the pie. Whisk the cornmeal, milk, and eggs in a bowl until smooth. SLOOOOOOWLY pour the cornmeal mixture into the pot, constantly stirring, and cook for about 1 minute to thicken the mixture. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the crispy bacon bits.

Get ready to layer the casserole. Removed about 4 cups of the cornmeal/tomato mixture into a bowl (or big measuring cup) and smooth the remaining tamale batter in the bottom of the pot. Top with the shredded chicken, and cover with the reserved cornmeal batter.

Bath time! Place your Dutch in a roasting pan and place the pans on the oven rack.

CAREFULLY pour boiling water (I used my teapot) into the roasting pan until it comes about 1/3 of the Dutch oven.

Bake, uncovered, until the cornmeal mixture is lightly browned, dry, and firm. This took 1 ½ hours in my oven, but it may take 2 hours. Remove the pot from the oven and let the casserole rest for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, get to work on the sauce. Toast the flour in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown. Stir in the rest of the spices and cook for about 30 seconds, or until the fragrance hits you. Stir in the tomato sauce and the 1 ½ cups of broth. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the sauce until it thickens, which only takes a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon the casserole onto plates and pour the sauce over it. I’ll be honest—it’s not very pretty. It kind of falls apart when you take it out of the Dutch oven, but once you taste it, you won’t mind its disheveled appearance.

Here are some photos of the lake-- it froze in a matter of days!

Kobe's practicing for the Iditarod!

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