Chicken Tamale Pie

December 20, 2014

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: A chunky chicken chili topped with a cornbread-y/polenta-y batter situation baked up to a crisp in your oven, also known as everything you want in one pot. If you're craving even more layers, top it with a scoop of salsa.Kendra Vaculin

Serves: 6
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 1 hrs 30 min


For the chili

  • 1 pound skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cans beans, drained and rinsed (I used one black, one Great Northern)
  • 1 can sweet corn, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (4-ounce) can hot green chilies
  • 1 (12-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (optional)

For the topping

  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
In This Recipe


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. In a large pot or deep saucepan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add cubed chicken, garlic, coriander, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon chili powder. Cook until chicken is browned on all sides, then remove and set aside.
  3. Add chopped onion to the pot and cook down until soft and fragrant. Add beans, corn, chilies, and tomatoes, including the liquid. If there is not very much juice with the tomatoes, add up to 1/4 cup chicken stock. You don’t want a soupy chili at all, but enough liquid to cook everything together.
  4. Bring mix to a boil and allow to cook and thicken. When nearly done, add chicken and mix in, heating through to finish. Remove chili from heat.
  5. In a small pot, heat water and salt over medium high heat; it doesn’t need to be boiling. Stir in cornmeal and continue whisking while it incorporates the water and thickens, which should take about 5 minutes. When thick, add butter and mix in to melt. Remove from heat.
  6. In a deep round glass dish, pour all of the chili. Oh man. You just want to eat it now, don't you? Oh man. Now scoop the (essentially polenta) cornmeal mixture over the top of the chili, and spread into a single layer. Top with a sprinkling of black pepper.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, or until polenta has firmed up. Allow to cool briefly, and then scoop into bowls to serve.

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Reviews (44) Questions (0)

