Tamale Pie-Cooking From the Pantry

We all have busy lives, so I wanted to come up with an easy, yet delicious dish using food that most of us keep in our pantry, freezer and refrigerator, such as canned cream corn, cornmeal, green olives, jarred salsa and raisins, along with everyday spices and the ubiquitous boneless chicken breasts that I’m never without. 

Making proper tamales is no easy task.The tamale pie was created to have all the flavors of a real tamale, but not the work or the expense. There are a zillion recipes for tamale pies out there, meat versions, vegetarian, all with a flavorful sauce , but consistent in the dish is a cornmeal topping or crust. In my tamale pie, I first sautéed  boneless chicken breast strips seasoned with a Southwestern rub, then gently cooked them in beer. The alcohol cooks out in the process, but you prefer, you can substitute chicken broth or water. Chicken cooked this way is also delicious for tacos, enchiladas and burritos. This flavorful chicken was then combined with a jar of tomatillo salsa, whole kernel corn, chopped green olives and golden raisins. The raisins were a perfect foil to the spicy mix. A soft polenta like cornmeal topping finished it off and made it ready for the oven. There is no cheese in this tamale pie, but crumbled queso or feta can be dotted around the top after the pie comes out of the oven. For serving, sprinkle cilantro, chopped avocado and green onion over the finished pie.

For the Braised Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces

Spice Rub
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion power
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour

Braising ingredients
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
1/2-3/4 cup beer, chicken broth or water

Combine the spice rub ingredients. Rub into the chicken breast pieces. Let sit for 20 minutes. In a heavy skillet, heat the butter and the oil. Saute chicken breast pieces in batches, removing to a plate when golden brown. Drain off excess oil in pan, put the chicken breast pieces back into the pan, along with the garlic and jalapeno chiles. Add the 1/2 cup beer, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook about 15 minutes. If the broth cooks away before the chicken is done, add a tablespoon or so of the remaining beer. At then end of cooking, the chicken will be beautifully glazed. Set aside.

Tamale Pie
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 14-3/4 ounce can creamed corn
1-1/4 cups chicken broth
The braised chicken, above
1-16 ounce jar tomatillo salsa, mild or medium
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/3 cup pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
Chopped tomatoes, cilantro, diced avocado and, sliced green onion
Crumbled queso or feta, if desired.

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal. reduce heat. Whisking constantly, cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the creamed corn; return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine braised chicken, salsa, corn, olives and golden raisins. Place in a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish. Spoon the cornmeal mixture over the chicken mixture. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until the pie is heated throughout. Top with garnishes above. Serves 4


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