Tamale Pie

James Beard

Author and Educator

"Mexican tamales, wrapped in corn husks and steamed, are standard fare along the southern border of the United States. Homemakers of early “border” living also developed this pan version, which omits the corn husk procedure. It has been a favorite throughout the United States for serving large numbers." —James Beard


  • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 3 tablespoons lard or unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound sausage, casing removed (like Mexican chorizo or spicy Italian sausage)
  • 2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small green pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • One 28-ounce can whole-peeled Italian tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh corn cut from cob (optional: use canned or frozen whole-kernel corn with juice)
  • 1 cup pitted ripe olives, roughly chopped
  • 8 ounces medium or sharp Cheddar, grated


In a large pot, whisk together 6 cups water with the cornmeal. Bring to a boil while continuously stirring. Turn the heat on low, stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and lard or butter (lard is preferred by Mexican cooks). Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, brown the sausage over medium heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Once browned, transfer sausage to a bowl and set aside. Add the chile powder and cumin to the sauté pan; let spices toast for several minutes while stirring. Add the celery, onions, garlic, green pepper, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir and cook until the vegetables are soft and the brown bits are scraped off the bottom of the pan. Add the beef into the pan and break up the meat; cook until the raw color disappears. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands over the pan and pour in juices. Add sausage back in and stir in corn; bring to a boil and let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes.

Lightly oil a 12 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish and place in a rimmed baking sheet in case the dish bubbles over. Warm cornmeal over low heat and stir well until smooth, adding a few tablespoons of water if necessary. Spread about two-thirds of the cornmeal mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Spoon in the filling and distribute the olives evenly around. 

Spoon the remaining cornmeal evenly over the top and sprinkle with the cheese all over. Bake in a 375°F oven until browned and bubbling, about 1 hour. For a darker golden crust, broil for the last 5 minutes.


Adapted from James Beard's original recipe. Recipe photo and food styling by Judy Kim.


8 to 10 servings