Chicken Tamale Casserole

Long ago, I tried a recipe for tamale pie and it was terrible. The corn batter was on the top and came out crisp and dry, not at all like a tamale, where the corn-based dough is steamed inside a corn husk. There is not much comparison between steamed dough and baked dough. Recipes that try to literally reproduce a tamale in casserole form make a mistake by using the same formulas in a new format. Translation requires substitution and adjustment. The point of translating a recipe is achieving similar flavors and textures in a new format.  Despite that first failure, I thought I’d try a different approach, a casserole with a guaranteed moist corn dough on the bottom and a meat filling on top. This time the results were great, even if not an exact replication of a tamale.

I had this lovely bunch of poblano and Anaheim peppers to roast, peel, and freeze, so I just decided to incorporate a few of the poblanos into the casserole as well, in their own layer. In addition, I made some enchilada sauce for the top meat layer from ancho peppers, which are simply dried poblanos, so this recipe is a nice example of poblanos two ways.


The crux of the recipe was figuring out how to get a moist layer reminiscent of the corn dough in a tamale, but the right consistency for a casserole. I went through a lot of possibilities in my mind, from actual tamale dough made with masa flour to modified corn breads. I’m still working on trying something new, but decided today to go with something I know works, my go-to recipe for “Corn Casserole” from the Angels and Friends cookbook that I talked about in the “Banana Bread” recipe a few days ago. It’s simple, but everyone loves it, and it’s made from mostly ready made ingredients. The only problem with this old recipe is that I can’t find Freshlike corn anymore and their cans were always small, so I bought the regular larger can of creamed corn and just used half of it. You can follow this recipe as is, just use small cans of corn, or half cans of the 15 oz size. The cheese in the photo goes on top of the casserole and is not part of the corn casserole. Please make the corn casserole even if you don’t want the rest of this recipe; you will not regret it.


Actually, it’s easy to put together and bake.

Chicken Tamale Casserole

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate
  • Print

I did a lot of made from scratch steps today, including making some chicken stock from the leftover thigh bones, but you will see from the ingredients, that most of them can be purchased and just assembled.

Preheat oven to 350°; grease a 2 1/2 quart baking dish to accommodate both the corn casserole and the topping layers


2 cups pulled chicken (I cooked 4 chicken thighs and pulled the meat off the bone)

1 cup enchilada sauce (I made my own from reconstituted ancho peppers; recipe below)

2-3 poblano peppers, peeled, seeded, and cut in strips

1 recipe Corn Casserole

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese (I used Sargento® 4 Cheese Mexican)

Mix all the ingredients for the corn casserole and pour into baking dish. Top with pepper strips. Combine chicken and enchilada sauce and cover top of casserole. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes, then top with cheese and continue to cook for 15 minutes, for a total of about 45 minutes.

You can see that this is pretty simple if you buy a rotisserie chicken and canned peppers and enchilada sauce.

Enchilada Sauce

  • Servings: about 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Prepare Reconstituted Dried Chiles

  1. Rinse 6-8 dried ancho chiles, remove stems and seeds
  2. Tear into pieces so they fit in a small container or bowl
  3. Cover with boiling water; cover container with plastic wrap
  4. Set aside for about 45 minutes
  5. Place reconstituted chiles in blender with part of the liquid, adding more as needed to make a purée about the consistency of tomato juice
  6. Strain puree through a fine strainer to remove large pieces of pulp

Prepare Enchilada Sauce

  1. Heat 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 2 cloves of garlic in saucepan until infused with garlic (about 3 minutes)
  2. Stir in 1 tablespoon flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  3. Pour in pepper puree and 1 tablespoon vinegar
  4. Simmer until slightly thickened


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