Counting down until Thanksgiving, one of the many things to love in Texas is the anticipation of tamale dressing. I had never even heard of this kind of stuffing until I moved to Texas where it seems everyone has their own version. Every year I play with my choice of cheeses, kinds of tamales, types of chilis–this year I might even add a little chorizo. Any variation I have tried doesn’t change the fact that it is always delicious. entwine_bbq-turkey_s4x3-jpg-rend-sni18col

The history of stuffing animals is said to go as far back as the Roman empire where they actually used to stuff many animals inside of one another and roast them. I guess that might be thought of as the original Turducken.


Feast with stuffed ox

The French have a dish called the Rôti Sans Pareil–a roast without equal–that is made up of 17 birds stuffed inside each other from a 1807 cookbook.


The birds of Rôti Sans Pareil

In some ways using tamales is akin to stuffing animals inside each other, as the tamale can be made with endless variations of meats and vegetables which then becomes the stuffing that goes into the turkey.


Feasting on what looks like Turkeys, floor littered with carcasses of many kinds

I realized as I was looking into the origins of this favorite Thanksgiving side that I had refereed to it both as stuffing and dressing in the same paragraph and decided to look up what the difference is. Southerners almost all call it dressing, while much of the country consider stuffing to mean cooked inside the turkey while dressing is cooked separately


This recipe from The Homesick Texan is a great starting place (she adapted it as well). As I mentioned, I change it up year to year and almost anything goes–I like to add sharp cheddar as well as the pepper jack.

Tamale Cornbread Dressing

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups crumbled cornbread, (1/2 of a baked 10-inch skillet)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, diced
1 cup frozen corn kernels
4 ounces pepper Jack, shredded (1 cup)
6 beef, pork or chicken tamales, chopped
2 cups turkey or chicken broth
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 °F.

In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, diced jalapeños and pepper Jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and return the dressing to the skillet. (Alternatively, you can place the dressing in a greased 9×9 baking dish.)

Pour over the dressing the chicken broth and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the skillet with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.

8 servings

Only a little while to wait until the holiday is upon us, but maybe I will have to make some test batches to try to find the elusive but perfect combination of flavors.