Tamale cornbread dressing DSC1394
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Tamale cornbread dressing

The first time I heard of tamales used as a stuffing was in Mary Faulk Koock’s The Texas Cookbook, where she tells a story about a friend of hers in Amarillo who packs his turkey with dozens of tamales before throwing it on a grill and slathering it with barbecue sauce.

“Brilliant!” I said to myself. “I must try that!”

Of course, with no outdoor space I knew that my opportunities to grill a turkey were limited. But using tamales as a stuffing (or dressing, as we say down South), was very intriguing.

In my family, my uncle is on dressing duty every year so it’s not a dish I’ve spent much time making or refining. But I couldn’t stop thinking about incorporating tamales into the dressing, especially since tamales embrace some of the finer qualities of a dressing with their soft, steamed dough wrapped around a piquant, flavorful filling. And when you throw in some crumbled cornbread and roasted jalapeños, you’ve taken something traditional and elevated it to something unique.

Even though I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family at my grandma’s farm, I’m a firm believer that feasting well and showing gratitude shouldn’t just be limited to one day. It’s for this reason my friends and I often get together and throw an early Thanksgiving dinner before we travel for the holiday. And when I learned I was on side-dish duty, I knew just what I would make.

A little poking around led me to a few recipes for tamale cornbread dressing. Interestingly, most of them hailed from Austin though I did find one from the Rio Grande Valley. After much thought, I decided to adapt an Austin Chronicle recipe that appealed to me because it had lots of cheese and corn. I also threw in some cilantro, cumin, and garlic for more flavor, and in a nod to my uncle’s dressing I swapped out the poblano chiles for jalapeños, which added more fire and pop to each bite.

While I made mine with beef tamales, it would be just as good with pork, chicken, turkey or any other type of tamale that you prefer. This recipe makes enough to serve eight hungry people, though it can easily be doubled if you have a larger crowd.

If you love cornbread and tamales, this dressing is for you. Sure, it’s special enough for the big feast, but I have a feeling it will be making more appearances in my kitchen during the colder months, especially if I have leftover cornbread I want to use. After all, as my uncle says, dressing is one of the ultimate comfort foods.

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4.84 from 6 votes

Tamale cornbread dressing

Servings 8
Author Adapted by Lisa Fain from an Austin Chronicle recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups crumbled cornbread (1/2 of a baked 10-inch skillet)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 jalapeños, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 4 ounces pepper Jack, shredded (1 cup)
  • 6 beef, pork, or chicken tamales, chopped
  • 2 cups turkey or chicken broth
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
  • Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, diced jalapeños and pepper Jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and return the dressing to the skillet. (Alternatively, you can place the dressing in a greased 9×9 baking dish.)
  • Pour over the dressing the chicken broth and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the skillet with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.

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62 Comments

  1. Is it ok to use canned tamale? I don’t know where here in Fl to get fresh tamales at short notice? Also, may I ask if the tamales more or less disappears in the dish leaving the taste? Sorry for stupid questions but I was just given this idea yesterday! Lol

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Cherie–I’ve never used it with canned tamales but if that’s all you have then it will be fine. The tamales don’t disappear, but they blend in well with the rest of the ingredients.

  2. Carol Lerche says:

    A few years ago my husband and I traveled to my daughter’s LA apartment to make Thanksgiving while she was in UCLA. I brought many ingredients but not cornmeal for our traditional cornbread dressing, because we could just buy it down there. But yikes! None of the stores had it because there had been a recall due to weevils in the cornmeal. So I told my husband to buy masa flour, with shich I made the cornbread. It tasted like tamales! (My stuffing has jalapenos, sausage, onions, celery and parsley, along with stock, eggss and butter.) It was so good that I have made it that way several times.

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Carol–What a wonderful tip! I’ve never made cornbread with masa harina but I’ll definitely be trying it.