Well, if you know anything about me at all, you know that I love when I take a standard recipe and amplify it with a small change or two that just blows my tiny little mind. It doesn't always happen; in fact, sometimes my changes backfire (blame it on a lack of interest in my high school chemistry class). But sometimes....every once in a while....the stars align...and I'm rewarded for my experimentation.
Observe...the Tamale Pie.
What you see here is oodles of deliciousness, and a staple in many Texas Housewives' recipe box. Generally, Tamale Pie is served at picnics or family get-togethers, and I have to tell you, I've never been too impressed with what I've been served. However, the IDEA of Tamale Pie has sucked me into the vortex for many years now, and after trying a few lackluster (or downright awful) choice recipes from various Eastern Star, Garden Club, and other such community cookbooks, I finally turned to the person I consider THE expert in Texas cuisine: Robb Walsh. I went through his Tex-Mex Cookbook and found a recipe with which I knew I could work. The first change I made in order to make it my own was I used more beef, about a quarter of a pound more (and chuck at that, not lean). The second change was that I seeded the serrano pepper. Serranos are too hot, hotter than jalapenos, so if you take the seeds and membrane out, you get the flavor without the heat. The third, and probably most significant change I made was using bacon fat. "Bacon fat?" you shudder. Yes, bacon fat. Really, if I had pure lard, it would actually be better. I only use 2-3 T. bacon fat rather than the 1/4 c. of vegetable oil. It gives a MUCH better flavor to the meat, and not only that, when you save all your drippings and use them back in the cornbread mix, you just have no idea what a tender, flavorful crumb it creates. No dry cornbread here, folks.
So here is my modified Tamale Pie recipe...definitely a keeper. I'd be proud to take this to any picnic or event.
3 T bacon fat or pure backfat lard
2.25 lbs ground chuck or sirloin
2 c. chopped onion
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 serrano pepper, minced (I do not use seeds, just fyi)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 small can of corn
1/4 c. chili powder
1 1/2 t. salt
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. garlic powder
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
2 packages of cornbread or muffin mix (I use Pioneer)
Preheat oven to 350*F. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan and brown the meat over med-to med-high heat. Stir in the onions, pepper and serrano pepper and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until veggies are limp. Add tomato sauce, corn, chili powder, salt, cumin, garlic, and oregano. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain fat, reserving 1/3 cup. Set aside.
Prepare cornbread mix according to the package, except subsititute the reserved drippings for 1/3 of the milk in the recipe. Once stirred, add just a bit of milk extra to thin it to the consistency of pancake batter (add a tablespoon at a time). Spread about half of the batter in the bottom of a greased 9" x 12" glass pan. Gently spoon the meat pix evenly over the top, then spoon the remaining cornbread batter over that (it won't cover completely, and that's okay).
Bake for 30 minutes. Cool 10-15 minutes (important!) and then slice and eat!
The best part is, this works well with my band. You don't eat a whole lot, so it's not super caloric. I served it with Bush's Black Beans that I heated up on the stove with salt, onion powder, cumin, and garlic powder.