White Bean and Chorizo Chili with Cornbread Crust and Cheese
This simple tamale pie starts with a quick cooking white bean chili made with Spanish chorizo, white beans, and salsa verde that's spread into a baking dish, covered with a crispy-tender cornbread topping and plenty of cheese, and baked until golden, bubbly, and delicious.
What is Tamale Pie? (aka, Cornbread Pie)
Years and years ago, when I was first learning both how to cook and that it was something I actually enjoyed doing with my time, I read a recipe in a cookbook for "Chili Cornbread Pie". It was the first time I'd ever heard of such a dish, which consisted of thick ground beef chili nestled beneath cornbread batter and then baked. If I remember correctly, the recipe was written as a way of using up leftover chili and I thought it was both genius and delicious.
Ever since that first introduction to a casserole that includes both chili and cornbread in one delicious dish, I've made all sorts of variations, usually as a way of using up leftover chili. This recipe is for those times when I want to eat chili and cornbread but don't have any leftover chili hanging around and don't really want to take the time to make some.
The "chili" is made in about 30 minutes using aged chorizo, white beans, and salsa verde. The chorizo adds a rich meatiness that is a delicious compliment to the fresh, bright, acidic nature of salsa verde. Unlike chili made with ground beef or stew meat, chorizo doesn't need hours to cook. A quick sauté and then 20 minute simmer is plenty of time to incorporate all the flavors and produce a rich base for this Tamale Pie.
The Tamale Crust takes about 5 minutes to make and creates a cornbread topping that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Topped with cheese during the last few minutes of baking, the crust is a party of textures - soft, tender, crispy, and cheesy.
The difference between aged chorizo and fresh chorizo and why it matters.
Aged chorizo (Spanish Chorizo) and fresh chorizo (Mexican Chorizo) are so different they probably shouldn't both be called "chorizo".
Mexican chorizo is the consistency of ground beef or ground sausage. It's made with freshly ground pork and seasoned with onions, garlic, cumin, and chili powder.
Spanish chorizo is also made with pork, but packed into casing and cured. It's seasoned with spicy paprika and air-dried to a semi-hard, sliceable consistency.
For this dish, you want to use Spanish Chorizo. Mexican chorizo is much fattier and will dilute the consistency of this chili, making it runnier and a bit greasy. Spanish Chorizo, on the other hand, does not contribute excess fat to the chili and contributes mouthfuls of meatiness that is an essential contrast to the saucy chili and soft cornbread crust.
Spanish Chorizo can also be difficult to find. Sometimes my local supermarket has it, and sometimes it doesn't. I've found the same challenge in supermarkets across the country.
If you can't find Spanish Chorizo, please don't substitute Mexican Chorizo. Instead, look for Andouille sausage, or even Kielbasa. Andouille sausage has a similar consistency to Spanish Chorizo and is packed with smoky cajun heat that will add a spiciness and depth of flavor.
Kielbasa is a polish sausage that also has a consistency similar to Spanish Chorizo. Like Andouille, Kielbasa also has a smoky flavor, which is important to this dish. However, it's not spicy at all. To compensate, simply add a dash of cayenne or hot chili powder along with the other spices in the chili.
Should you use canned white beans or dried white beans?
Either will do, but whenever possible, use dried beans. There really isn't any comparison between a pot of creamy cooked dried beans and canned beans. Cooking dried beans slowly, with whatever seasonings you like, produces beans that are considerably more creamy and flavorful than anything you'll ever get from a can.
Cooking dried beans is NOT difficult, or even time consuming. It just requires a bit of forethought. Soak the beans overnight in some water, then dump them in a pot or slow cooker with more water and some spices and let them cook.
This recipe for How To Cook Dried Beans calls for cooking a pound of beans, which is much more than you'll need for this Tamale Pie. You could just cook fewer dried beans - but, they freeze beautifully. And, having beans in your freezer is practically as convenient as having cans of beans in your pantry, so why not make the full batch?
Salsa Verde Recommendations (Roasted Tomatillo Sauce)
As with the beans, homemade salsa verde is substantial better than most anything you'll find in a jar or a can - IF tomatillos and poblano peppers are in season. That's a big and important IF.
