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Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie

This recipe for Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie is from the book, Shinin’ Times at the Fort, by Holly Arnold Kinney

Chances are you are familiar with blue corn chips and blue corn tortillas, but if you haven’t tried blue cornmeal in a tamale pie such as this one, you don’t know what you are missing. Many Indians and other southwesterners still use the meal ground from dark-colored corn into cornmeal called maiz azul.

Cooks&Books&Recipes Featured Cook Katie, Cook It Fresh:

I chose to use a more traditional Southwestern dish as my test recipe since that is the food that made The Fort famous. When my mom heard that I was planning on making the Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie, she offered to make one of the posole recipes (“Holly’s Posole”).

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Holly’s Posole (photo credit: Katie Lew)

After looking at the cookbook, my sister wanted to try the Triple-Cherry Cast-Iron Cobbler, so we ended up with a whole Fort meal. Every recipe we tried from Shinin’ Times at The Fort was extremely fragrant and flavorful, but that kind of flavor does not come easily. These recipes are better suited to a long, leisurely day in the kitchen than to a quick weeknight dinner.

Ingredients for Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie - www.cooksandbooksandrecipes.com

Blue corn meal, dried chiles and seasonings for tamale pie (photo credit: Katie Lew)

The Tamale Pie took about 3 hours to prepare, from start to finish, but it was worth every minute! Despite the long preparation time, I didn’t find the recipe very difficult or complicated, but I do have a couple of tips for making the tamale pie.

Ingredients for Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie - www.cooksandbooksandrecipes.com

Buffalo, pine nut filling for tamale pie (photo credit: Katie Lew)

When adding the blue cornmeal to the chicken broth, I would not dump it all in at once, since this created a lot of lumps. Next time I will add the cornmeal gradually and use a whisk to stir vigorously between each addition. Also, the recommended baking time of 1 1/2 hours is a conservative estimate: it took closer to 2 hours for my pie to reach the desired consistency.

Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie - www.cooksandbooksandrecipes.com

Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie
Photo credit: Katie Lew

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Buffalo Blue Corn Tamale Pie

Featured Recipe From: Shinin' Times at the Fort: Stories, Recipes, and Celebrations at the Landmark Colorado Restaurant

Yield: Serves 6


  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 pound coarsely ground beef or buffalo chuck
  • 11/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 11/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 cups pine nuts or coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup Red Chile Puree, page 78
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 2 cups blue cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 cup medium whole pitted ripe olives
  • 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup each red and green bell pepper strips cut attractively, for garnish (optional)
  • Avocado, sliced, for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or whole walnut halves, for garnish (optional)
  • Several sprigs of parsley or cilantro, for garnish


Wipe a large skillet with oil and brown the meat in small batches over high heat, removing to a bowl as each batch is cooked. Cooking too much meat at once will steam it rather than brown it.

In the same pan, over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, oregano, fennel, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the nuts for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is softened and lightly browned. Add this mixture to the meat, and stir in the Red Chile Puree.

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large stockpot. (The cornmeal will bubble and splash if the pot isn't deep enough.) While the broth is heating, combine the blue cornmeal and cold water and whisk well. This will keep it from clumping when it's added to the hot broth. When the broth reaches a boil, stir in the cornmeal mixture. If you are using a salty chicken base, don't add more salt. Otherwise, add 3/4 teaspoon.

Lower the heat and simmer, stirring often for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cornmeal mush is smooth and very thick. (A spoon should almost be able to stand upright in it.) Be sure to scrape the bottom as you stir to prevent scorching.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil or spray a 4-quart cazuela or other ovenproof casserole with a nonstick cooking spray. Pour half the mush into the cazuela, and then alternately layer the meat mixture and the olives. When both are used up, top with half of the grated cheese and then the remaining cornmeal mush.

Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Do not underbake, or the mush will not cook through. (It'll still taste great, but it won't look very good.)

Remove from the oven and top with the remaining 1 cup cheese. You may garnish the pie with wheel designs made of strips of red and green peppers, avocado slices, and toasted pine nuts or walnuts, if desired. These will sink into the cheese as the cheese melts.

Return to the oven for 15 minutes more, allowing the cheese to brown a bit.

Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro.

© 2010 Fur Trade Press

Reprinted with permission from Shinin' Times at the Fort: Stories, Recipes, and Celebrations at the Landmark Colorado Restaurant, by Holly Arnold Kinney, edited by Mary Goodbody, photography by Lois Ellen Frank (Fur Trade Press)

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