This is a Chilean version of shepherd’s pie, using corn instead of potato for the topping and a mixture of sweet and savoury ingredients that can be likened to a Chilean empanada filling (pino). In a shallow earthenware dish, like a Spanish cazuela, a layer of minced beef is topped with shredded chicken, raisins, black olives and hard-boiled eggs, then covered with a thick corn paste, sprinkled with sugar, and baked in the oven. The puréed topping takes on a crisp sweetness that enhances the salt/sweet combination of the ingredients.
One place to eat pastel de choclo in its natural state (ie, a locally made earthenware pot) is Pomaire, 65km west of Santiago, a village famous for its ceramics and other handicrafts. The pie, however, is found everywhere in Chile and considered something of a national dish. Food historians argue that pastel de choclo came originally from Peru, but that does not affect its Chilean identity and popularity. Traditionally cooked in rural kitchens and a favourite at celebrations, it is thought to have spread into the cities with the campesinos who, in the early 20th century, migrated in huge numbers from the agricultural heartlands to find work in new industries.
Choclo is the Andean variety of corn, which is white and not particularly sweet, but you can substitute with fresh or frozen sweetcorn.
* Serves 6
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 680g/1lb 8oz minced beef
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded, or use any leftover chicken meat
- 75g/2 ½ oz raisins
- 75g/2 ½ oz black olives, stoned and sliced
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
- 500g/1lb 2oz corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
- 180ml/6 fl oz whole milk or cream
- 30g/1oz butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
- Gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil until soft and translucent. Add the beef, cumin, paprika and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until browned.
- Put the meat sauce in an ovenproof dish or skillet. Scatter on top the chicken, raisins, olives and eggs and set aside while you make the topping.
- Blend the corn kernels with the milk or cream, leaving a few chunky bits for texture.
- Melt the butter in a pan and add the corn purée with a teaspoon of salt. Simmer and stir for 5 minutes until it has thickened. Take it off the heat and stir in the basil.
- Cover the meat with the corn, sprinkle the top with a teaspoon of sugar and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until bubbling and golden on top; if you want to crisp up the topping even further, stick it under the grill for a couple of minutes.
- Let the pie rest for a few minutes before serving.
For more South American recipes, check out Ben Box’s book: