Pastel de Choclo is a comforting recipe for a Chilean beef and corn casserole. With a wonderful combination of flavors and classic South American ingredients, it is the perfect dinner dish for fall and beyond.
Pastel de Choclo: A Beef and Corn Casserole
Literally translated, pastel de choclo means “corn pie”. But this dish isn’t a pie in the traditional, crusted pie, sense. Rather, it’s a pie in a similar way that Shepherd’s Pie is a “pie”.
Actually, many people refer to pastel de choclo as the Chilean version of shepherd’s pie.
The same way shepherd’s pie is considered a staple Irish and Scottish comfort food, this beef and corn casserole is one of the most popular Chilean comfort foods.
Once you taste it, you’ll know why!
The History of Pastel de Choclo: A Perfect Fusion of Cultures
Chilean cuisine is a beautiful fusion of the cuisines of the native tribes and that of the Spanish conquistadors.
We see this fusion play out in a special way in this dish.
Pastel de choclo, takes native, South American corn, in the form of something known as humitas which was a popular dough used by the native Mupache people to make a tamale-like dish. This humitas corn mixture is combined with the European influence of ground (also known as minced) meat.
The Flavor of Chilean Comfort Food
Pastel de choclo is also a prime example of the flavor combinations that are characteristic of South American cuisine — combining sweet and savory in a very skilled way.
The players of beef, hard boiled eggs, black olives, and raisins are an unsuspecting combo to those of us in North America. But if you’ve tried Papas Rellenos or Pan de Jamon, you know how expertly the flavors of these ingredients complement each other.
What is Pino?
The meat filling of this pie, where these flavors come so expertly into play, is called pino. And, it is very similar to the filling that is found in Chilean empanadas.
The meat mixture is quite simple, containing onions, paprika, a few other spices that are added to ground beef. Sometimes you will even find shredded chicken added to the mix.
A key element in the flavoring of pino, and what makes it extra special, are hard boiled eggs, raisins, and black olives.
While this sounds like an odd combination the flavors complement each other very well, with the egg adding creaminess, the raising adding a bit of deep sweetness, and the olives adding a lightly salty burst.
Special Chilean Corn
The native Chilean corn that is used to make pastel de choclo is a sweet corn that has a lot of starch in the corn kernels. This starch allows the corn to hold together like a dough.
Since we don’t have access to Chilean sweet corn, we add some cornmeal to our sweet corn kernels as we make the dough. The added cornmeal absorbs some of the corn’s liquid and adds the needed starch to create the corn “crust” for this pie.
How To Serve Pastel de Choclo
Traditionally, pastel de choclo is baked in individual serving, earthenware bowls, called paila.
This makes serving particularly easy, because all the portions are already allotted. And, everyone gets the same amount of crispy corn edges!
You could always make your pastel de choclo this way using ramekins rather than clay bowls.
We decided to make our pastel de choclo casserole style, in a 9×13 baking dish.
Either way you choose to serve it this dish is a perfect dose of comfort food.
Yield: 1 (9x13) pan
- 2 lbs ground beef, 85-90% lean
- 3 onions, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 12 c (roughly 3 lbs) sweet corn, thawed if frozen
- 1 ¼ c milk
- ¼ c cornmeal
- 2 tsp basil
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ c black olives, whole
- ½ c raisins
- 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
- Granulated sugar (to top)
- Preheat your oven to 350F.
- In an extra large skillet, saute the beef with the onions over medium high heat, until the meat is browned, 10 min.
- Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, and salt. Mix well. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, until most of the juices have reduced. Remove from the heat.
- Melt the butter in a gallon soup pot.
- Working in batches as your blender allows, place the corn, milk, cornmeal, basil, and salt into the blender and pulse until the corn is pureed, but not smooth. Pour the pureed corn mixture into the pot with the melted butter.
- Bring the corn puree mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. After 5 minutes, remove the corn from heat.
- Cover the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish with a thin layer of the corn mixture.
Top the corn with all of the beef mixture.
Then, evenly distribute the black olives, raisins, and eggs over the beef.
- Spoon the remaining corn mixture over top.
- Lightly sprinkle granulated sugar over the corn.
- Bake the dish for 30 minutes, until bubbly around the edges. Then, turn the heat to broil, and broil until top is golden brown.
- Remove the dish from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before servings.