One of Joey Altman’s two new dishes for next week is a Chicken Green Chile Tamale Pie. I had never had tamale pie before, and so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. A bunch of tamales shaped like a pie? A pie with a tamale on top? The film American Pie with a tamale on it? The only thing I was sure of was that there would definitely be a tamale somewhere. But I was wrong.
As it turns out, tamales and tamale pie are more similar in name than anything else. While tamales are usually wrapped in plantains or corn and steamed, tamale pie is more like a cornmeal casserole that’s baked in a cast iron skillet. Imagine a bold and spicy chili wearing a crispy cornbread hat, and you’ve got the idea. If you’re Irish and need an even more relevant analogy, it’s like a cornbread version of shepherd’s pie.
Tamale pie is considered to be primarily an American invention, although its true origins are unknown. Around the beginning of the twentieth century meat pies with cornmeal crusts and typical tamale fillings began to be known as tamale pies. Some say it originated in California as a riff on classic Mexican tamales, while others say it was a product of the period of forced creativity during WWII caused by ingredient scarcity. The important thing isn’t where it came from, though. What’s most important is that it got here. And where it’s going, which, if you’re lucky, is your mouth.
Ready to try Joey’s version of this storied dish? He set some aside just for you, but you better grab it quick. They’re going like hotcakes…er…pies.