Chicken Tamale Casserole (with Roasted Tomatillo, Cilantro and Green Chile Sauce)

Chicken Tamale Casserole with Roasted Tomatillos

When we are in Santa Fe, I like to attempt at least one Southwestern-inspired dish, and with that, hopefully add an ingredient that is new to me. This recipe for Chicken Tamales sounded interesting and included tomatillos – a tart little tomato-like fruit that I have not cooked with before. However, I didn’t want to expend the energy to actually try making tamales, so I decided on making a casserole with a cornmeal topping, using this recipe as a base to get started.

Even though this is not as complex as making tamales, there are quite a few parts to this recipe that can be time consuming. The good news is it can be separated into sections, and prepared ahead of time.

As always, I recommend seeking out non-GMO, organic corn. I found frozen sweet white corn at Whole Foods (WF 365 Everyday Brand, organic and certified non-GMO). Bob’s Red Mill carries organic corn meal and flours.

[Here’s a small disclaimer – I’ve made a few, untested changes in the recipe from what I prepared. First, I was cooking at a high altitude (around 6000 feet), so I had to modify ingredients and cooking times to compensate. The instructions and ingredients I listed here are my approximations of what would work for cooking at a lower altitude. Next, after eating the casserole, we decided it needed a little more of this and less of that, so I also made those adjustments. Please send me feedback on how it works for you!]

Ingredients (serves 6-8):

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, Mexican oregano
  • 8 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 2 small cans fire-roasted Hatch Green Chiles, drained (6 chiles)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ~ 1 cup cilantro (leaves and small stems)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 cup sweet white corn kernels (organic)
  • 4 ounce log of soft goat cheese
  • 4 ounces cotija (whole milk), grated (or Monterey Jack cheese can be substituted)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup organic corn meal or flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (reserved from cooking chicken)

Cooking the chicken: Place the chicken in a saucepan with the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and oregano. Add enough water to cover the chicken well, and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, for about 35 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the chicken to cool in the broth. When cool enough to handle, transfer the chicken to a bowl, and shred to bite-sized pieces using your fingers. Strain the broth into another container and reserve for making the corn meal crust. Refrigerate chicken and broth until ready to assemble the casserole.


Preparing the tomatillo, cilantro, and green chile sauce: Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the tomatillos, onion, and garlic in a baking dish large enough to hold everything in one layer. (Note: you can use the same baking dish, unwashed, to assemble the casserole later. Less cleaning!) Toss with enough EVOO to coat the dish and the ingredients. Roast at 400F for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft and starting to caramelize around the edges.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool somewhat. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the green chiles, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro. Process until well-blended.

Transfer the mixture to a saucepan. Add the shredded chicken, corn and cheeses. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until the cheese has melted. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. (The cotija is pretty salty, so you may not need much, if any, salt.) Spread the mixture evenly in an oiled casserole dish (such as the one you just used to roast the tomatillos).

chicken tamale casserole

Preparing the corn meal crust: In a medium-sized bowl, combine the corn flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter pieces, and using your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until there aren’t any large pieces of butter left. (You do this by rolling the butter and flour between your fingers, squeezing to break up the butter pieces until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Alternatively you can melt the butter and stir it in, but cutting cold butter into the flour makes a better crust.)

Add the beaten egg and broth to the mixture, and stir until everything is just moistened (do not overmix). Spread the corn meal crust mixture evenly over the chicken mixture in the pan, taking care not to disturb the chicken layer too much.

Bake at 400F for about 45 minutes, until the topping is browned and crispy. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and dig in! Serve with avocado, limes, and/or a dollop of sour cream on the side, if desired.

birdAnother good find in Santa Fe, this time at a Goodwill store…Andrew Bird! I’ve been a fan of his from way back. A dazzling instrumentalist, a quirky, beguiling songwriter, he makes a world all his own. Found Noble Beast, and it was a hit here at the Rockin’ Frog. Some folks call it “chamber pop” and that will do as well as anything. Bird’s violin starts the mood, and his sophisticated and witty looks at love and life are spellbinding.

His latest release, the 2012 Break It Yourself continues his masterful way of making music his own. Try Andrew Bird…you won’t be sorry!bird2


5 thoughts on “Chicken Tamale Casserole (with Roasted Tomatillo, Cilantro and Green Chile Sauce)

  1. I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest, and I made it for dinner tonight. It was amazing! However, the crust on top of mine is much more scant than what it looks like in your pictures. It looks kind of like a crumble with some holes in it, since there wasn’t enough to cover up the chicken mixture in my 9×12 casserole pan. But it tasted great!!!

    1. I just measured the pan I used and it was 8×11…oops! Sorry your crust didn’t cover the casserole. Probably increasing the ingredients by 1/2 would fix that. Thanks for letting me know, and I’m glad you enjoyed it anyway!

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