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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chicken Tamale Casserole

One of my oldest son's favorite things to order when we are on the Northwestern, Pacific side of Mexico would be hand made tamales* that you can pick up as you walk through the market.  Seasoned meat and cheese wrapped in that soft Masa cornmeal dough and steamed inside the familiar corn husks.  Well making those can be a pretty time consuming operation.  Not something I am going to be starting after a day at work.   This, on the other hand, is very simple to assemble and I will be making use of some "cheater" convenience items to speed things along.  This is an "after your work day" meal, not a "work all day at it" meal.  For a history lesson on tamales, see *Food Nerd Notes at the bottom of this post.
Cornbread, on the other hand, is fast and easy.  So.... what about a cornbread "crust" seasoned up with cheese, corn, cumin, and chilies, and the shredded meat on top?  And what if we added some great color and texture with black beans and corn... and melted cheese... and chips... and avocados and tomatoes.. with cilantro and lime and sour cream.... oh my!!  I do get excited thinking about all those flavors put together in a simple to assemble casserole.
              Click here to watch my Video Recipe to make Chicken Tamale Casserole
Click for Printable Recipe   

  • 1 box of your favorite cornbread mix
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 (15 oz) can cream-style corn 
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 oz canned, chopped green chilies
  • 1 cup shredded Monterrey jack/cheddar cheese
  • 2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
    • I am using a rotisserie chicken to save time.
  • 1 1/2 cups red enchilada sauce, divided
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
    •  You can choose regular or a low salt variety
  • 3/4 (15 oz) can drained and rinsed black beans
  • 1 can (10 oz) corn niblets 
    •  I used a "Mexican-style"
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • crumbled tortilla chips 
    • enough to cover the top.  I didn't measure.
  • garnish
    • chopped avocado
    • chopped tomatoes
    • fresh lime juice
    • kosher salt and black pepper
    • chopped purple onion
  • sour cream to serve it with  
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Then start by making your cornbread.

1 box of cornbread mix
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 of a 15oz can of cream-style corn
1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack/cheddar cheese blend
2 oz chopped green chilies (half of a 4 oz  can)
1 tsp cumin
 I really prefer making cornbread in a black iron skillet.  It gives me a crispy edge on my crust.
1 Tbsp canola oil
When the oil is really hot, pour in the cornbread batter.  You can turn off the heat now.  We just wanted the oil to get hot.  Now pop this into the 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes.
I am leaving a little bit out to make an individual serving of this.  Just to let you know what's going on here.  Feel free to add it all... or to make individual  servings.  My son suggested that this would be great made in individual ramekins or even muffin tins.
While the cornbread is cooking, prepare the rest.  I am using my ultimate favorite "after work" convenience food - a rotisserie chicken.  Hot, cooked, well seasoned, juicy... and frankly, less expensive than buying a raw chicken.  I'm saving a LOT of time and saving money at the same time.
Shred the chicken.  I used both the white and dark meat.  A "regular" sized chicken will typically give you between 2 - 3 cups of meat.  There are larger chickens (usually called "family sized").
2 - 3 cups of chopped, cooked rotisserie chicken
Add some red enchilada sauce to the chicken.  Here is a step where you can really control the heat.  I am using the "mild" version, but you can also buy a "hot" version that is pretty darn spicy if you want an extra kick.
1 cup mild, red enchilada sauce
Now I am adding a packet of taco seasoning.  Yes, this seems extreme.  But we have layers of food here, and we want each seasoned.  Notice we are NOT adding any additional salt or pepper to this recipe. 
1 packet of taco seasoning
Now... next we will prepare the "topping."  I will begin by chopping my tomatoes into bite sized pieces.
 Next I will chop up an avocado.
I will marinate both of these in a big squeeze of lime juice. (I used just one half of a large lime.)  The  lime juice will add a lot of flavor and also prevent the oxidizing (browning) of the avocado.
Season generously with salt and pepper.  (This is my only application of salt)
And add in a bit of chopped purple onion.  Maybe about.... 1/4 cup. ?  As you can see, this is a touchy feely recipe... no exact measurements needed. Have fun and let your personal taste be your guide.
Now.... the cornbread is done.  Golden brown with a crispy crunchy exterior crust, but tender in the middle.
Add in about 2/3 - 3/4 a can of drained and rinsed black beans.   If you want to do the whole can, go for it.
drained and rinsed black beans
Add in a can of sweet whole corn.  I chose a "Mexican" style blend.  It has little pieces of red and green peppers in it.
sweet whole corn niblets
Pile on that juicy chicken.  You may have thought that there was too much sauce in the chicken.  But remember, the corn dough of tamales is typically "soft" and well... sort of a creamy texture.  So we are going to allow the extra sauce from the chicken to permeate the cornbread, to better approximate that texture.  It will be fine.  Having the corn and beans in between, however, will keep the cornbread from getting all out "mushy."
chicken with the added enchilada sauce and taco seasoning
Crumble a bunch of tortilla chips over the top.  When they bake down, they will turn into the taste and texture of corn tortillas - without the bother of digging those out, cutting and frying them.
tortilla chips
Now add lots and lots of mozzarella cheese.  Yes - that's my favorite part.  You got me.
mozzarella cheese
Now pop this back into the 400 degree oven for another 15 minutes, uncovered.
And don't forget about this little guy.

Oops, almost forgot.... before you close that oven door, drizzle another 1/2 cup or so of the red enchilada sauce over the top.
rest of the enchilada sauce
After 15 minutes, we have a lovely, gooey casserole that smells DIVINE!
Top the cooked casserole with the avocado, tomato, lime and onion salad you made. Garnish with fresh cilantro. You MUST have cilantro!

