When two American staples collide to create one spectacularly hearty casserole, you know it's going to be good. With its savory, full-flavored chili base and a gorgeously golden cornbread topping, Tamale Pie just might be the South's heartiest, most satisfying casserole of them all.
This recipe, in particular, requires no box mixes and comes together without the use of canned enchilada sauce. Instead, a quick and easy, full-flavored chili comes together on the stovetop and gets topped off with a simple, made-from-scratch cornbread batter that bakes up soft, tender, and perfectly sweet. You'll find it boasts bigger, better flavor than anything you could find in a box or from a can.
This is the ultimate Tamale Pie, and you'll soon see, taking the time to make it from scratch is a total game-changer.
This delicious comfort food dinner is the perfect way to end any chilly night, and satisfies the hungriest of appetites. Love stacked chili casseroles? You'll also love our Cowboy Casserole! Bookmark it for next time!
WHAT IS TAMALE PIE?
There's not a whole lot of "tamale" going on in Tamale Pie. Although, there is plenty of Mexican flavor thanks to that Tex-Mex style chili base and spices like chili powder and cumin.
There are two parts to a tamale: the masa corn dough and the filling. The meaty, saucy filling can take on many forms, but the masa corn dough of tamale is consistently moist (almost wet), soft, and loaded with corn flavor.
On the other hand, Tamale Pie is more of a casserole than a tamale...or a pie, for that matter. It features a ground beef, chili-style base with a drop topping of a cornbread batter. The texture of the cornbread topping is really nothing like a masa tamale dough. It is, however, soft, tender, and chock full of delicious corn flavor.
A cookbook published in 1899 in Austin, Texas called The Capitol Cook Book featured a very similar recipe, and because of this, the recipe is thought to have originated in Texas. This would explain both the hearty nature of the casserole, paired with those irresistible Mexican vibes.
THE BEST TAMALE PIE
Many Tamale Pie recipes call for canned enchilada sauce, but we can do better than that. Rather than imparting the metallic taste of canned sauces on our beloved casserole, we chose to make Texas Chili the hearty base.
For the topping, we'll be going the homemade route once more to produce a perfectly tender, sweet, golden layer of cornbread on top.
HOW TO MAKE TAMALE PIE
As mentioned above, Tamale Pie can be broken down into two separate parts: The chili base and the cornbread topping.
Even though we'll be taking a made-from-scratch approach, you'll find this casserole is still very easy to make and so much better than those calling for boxed cornbread mixes and canned enchilada sauces.
HOW TO MAKE THE CHILI BASE:
- Sauté the Onion - Add oil to a large cast-iron skillet, dutch oven, or oven-safe fry pan (about 10-12" in diameter) over medium-high heat. Then, add the chopped onion and sauté until softened.
- Make the Chili - Then, you'll add the ground beef, followed by all of the spices. Break it up and cook until it is completely cooked through. Add the beef broth, crushed tomatoes, and stir to combine.
- Simmer and Thicken - To thicken up the chili base for the Tamale Pie, you'll need to make a cornstarch slurry. To do this, simply combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl and stir. Then, stir the slurry into the chile. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.
MAKE THE CORNBREAD TAMALE PIE TOPPING:
- Mix Dry Ingredients - While the chili is simmering, make the topping. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Then, make a well in the center of the bowl.
- Mix Wet Ingredients - Next, you'll combine the sour cream, egg, and milk in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the well of dry ingredients and stir to combine.
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE
- Add the Topping - Remove the chili from the heat, and dollop big spoonfuls of the cornbread batter across the top.
- Bake - Transfer the dish to the oven and bake at 400°F for about 15-18 minutes, until the cornbread topping is golden and cooked through.
CAN I MAKE THIS IN A CASSEROLE DISH?
If you do not have a cast-iron pan or an oven-safe fry pan large enough to house these Tamale Pie ingredients, use a 9x13" casserole dish instead!
In order to do this, you'll need to transfer the chili to the casserole dish once it has finished simmering. Then, add the cornbread topping across the top!
TAMALE PIE INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CHILI BASE
- Oil | You can use avocado, vegetable, or canola oil to sauté the onion.
- Onion | This recipe was developed with a white onion, however, you can use yellow or red if preferred.
- 90/10 Ground Beef | Unless you don't mind pools of grease or care to strain the meat mixture before you add in the broth, 90/10 ground beef really is best for this recipe. It saves you a step and keeps your Tamale Casserole from being overly greasy.
