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How to Make Deconstructed Tamales

Melissa is a certified food scientist with over 20 years in the food industry. New food development and matching are her specialities.

Learn how to make deconstructed tamales with sour cream and green onion.

Learn how to make deconstructed tamales with sour cream and green onion.

A Meal for the Whole Family

Tamales have been around since as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. That's a long time. For some, it seems like it takes that long just to make tamales! If you don't live in the Southwest, you may have never tried one. If you do live in the Southwest, chances are you have paid a store or your friend's grandmother over $1 per tamale to enjoy this dish.

Tamales are time-consuming to make, and rightfully so, as they are a way to bring a family together. But with this deconstructed version, you can bring your family together for a weeknight meal to enjoy the flavor of this classic dish without having to spend hours in the kitchen.

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  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced, seeded (for mild)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound chicken
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce or salsa
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, reduced sodium
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 to 3 green onions, sliced, tops and bottoms separated
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Frijole seasoning, optional
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar, freshly shredded (I always use Cracker Barrel)
  • Sour cream, for serving


  1. Preheat your oven to 400˚F. Heat olive oil in a 10-inch, ovenproof skillet (cast iron or high heat rated) over medium heat, and cook chicken until done but juicy. I used thinly sliced chicken breast to speed this up on a weeknight. You can also use leftover chicken or pork. Season with frijole seasoning if desired. Salt and pepper. Remove to a plate to cool. Clean the skillet if necessary by adding 1/2 inch water and returning to the hot stove to boil the cooked bits from the bottom. Empty and wipe clean with a paper towel.
  2. In the same skillet, heat a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the yellow onion, white onion bottoms, and jalapeño. Salt and pepper. Cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook until the odor is released. Add 1/2 cup of broth, black beans, salsa or enchilada sauce, chili powder, and cumin. Bring to a low simmer for 5 to 10 minutes while you prepare the cornmeal for cooking.
  3. In a medium saucepan mix the remaining 1 cup of broth, 1 cup of water, and cornmeal. *Remove your chicken mixture from the heat* Bring the cornmeal to a simmer and stir, continuously, for 5 minutes until thick. The mixture will thicken as it begins to simmer. Keep stirring rapidly for 5 additional minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of butter and 3/4 of the cheese. Salt and pepper. I use a thermally safe spatula to stir. This helps you keep the mixture from burning in the pan. It also helps with the next step, which is to spread the cornmeal mixture over the chicken. Pour the cornmeal into the center of the skillet and use the spatula to smooth it outwards. Be careful to not press too hard so the cornmeal and chicken stay separated.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the cornmeal. Bake at 400˚F for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. The dish will look soupy when it first comes out of the oven. Spoon into bowls and serve with sour cream and the tops of the green onions.
Fresh out of the oven!

Fresh out of the oven!

© 2018 Melissa Holton