Serve hot and melty with a big dollop of sour cream, a little  extra chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime over each serving.  My son says, "you can't forget the lime."
Are you hungry yet?  Sweet corn flavor throughout, the color and texture of the beans and corn, spicy'ish chicken, gooey cheese, the bright flavors of fresh tomatoes and purple onion, the creamy avocado... bold cilantro.. creamy sour cream, and a pop of sunshine from the fresh lime!!  Yes!!! Score!
And you know something else?  It's even better on Day 2!!!

Post Script -
I caught my son putting this on his plate for breakfast this morning.  Ummm... not sure what to make of that.  Yep.  It's safe to say he liked it, but come on....for BREAKFAST?!!

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Prepare a box of your favorite cornbread mix.  I like Jiffy, but use whatever you are comfortable with.  If that means you like to make it from scratch, do so.  But if you are making it from a box, make it according to the directions with the milk and egg called for.  Add in the yellow cheese blend, cream-style corn, cumin, and green chilies.  Add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil to your iron skillet and let it get really hot.  Pour in the cornbread batter.  The hot oil will help it form a crispy crust on the bottom and sides.  Then pop the skillet into the oven for about 25 minutes.

While cornbread is baking, combine shredded, cooked chicken with a cup of red enchilada sauce and the taco seasoning.  This may seem really salty, but we are balancing out the sweetness from the cornbread.

Remove cornbread from the oven and add all the toppings:  rinsed black beans, corn niblets, chicken and sauce, crumbled tortilla chips, then LOTs of mozzarella cheese.  Drizzle about another 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce over the top, then put it back into the oven for 15 minutes.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, and a little salad of chopped tomatoes, avocado, lime juice, salt and pepper, and some purple onion.  Serve hot with a big dollop of sour cream.

Food Nerd Notes:

First, let's talk about Tamales - 

tamale — is a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa (a starchy corn-based dough), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.  Tamales have been traced back to the Ancient Maya people, who prepared them for feasts as early as the Preclassic period (1200-250 BC).

Some sources say tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. Aztec and Maya  civilizations, as well as the Olmeca and Tolteca before them, used tamales as portable food, often to support their armies, but also for hunters and travelers. Tamale use in the Inca Empire had been reported long before the Spanish visited the New World.

Now... Casseroles - 
For sure, food trends come and go.  Casseroles were all the rage in the 1950's, then fell out of favor in the 1970's.  Now... we can't get enough of them.  We are busy.  They are comforting and easy.. and flavorful.  But what is a casserole...really?

A casserole, from the French word for "saucepan", is a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word casserole is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself. In British English, this type of dish is frequently also called a "bake," coinciding with the cooking technique used to cook casseroles. In Minnesota, this type of dish is sometimes called "hotdish".

Casseroles usually consist of pieces of meat, various chopped vegetables, a starchy binder such as flour, potato or pasta, and, often, a crunchy or cheesy topping. Liquids are released from the meat and vegetables during cooking, and further liquid in the form of stock, wine, stock, vegetable juice, etc., may be added when the dish is assembled. Casseroles are usually cooked slowly in the oven, often uncovered. They may be served as a main course or a side dish, and may be served in the vessel in which they were cooked.

In 1866, Elmire Jolicoeur, a French Canadian immigrant, invented the precursor of the modern casserole in New Hampshire.  The casseroles we know today are a relatively modern invention. Early casserole recipes consisted of rice that was pounded, pressed, and filled with a savory mixture of meats such as chicken or sweetbreads.  Some time around the 1870s this sense of casserole seems to have slipped into its current sense. Cooking in earthenware containers has always been common in most nations, but the idea of casserole cooking as a one-dish meal became popular in America in the twentieth century, especially in the 1950s when new forms of lightweight metal and glassware appeared on the market.

Craving more easy Mexican-style choices?
Beefy Mexican Cornbread

Baked Chicken Taquitos

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Easy Beefy Enchiladas

Fire Roasted Corn Guacamole

Fresh Mex Salsa

Skinny Mexican Pizza

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  1. Making this tonight, can't wait, thanks!

    1. Good Luck, Michaela! Drop me a line letting me know how it goes! Julie

  2. If I don't have a skillet, what size casserole dish would work best? (Maybe I ought to put a skillet on the Mother's Day list... :))

    1. Erin-

      If you are going to cook many things from my blog, you DEFINITELY need one! LOL. SO useful! (Try a specialty food store, or a camping supply/outdoors store, or even an antique store.)

      All that said... Hmmmm... I would probably go with an 8"x8" casserole dish. If you go 9"x13", I'm afraid the cornbread will be too thin and will be dried out. Hope this helps - get that skillet!!! Be sure to let me know how it comes out!


  3. Can you prepare it the night before?

    1. You can make the components the night before (the cornbread, the chicken and sauce, etc)... then put them all together just before popping it into the oven. That way it won't get soggy on you.

  4. I am in the process of making this dish right now! I made the cornbread crust and coated the chicken with the enchilada sauce and taco seasoning. I put the marinated chicken in the refrigerator to allow it to marinade! Everything will be set tonight for when I get off of work and just have to assemble the casserole and bake. Can't wait!

  5. Do you know how many calories are in this?

    1. Sorry. I absolutely do not. There are programs on the internet, however, where you can plug in ingredients and portions (and probably brand names) and get nutritional info. Try

  6. Fabulous recipe - one of the best of the Mexican - like dishes!!!

  7. Raw whole chicken is a whole lot cheaper than store bought rotisserie. Can't wait to try this recipe though, so colorful!!

    1. In the market by me, it's the opposite on the price issue. But thanks for the compliment on the recipe... I hope you enjoy it!

  8. Tamales were the BOMB! Your step by step was so detailed, I loved it.


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