- Spices | The spices add so much flavor to this Tamale Pie Recipe! You'll need chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic powder on standby. The chili powder and cumin are particularly important in this recipe and are what lends the dish so much incredible flavor.
- Beef Broth | Unsalted or low sodium beef broth is best, but if you can only find beef broth with sodium you'll need to leave the salt out of the recipe entirely, and rather add the salt to taste once your chili has finished simmering.
- Crushed Tomatoes | Fire-roasted crushed tomatoes will add tons of flavor to this chili base, however, if you can only find regular crushed tomatoes, use them instead.
- Cornstarch | Cornstarch is the thickener for the chili base and should not be exchanged for all-purpose flour in this recipe.
CAN I MAKE TAMALE CASSEROLE WITH CHICKEN OR TURKEY?
Absolutely! You can use ground chicken or turkey in the place of the ground beef.
FOR THE CORNBREAD TOPPING
- All-Purpose Flour | Use only all-purpose flour.
- Cornmeal | For a light and tender cornbread Tamale Pie topper, finely ground cornmeal is best. However, if you prefer a little "chew" to your cornbread, use medium-grind cornmeal instead.
- Granulated Sugar | The sugar in the cornbread mix adds a nice balancing note to this overall seriously savory casserole.
- Baking Soda | Do not exchange baking soda for baking powder. Use only baking soda for this recipe.
- Sour Cream | Sour cream works wonders when it comes to batters and has an amazing tenderizing effect! Don't leave it out. It really makes a difference. Use a full-fat sour cream for best results.
- Egg | The egg serves as the binder, holding the cornbread batter ingredients together.
- Milk | Because this batter does not call for any kind of fat (i.e., butter or oil) it really is best to use whole milk. However, if you only have 2 % milk on hand, it can be used in a pinch.
CAN YOU FREEZE TAMALE PIE?
Tamale Pie can be frozen and will stay good in the freezer for 2-3 months.
HOW TO FREEZE THE LEFTOVERS
If you’d like to freeze pieces of leftover Tamale Pie, divide the casserole into individual servings and place them in a freezer-safe, airtight container lined with wax paper for easy removal.
Make sure there is not a ton of wiggle room in the storage container — you want it to fit a little snug. If there is a ton of room for air to circulate at the top, it will increase the chances of freezer burn.
Reheating this dish in individual serving sizes is beyond easy: Place it on a microwave-safe plate, cover with a damp paper towel, and cook for 1 minute. Different sized portions will require different amounts of time for reheating, so at this point, assess whether or not you need to add an additional 30-seconds to a minute to warm it all the way through.
HOW TO FREEZE THE CASSEROLE WHOLE
Tamale Pie can be frozen and will stay good in the freezer for 2-3 months. If you’d like to freeze the casserole whole, first, make sure you bake it in a freezer-safe casserole dish. Then, once it is baked, allow it to cool to room temperature, cover the top of the dish with freezer-proof foil and wrap the whole dish in two layers of plastic wrap.
To reheat the casserole whole, place it in the refrigerator 24 hours before you intend to reheat it in the oven. Once it has completely thawed, bake it at 350° for about 25 minutes.
Check the center after the indicated amount of cook time. If it is not yet heated through, add 5-10 minutes to the cook time.
5 MORE COMFORT FOOD CASSEROLES YOU’LL LOVE
- Doritos Casserole
- Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti
- Chicken Bacon Ranch Casserole
- Easy Mexican Chicken Casserole
- Mexican Ground Turkey Casserole
Tamale Pie with savory, full-flavored chili base and a gorgeously golden cornbread topping.
- 2 tablespoons canola or avocado oil
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 2 pounds 90/10 ground beef
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 ½ teaspoons cumin
- 2 ½ teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 ½ cup low-sodium beef broth
- 1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- 1 ½ tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup yellow cornmeal
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1 large egg
- ⅔ cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Add the oil to a large cast-iron skillet or oven-safe fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 4 minutes.
Add the ground beef, and sprinkle the chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic powder across the top. Break up the beef and cook, stirring often, for about 8-10 minutes, or until completely cooked through. Add the beef broth and crushed tomatoes and stir to combine.
Make the cornstarch slurry by combining the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Add it to the chili and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for about 10-12 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir occasionally. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of the bowl.
Whisk together the sour cream, egg, and milk in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Then, pour the wet ingredients into the well and stir everything together evenly incorporated and combined. Do not overmix.
Spoon the mix over the top of the chili and bake at 400°F for 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, serve, and enjoy!