44 Reviews

The I. December 19, 2017
I found the recipe to be on the bland side, and knowing I and my family prefer a good measure of flavor, I added extra of all the seasonings plus added in some Cholula hot sauce and other salsa to the base mixture. I also added 3 oz of white goat cheddar to the polenta. Delicious with the adjustments!
hillbillyGirl June 15, 2017
Call me crazy! I started with a corn and black bean salad- added the chicky, doubled the spices and added chipotle cheddar cheese on top of the polenta. All in my lodge black iron skillet. Awesomeness for a weeknight meal!
JanieMac January 27, 2017
btglenn I can imagine that thigh meat would be better, the flavour is always more 'chickeny' anyway. Pinto beans sound good too.
btglenn January 27, 2017
I use chicken thighs which take longer cooking without toughening up the way breasts do when cooked to long. Also,use frozen corn preferably not sweet, and pinto beans. I sauté the onion first along with a chopped pasilla chile, then add the chicken and the spices for browning. It is not necessary to remove the chicken at this time. I drain the tomatoes before adding it along with the other ingredients to the pot and let it cook for a few minutes -- then add the tomato juice and broth as needed for a good consistency. I make more polenta than the recipe calls for because my preference is for a bottom polenta layer along with the topping. I sometimes add thawed frozen corn to the hot polenta for additional texture , mixing it in along with salt and pepper to taste.
JanePrez January 24, 2017
I've made this and love it. Cheese instead of polenta sounds like a great idea. I've subbed mash potatoes for the polenta.
Arika H. October 10, 2016
Love this idea and after some tweaks, loved the finished recipe. I made A LOT of adjustments, based on previous comments and a chicken chili recipe I already like. Cooked chicken first - cubed it and set it aside. Cooked onions in butter until soft. Upped the spices and salt, added to onions and let cook for 5 minutes or so. Added a little flour, like a roux to help thicken. Then added chicken and everything else (including cannellini beans, cuban-style black beans, salsa-style tomatoes and fire-roasted corn). Added 1/2 4-ounce of diced jalapenos, too. Other half went into the grits. Cooked grits as package directed (Trader Joe's white grits FTW) and then a little longer uncovered, to help thicken. Topped as directed and baked 30 minutes. SO GOOD. A bit of work, but worth it. Will definitely be making again!
Lee L. April 16, 2016
I hate to break it to pjcamps, but contrary to what Bob's Red Mill claims polenta is not grits.<br />Take it from an expert. South Carolina born and bred.
pjcamp April 16, 2016
I take it from me, an expert Georgia born and bred, as well as Alton Brown. The only difference is in how they are prepared. The actual item is coarse ground corn meal for both. You use fine ground corn meal and what you have is mush. I hate mush. If you want to get picky, polenta is a dish, not a food, and has historically been prepared with things like ground chickpeas, buckwheat and farro. These days polenta pretty much always means corn polenta, and should not be prepared with fine ground cornmeal since what you get is library paste. So you use coarse ground and it is indistinguishable from grits.
Mark April 11, 2016
Pretty good recipe. I opted to not add the cornmeal mixture since beach season is coming up. The chicken chili is delicious, though. I went with a bit more spice, as well.
JanieMac January 13, 2016
Ruth, that sounds really good - great idea for a vegetarian version!
Ruth I. January 12, 2016
I loved this recipe...with a few additions! I ended up having to triple the amount of coriander, chili powder, cumin and added in some salt as I used 'no salt added' beans and tomatoes. I also used Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina since I already had that in my pantry. I think next time I'll double the amount of the 'polenta' mixture as I was left wanting so much more! I'm also vegetarian and instead of chicken, I cooked 1 cup dried green lentils and then proceeded with the rest of the recipe.
Mark O. January 12, 2016
Made this last night and will make again. Add salt and pepper before you put a topping on. Used Rotel instead of straight tomato. Also added a heaping teaspoon of Ancho chile powder. Also used chicken thighs instead of breasts. Good basic recipe that you can play with.
Constant S. January 11, 2016
Get rid of that awful maizena 'topping'! Grate GENEROUSLY cheese [any!] over it as a topping; and YES Janie, out the chilli powder and IN the chipotle!
JanieMac January 10, 2016
Never mind the 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, double it and add some smoke chipotle. It is a great basic recipe for a retro dish, love it, but snazz it up to make it worth the work.
bobby Z. January 10, 2016
where does the other 1/2 teaspoon chili powder go?
ward D. November 4, 2015
Didn't make the dish per say. Went with the concept and made my own chicken chilli (everyone has their own recipe) and topped it with roasted jalapeño slices and cheddar cheese. Then poured corn muffin batter over the dish with a sprinkle of cheddar and one more jalapeño.
M November 2, 2015
This recipe was too much for too little - too much work and time expended for the end product. The concept is excellent, but I found the actual recipe lackluster. I'll definitely be trying it again with my own chili and polenta recipes.
JanieMac October 7, 2015
Made this recipe as given and enjoyed it - a blast from my childhood of school cafeteria food in Southern California. Next time I will use more spice and some Jalapenos to make it a bit more grown-up. Really like the polenta thing, so much easier than making a cornbread topping and grappling with soggy bits in the middle and it tasted more of corn.
Carl June 1, 2015
This is not a good recipe. No salt? Bland beyond belief. One can of beans would be plenty. Needs 4X the spice to even become tasty. Add salsa and more taco or chili seasoning. Use polenta, not cornmeal.
btglenn November 8, 2015
Sharon H. January 11, 2016
um, sorry, but what do you think polenta is??
pjcamp January 11, 2016
Polenta is grits. Cornmeal is much finer ground, and masa is finer than that.
Rhonda23 March 11, 2015
So I made this a few weeks back. It was good, not great, as so many people had mentioned after sitting at the table with it, we added lots more spice, then it was great.. Going to try it again tonight...thinking salsa instead of tomatoes, definetly double the spice...maybe triple... And it's impossible to find hot chilis so as someone else said I am going to chop up jalapeños and im going to let it sit together for a few hours before I add polenta on top..I'll let you know
lilroseglow February 9, 2015
So so good. We do like things spicy so I basically doubled the spices, and added a finely diced large jalapeno. Also cheddar cheese on top of the polenta. My kids loved this and ate insane portions. Thank you for the post!