Tamale pie is a dish that screams for an update. I mean, it's cornbread and chili all rolled into one! This version uses tender, slow-cooked, shredded skirt steak flavored with layers and layers of aromatics and vegetables for a rich, complex, chili-based stew topped with corn bread flavored with browned butter.
Why this recipe works:
- Skirt steak slow-cooked until fall-apart tender is the basis for a rich stew.
- Whole dried chilies are used in place of chili powder for better flavor and texture.
- A combination of poblano peppers, red bell peppers, and onions form a flavorful backbone for the sauce.
- Browning the butter for the cornbread crust gives it a rich, nutty aroma.
Note: The meat can be braised in a pressure cooker. To use a pressure cooker, follow recipe up to and including Step 5 (do not preheat oven in Step 1), using a stovetop or electric pressure cooker in place of the Dutch oven. Instead of Step 6, cook in the pressure cooker on high pressure for 45 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally, remove lid, and continue recipe from Step 7.
- Yield:serves 4 to 6
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:4 hours (or 2 1/4 hours with the pressure cooker)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 2-inch rectangles
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 whole sweet dried chilies like Costeño, New Mexico, or Choricero, stems and seeds removed
- 2 whole rich fruity dried chilies like Ancho, Mulatto, Negro, or Pasilla, stems and seeds removed
- 3 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 1 cup fresh corn kernels from 1 to 2 ears of corn
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 Serrano pepper, minced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin (preferably from whole seeds)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander (preferably from whole seeds)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup pitted green olives, sliced
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
- 4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and fine stems, minced
- For the Brown Butter Cornbread Crust:
- 1 cup (about 5 ounces) fine yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup (about 5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 eggs
- 6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) sour cream
- 4 ounces (about 1/4 cup) cultured buttermilk
- Sour cream, for serving
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F (see note above for pressure cooker instructions). Heat butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until melted. Continue to cook, swirling pan gently until butter is nutty-smelling and solids are a toasty brown. Transfer to a heatproof cup or bowl and reserve for Brown Butter Cornbread Crust.
Return pan to high heat. Season skirt steak generously with salt and pepper. Add to the pan in as close to a single layer as possible. Cook without moving until deeply browned on bottom side, about 6 minutes. When beef is browned (do not brown top side), transfer to a large plate and set aside.
Meanwhile, place chilies on a microwave-safe plate and microwave until hot, pliable, and toasted, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup and add 1 cup chicken stock. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high power until gently simmering, about 3 minutes. Remove from microwave and transfer to a blender. Add remaining chicken stock. Blend until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Return Dutch oven to high heat. Add oil to Dutch oven followed by corn. Cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is well charred in spots, about 4 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper, and poblano pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes.
Add garlic, Serrano pepper, cumin, coriander, and oregano and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chili purée and stir to combine. Return beef to the pot along with any drippings. Add olives and stir to combine.
Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, cover, and transfer to the oven (see note above for pressure cooker instructions). Cook until beef is fall-apart tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven.
Set oven temperature to 425°F. Stir Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, and cheese into stew. Return to stovetop and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened to a rich, stew-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a 12-inch cast iron skillet or a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish.
For the Brown Butter Cornbread Crust: Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Combine eggs, sour cream, and buttermilk in a second bowl and whisk until homogenous. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in reserved browned butter. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until homogenous.
Using a large spoon, place small dollops of the cornbread batter mixture on top of the beef filling, then use the back of the spoon to spread it into an even layer. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until pale golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cornbread comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Let cool 15 minutes, then serve with sour cream.