Spoon bread is like a cross between a souffle and polenta, and if you like cornbread (or even if you don’t–this might change your mind) you’ll love spoon bread. It’s a little more trouble to make than cornbread, but the extra trouble is worth it. It’s a very light, tender type of cornbread–due to the cooking of the cornmeal in milk and the folding in of egg whites, which adds the airy softness. Spoon bread likely goes back in history to the early settlers dealing with what was available to them in the New World–corn–and trying to adapt their recipes. It’s a side dish, it’s a dessert, it’s a bread–and it can even be a main dish, as you’ll see below in my tamale pie with spoon bread.
As a bread, by the way, it’s not the kind of bread you can slice. It’s called spoon bread for a reason.
How to make Spoon Bread:
1 cup cornmeal (yellow or white)
3 cups milk, divided
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon sugar*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
*If you want a sweet spoon bread, increase the sugar up to 1/4 cup. You can also add 1 cup of chopped peppers, onions, whole corn kernels, grated cheese, whatever you like. As a Thanksgiving side dish, it’s perfect with the additions of whole kernel corn and cheese. To go in a dessert direction, it also works well with fruit, particularly blueberries, but other chopped fruit works great, also! Top with some vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a seriously unique and delicious dessert.
In a medium saucepan, whisk 2 cups of the milk into the cornmeal.
Whisk constantly over medium to medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Remove from the heat. In the same pot, whisk in the remaining milk along with the butter, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
Remove about a cup of the mixture and stir it into the egg yolks in a small bowl then return the egg-spoon bread mixture back to the pot to combine.
Beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks then gently fold into the spoon bread mixture. If adding chopped vegetables, cheese, fruit, etc, now is the time to also gently fold those in.
Transfer to a greased 2 quart baking dish and bake at 350-degrees for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Light, fluffy, and wonderful! Dig in.
Now, for the tamale pie. I was looking over my mother’s old Congressional Club Cook Book the other day, wandering through the pages looking for recipe ideas for some ground venison I’d taken out of the freezer. I noticed the “For Men Only” section in the table of contents and curiously turned to the section to see what that was about. It was a section of recipes submitted by men. There was one in there for a tamale pie. It used a cornmeal mush for the base, which wasn’t appealing to me for some reason, so I did a little internet research and found recipes for tamale pie mostly using cornbread (and worse, a cornbread mix!) for the tamale pie base.
And I thought–spoon bread! Spoon bread would be the perfect light, tender base for a tamale pie. So I whipped together some spoon bread and got to work on a filling recipe. Here is what I came up with. Note that I was making this for me and Morgan, so I made a half recipe–both of the spoon bread mixture and the filling. The recipe as written here will fit a 9 x 12 pan. If you want to cut it in half as I did, it will fit a 2 1/2 quart baking dish. (Remember to also cut in half the spoon bread mixture!)
How to make Tamale Pie:
1 recipe Spoon Bread (unbaked)
2 pounds ground meat (any kind)
2 cups chopped peppers and/or onions*
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
1-2 teaspoons garlic salt (to taste)
2 teaspoons ground cayenne, optional
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper, optional
3 cups grated cheddar cheese
*You can leave out the peppers or onions. Use a combination of both or only one. Whatever you use, make it add up to two cups. You can also add olives, etc. Whatever you like.
Prepare the spoon bread mixture and set aside in the refrigerator until needed.
Brown the ground meat in a large skillet; drain grease. (If using peppers and/or onions, saute them with the ground meat.) Add the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste, except for the cheese. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the meat sauce reduces and thickens.
To prepare the tamale pie, grease a 9 x 12 pan. Spread half of the spoon bread mixture on the bottom of the pan.
Spread the meat filling on top.
Add the cheese.
Spread the remaining spoon bread mixture over the cheese.
Decorate with a bit of crushed red pepper and parsley, if you so desire. Bake at 350-degrees for about 40 minutes.
Trust me, this is awesome.