A tamale minus the corn husk wrapper, this delicious version of tamale pie is made with succulent pieces of well-browned pork shoulder rather than ground beef and is coupled with a host of chili peppers well-charred over an open flame to give rise to their flavorful, smoky goodness. With Cinco de Mayo a matter of days away and our palates crying out for an exceptional Mexican dish we set out to explore a brand spanking new local market here in the San Francisco East Bay, Las Mantañas, for ingredients to create our tamale pie. The market, we delightfully discovered, is both glorious and gorgeous… and a dream in which to shop! As we walked through the doors of this beautifully designed and appointed supermarket we were greeting with cheerful Mexican music wafting through the brightly lit and colorful aisles. Before doing any serious shopping we walked through the market to soak up the vibrant atmosphere as well as familiarize ourselves with all that was there. We were amazed at the extensive selection of fresh cuts of meat, bountiful seafood, blemish- free fruits and vegetables… and a magnificent array of fresh Mexican cheeses. In one corner of the market we were delighted to watch fresh tortillas spewing from a mechanical wonder onto a conveyor belt, then lovingly packaged by hand. The next stop was the bakery, all goods from breads to beautifully decorated cakes baked on the premises. Our shopping experience was taking on the atmosphere of a fiesta… and we loved every minute of it as we approached sensory overload!
But back to the shopping! Our return to the produce department quickly produced a shopping basket filled with ears of fresh sweet corn, a variety of chili peppers that ran the gamut of the Scoville Chili Heat Chart, aromatic cilantro, pristine white onions and several nopales, or prepared prickly pear cactus pads. We could almost taste the tamale pie as we walked to the car, salivating at the thought of the dish that was soon to be scooped onto warmed dinner plates!
Chile Verde Tamale Pie
Over an open flame char till blackened:
- 6 anaheim or 4 large poblano chilies
- 1 large green bell pepper
Chef’s Note: On the Scoville Chili Heat Chart Anaheim chilies are given a rating of 2, equating to a heat level of 1,000 – 1,500 Scoville Units. Poblano and jalapeno chilies are given a rating of 4, equating to a heat level of 2,500 – 5,000 Scoville Units.
Place the blackened chilies in a plastic bag and allow to sweat for 20 minutes. Using your fingers and paper towels gently remove the charred skin. Do not rinse the chilies under running water as rinsing will remove a significant amount of the desired smoky flavor:
Split the chilies, discarding the stem and seeds and cut the strips into 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces. Place in a bowl and set to the side.
Cut in half and steam for 4 minutes:
- 2 – 3 prickly pear cactus paddles, or nopales (approximately 6 – 8 ounces)
Cut the cooked nopales into thin strips, approximately 1/4″ wide:
Cut the strips in half to make them bite-size, place in a bowl and set to the side:
Chef’s Note: If fresh nopales are unavailable, canned and rinsed nopalitos can be substituted.
Using a box grater, coarsely grate and set to the side:
- 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 – 6 ears white sweet corn, depending on size
Rinse and reserve 3 leaves per plate for garnish, if desired, keeping them between two damp towels to prevent them from drying out before service. To remove the leaves without tearing cut the stem end of each cob with a sharp knife… the leaves will peel off easily:
Cut the corn from the cobs with a sharp knife and transfer the cut corn to a blender:
Puree until completely smooth. Total volume of pureed corn should be 1-1/2 cups. Pour half of the puree into a measuring cup and set to the side, leaving the remaining 3/4 cup of corn puree in the blender jar. To the blender add:
- 2 T masa flour
Pulse several times to blend well.
Place in a small skillet over medium heat:
- 1-1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
Toast until fragrant and the beginning to darken slightly, approximately 2 – 3 minutes. Remove from the heat then immediately transfer to a spice mill and grind finely. Transfer to a small bowl and set to the side. Preheat the oven to 400°.
Trim excess fat and cut into 1″ cubes:
- 1 – 1/2 lb pork shoulder
Transfer to a medium bowl and season with:
- All Purpose Meat Rub
In a heavy 12″ skillet or sauteuse over moderately high heat place:
- 2 T extra virgin olive oil
When the oil begins to shimmer add the seasoned pork in a single layer without overcrowding and brown well on all sides. With a slotted spoon transfer the well-browned meat to a deep cast iron skillet on the side and brown the remaining cubes in a second batch. When beautifully browned transfer the remaining pork to the skillet:
To the pan in which the pork has been browned add:
- 2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped
Sauté until onions are tender, approximately 5 minutes, loosening the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add:
- the ground spice mixture
- 1 T dried oregano, rubbed in the palms of your hands to release the fragrant oils
- 2 large jalepeño peppers, seeds included, finely minced
- 4 – 5 whole cloves peeled garlic, microplaned
Stir to combine well and cook 4 – 5 minutes. Add:
- 1 C low sodium chicken stock
Scrape up any remaining brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the seasoned onion mixture to the cast iron skillet and place the skillet over the heat. Add:
- 1 C purchased tomatillo salsa (salsa verde)
- the chopped and reserved chilies
- the reserved nopalitos
Stir well to combine and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes, lid on but partially cracked open. Add:
- the blended corn and masa mixture
Stir well to combine. Return the lid to the pan, again partially cracked open, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. In the meantime prepare the cornbread topping.
In a medium-sized bowl whisk together:
- 3/4 C all purpose flour
- 3/4 C yellow cornmeal
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp chili powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
Place in the blender jar:
- the reserved 3/4 C corn puree
- 3/4 C whole milk
- 1/4 C (1/2 stick) melted butter
- 1 large egg
- 1 T blue agave syrup
Blend well to combine. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just blended. Stir in:
- 3/4 C (generous) of the grated cheddar cheese
Remove the lid from the skillet and add:
- 1/3 – 1/2 C coarsely chopped cilantro
Stir well to combine. Sprinkle over the top:
- the remaining grated cheddar cheese
Spoon the cornbread batter over the top, spreading it evenly to cover the pie filling:
Bake in the preheated 400° oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until the cornbread topping is a deep golden brown:
Serve Chile Verde Tamale Pie piping hot, each plate garnished with the reserved corn husks for presentation. Pass plenty of cool, rich sour cream and spicy salsa to celebrate the flavors of Mexico… and don’t forget the ice cold beer. Bon Appetit!
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