A Tex Mex twist on shepherd's pie

An old favourite given a makeover with herbs, spices and a cornbread crust

Cornbread topped beef chilli

Cornbread topped beef chilli

 

This cornbread topped beef chilli is like the Tex Mex cousin of shepherd’s pie. Familiar, but with a twist of different herbs and spices and a fluffy golden layer of cornbread instead of mashed potato for soaking up the sauce.

I haven’t added too much heat by way of chilli or cumin to the meat. Adapt the amount to suit your family. This recipe is for a mild version and I usually serve it with hot sauce on the table. At the moment, our favourite is the barrel-aged hot sauce from Rebel Chilli. The red pepper sauce is aged for 62 days in West Cork Distillers casks.

I use a small amount of sugar in the cornbread, half a teaspoon. It’s not totally necessary but does encourage the natural sweetness from the cornmeal. Feel free to leave it out though. The cornbread batter appears very wet at first but thickens up after a few minutes. I sometimes add finely chopped jalapeños, freshly chopped coriander, or corn kernels to the cornbread. It can be cooked separately in a cake pan too.

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I first made cornbread as a side dish for beef chilli back in 2010 for a pop-up supper club. I used to run supper clubs from my sister’s house in Dublin. I loved planning the menu and cooking for 40 guests each night was a challenge, but so enjoyable. We had different themed nights from Middle Eastern to Italian. It was real home-style cooking. The cornbread was served in a big wedge for dipping into a bowl of chilli con carne. It’s also a gorgeous side for tomato soup or minestrone.

You’ll find polenta in most large supermarkets, usually with the pasta and rice or in the health food section. It’s great for coating fish before frying, or making muffins and cakes. Polenta makes a quick mashed potato alternative and is delicious with rich winter stews. It can also be poured into a buttered dish and left to set then cut and fried to make polenta chips. It’s a very versatile ingredient to have at the back of the storecupboard.

CORNBREAD TOPPED BEEF CHILLI

Serves 6
Ingredients 
380g minced beef
1 onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cumin 
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g tin black beans or kidney beans, drained
4 tbsp finely chopped coriander
170g fine cornmeal polenta
130g plain flour
½ tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
200ml milk
2 eggs
80g butter, melted and cooled 

Method
1
Preheat an oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent. Place one tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-based pan. Fry the beef until browned and cooked through (five to eight minutes), then remove it from the pan. Add the onion and a little more olive oil, and sauté until soft. Add the pepper and garlic. Lower the heat and saute for a minute, stirring all the time so the garlic doesn’t burn.

2 Add the cumin, smoked paprika and stir well for a few seconds before adding the tinned tomatoes. Put the beef back in the pan. Leave to simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Season to taste.

3 Add the beans and warm through. Fold through the freshly chopped coriander then spread the mix into an oven-proof dish.
 
4 Mix all of the dry ingredients together for the cornbread in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs, milk and melted butter together in a separate bowl or jug till just combined. Create a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mix. Gently fold it all together till combined. It may seem wet but will thicken after a few minutes.

5 Spoon the cornbread batter over the top of the bean and beef mix and spread it out gently. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes till the cornbread is puffed up and golden and the tomato sauce is bubbling.

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