Homemade Salsa Verde is easy to make and packed with flavor when tomatillos and peppers are at their peak. In the off-season months, just open up a jar of the best quality prepared salsa verde you can find. My favorite varieties are Herdez, Frontera, and Pace.
Weekly Meal Plans that Include Tamale Pie:
Useful tools for making Tamale Pie:
- Cuisinart 3-quart saucepan OR 5 ½ quart sauté pan
- 9 Inch Square Baking Dish - my favorite is this Le Creuset Heritage Meringue Stoneware
More Recipes that Include Chorizo and Salsa Verde:
- Tomatillo Pulled Chicken and Rice Bowls with Roasted Corn Salsa
- Pan Seared Scallops with Chorizo, Green Chilies, and Creamy Roasted Corn
- Creamy Chicken Chili with Chorizo and Roasted Corn
- Easy, Cheesy, Chicken Enchiladas Verdes
- Crispy Chili Rellenos with Chorizo and Paprika Chicken
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #alittleandalot on Instagram.
For the White Bean Chili and Chorizo Filling:
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 12 oz aged chorizo sausage (*see notes above and below this recipe for for substitutions)
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 small jalapeño, stem and seeds removed, diced very small
- ¼ cup scallions, white and light green parts only, sliced very thin
- 1 tbsp minced garlic (2–3 cloves)
- 3 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp ground black pepper
- 4 oz diced green chilies
- One 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted (I like Muir Glenn Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. See link below.)
- 1 cup salsa verde, homemade or prepared (*See note below.)
- 15 ounces white beans, canned and drained, or prepared from dried (*See note below.)
- 1 ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- ⅓ cup chopped cilantro (or more, to taste)
For the cornmeal tamale topping:
- 1 cup cornmeal (fine or medium ground)
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup milk
- 1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
- For serving (optional): sour cream, chopped cilantro, and thinly sliced scallions
Make the White Chili and Chorizo Filling:
- Heat oven to 425 degrees.
- Slice chorizo links into ¼-inch thick pieces.
- Add oil to a 3-quart or larger heavy bottomed saucepan or large, deep skillet and set it over medium high heat. Add chorizo and diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the sausage is beginning to brown and the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 – 8 minutes.
- While the onion and chorizo cooks, add the diced jalapeño, sliced scallion, minced garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Add to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes longer.
- Add the green chilies, tomatoes, and salsa verde to the pan, stirring to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, lower the heat, and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, stirring frequently, until much of the liquid has evaporated. You want the chili to be thick and saucy – not dry, but also not soupy.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if you like. Scoop the chili into a deep 9-inch square baking dish.
Make the cornmeal toppping and bake the pie:
- Add the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder to a medium size bowl and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
Add the eggs, milk, and vegetable oil to a separate bowl or large measuring cup and whisk to break up the eggs and combine. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until smooth.
- Pour the cornmeal tamale topping over the chili in the baking dish.
- Set the baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips and bake on the lower rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the surface of the tamale pie and bake for another 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown in a few places.
- Serve with sour cream, chopped cilantro, and sliced green onions if desired.
- Homemade Salsa Verde is easy to make and packed with flavor when tomatillos and peppers are at their peak. In the off-season months, just open up a jar of the best quality prepared salsa verde you can find. My favorite varieties are Herdez, Frontera and Pace.
- Cooking dried beans is NOT difficult, or even time consuming. It just requires a bit of forethought. Soak the beans overnight in some water, then dump them in a pot or slow cooker with more water and some spices and let them cook. This recipe for How To Cook Dried Beans calls for cooking a pound of beans, which is much more than you’ll need for this Tamale Pie. You could just cook fewer dried beans – but, they freeze beautifully.
- Cured chorizo, which comes in links, is much better in this dish than ground, fresh chorizo. But it can be difficult to find in some areas. If your local supermarket doesn’t carry cured chorizo, use andouille sausage instead. In a pinch, you can also use kielbasa sausage. Kielbasa won’t add any heat like chorizo or andouille, so you might want to add a dash or two of cayenne or hot chili powder. See the notes above the recipe for more information about the difference between cured and fresh chorizo.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 698Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 140mgSodium: 2324mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 8gSugar: 9gProtein: 33g