Tamale Pie

Round two of tamale pie…with pulled pork…

Similar to a “Frito Pie” for those of you in the South…but BETTER! Much, much better!

Tamale Pie…it’s similar to a “Frito Pie” for those of you in the South and Southwestern U.S., but good golly, it’s tamale!  The flavor and texture of that delightful tamale “crust” and layers of spicy flavor are awaiting you in this unbelievably good savory pie.  Step away from the Fritos and make this.  You will never go back.

I have always loved tamales.  I had a friend in Nashville whose mother-in-law would make tamales every Christmas; they were a real treat!  She would create an assembly line of family members to aid her in turning out hundreds of those little packages of joy.  From the very first time she shared some with me, tamale has always spelled out holidays to me.

After I moved here to the mountains, I was yearning for tamales one Christmas…long before internet ordering. I got on the telephone and found a place in Texas that made and shipped tamales; I ordered some for my party.  At that time, they offered pork, chicken, beef and goat. The goat was, by far, my favorite, but not offered any longer! For a long time, ordering tamales was an annual tradition.

Not too long ago, I found some corn husks and bought them with the thought of trying my hand at tamale making this year for the holidays. My road to Christmas tamales was paved with good intentions, but the time got away from me.

So, long story short, tamales have been on my mind.  Then, what do I stumble across in my latest issue of Cuisine at Home, but a tamale PIE!  Now, they called theirs “Taco” Pie, but this is no taco pie.  It is deserving of a name change…so I have given it one.

The masa harina has a very distinctive flavor…that flavor coming from the slaked lime that is added in the processing of the corn. The end product is ground to a near dust…it’s the finest powder-like corn flour I’ve ever seen.  I found mine in the Mexican specialty section of my market.

As to the dish itself? I’m not even kidding…there may be several steps to this recipe, but each and every single one of them is worth the effort!  You will not be disappointed!

Also…I could see this making a very nice addition to a Super Bowl game night spread!

Edit:  I did another round of this tamale pie with pulled pork…it was superb!  I used a small pork butt cut; put it in a stockpot, covered with water and a shake of cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and a bay leaf.  I boiled it until the meat was falling apart. Then, I drained it, let it cool and pulled the meat, discarding all fat. At that point, I used it in the recipe just like the beef.


5.0 from 1 reviews
Tamale Pie
With a tender tamale "crust" this "pie" is like...well, it's like having your pie and eating it too! Layer upon layer of spicy flavor, it's the ultimate southwest comfort food.
  • 2½ cups water
  • 1½ cups masa harina
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups refried black or pinto beans (I used refried pintos)
  • ½ medium onion, shredded
  • 1 pound ground beef (I used 90% lean)
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced (I'll probably do two next time...I like hot)
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 2 teaspoons hot chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 avocado, pitted and peeled
  • ¼ cup cream cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Options are any/all of these: Shredded Cheddar, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo or salsa, sour cream, corn chips, chopped green onions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Oil an 8" cast iron skillet and set aside.
  4. Cook water, masa harina and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until very thick, about 6 minutes.
  5. *With a silicone spatula, spread the dough evenly into the cast iron skillet and up the sides to form a crust in the pan. Keeping the sides and the bottom of the same thickness.
  6. Allow to cool.
  7. Once cool, bake until firm, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on.
  9. Cook garlic powder, cumin, oregano and coriander in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  10. Add beans, stir and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.
  11. Spread mixture into bottom of the cooked crust.
  13. Using the same nonstick skillet, add the onion, beef, chipotle, adobo and chili powder and cook until the beef is browned.** Season with salt and pepper.
  14. Spread mixture over the refried beans.
  15. Place back in oven to keep warm.
  17. Purée avocado, cream cheese, cilantro and garlic*** in a food processor until smooth.
  18. Remove the pie from the oven.
  19. Spread the avocado mixture into the center.
  20. Add whatever other garnishes you desire.
  21. This can be served warm or at room temperature.
*This diverges from Cuisine at Home's directions, but is much simpler. It takes a bit of patience, but spread the masa with a silicone spatula, as it cools you will be able to form it up the sides of the skillet in an even layer on the sides and the bottom. **By using a very lean ground beef, I can add all the ingredients at once, since there will be very little, if any, remaining fat. If you use a more fatty blend, brown your ground beef first, drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, saute the onion for about a minute, then add back in the browned beef and the other ingredients. ***I have never understood why, when giving instructions for puréeing in a food processor, instructions have you chop things first. Just throw the whole cilantro leaves and the whole garlic clove in there and let the machine do the work for you.


Their instructions had you spread the masa harina out to cool on a baking sheet, then press it into the iron skillet. This is a gooey sticky mess. I suggest pouring it, hot, into the skillet and spreading it evenly over the bottom and up the sides with a silicone spatula.

Since I used a very low-fat ground beef, I just threw everything in there together to brown the beef and cook the onions…

The baked crust…as you can see, it’s not very uniform in thickness…this is because it is a sticky gooey mess to work with once it’s cooled. Also, it takes on an almost gelatinous texture that is hard to manipulate. That is why I suggest pouring the masa harina hot into the skillet and spreading it evenly with a silicone spatula.

Spread in the bean layer…

Add the beef layer…

A peek at the avocado mixture about half way through puréeing…

Spread on the avocado mixture…

Garnish, as desired, slice and serve…


The pulled pork version…





About P ~ The Saucy Southerner

I started cooking when I was ten years old. For me, the process of cooking, from inception of a dish, to the execution, to the washing of the pots is sheer delight. I am now retired from a business I still own, in partnership with my husband. I used to work six days a week and still cook every night. Now, I'm gardening, still cooking, always having fun and hoping to share my joy with you. Thank you for reading...and commenting! P~
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6 Responses to Tamale Pie

  1. Marcie Smith says:

    I’ll try it when I can eat carbs again..( I lived in Texas when I was a kid and Frito Pie was the best school lunch I ever had…mmmmm)

  2. Linda Phalen says:

    I don’t think I ever tried this one before but my mother’s mother used to make the BEST tamale pie any of us ever ate!! It was the former First Lady, Betty Ford’s recipe and it was out of this world!! YUM!! I have that recipe now and it is “DELICIOUS”!!!!!!

  3. Sarah Myers says:

    Thank you so much for this WONDERFUL recipe! I made this for dinner tonight with some modifications. We LOVED IT!!!! Kinda figured I needed to make my own and not just eat what you make…:D Thanks for sharing <3

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