Pastel de Choclo
(Chilean ground beef casserole with corn batter topping)
Pastel de choclo is popular in one form or another throughout South America. It is especially popular in Chile, where it is often made with both beef and chicken. Sometimes sliced, hard-boiled eggs and olives are added. The pastel is traditionally baked in a large oval earthenware dish, or paila, or in several smaller bowls for individual servings.
The meat filling for this recipe is called pino and is also used to fill the famous Chilean empanadas. The corn (choclo) used for this dish in South America is more mature and starchier than that found in the United States. That is why this recipe calls for cornmeal and cornstarch. If you can find South American-style corn — called choclo desgranado and found in the frozen section of some Latin groceries — you can eliminate the cornmeal and cornstarch.
4 to 6 servings
- Oil -- 2 to 3 tablespoons
- Onion, finely chopped -- 1
- Garlic, minced -- 2 to 3 cloves
- Ground beef -- 1 pound
- Paprika -- 1 tablespoon
- Ground cumin -- 1 teaspoon
- Oregano -- 1 teaspoon
- Water or stock -- 1 cup
- Flour -- 1 tablespoon
- Fresh or frozen corn -- 1 pound
- Cornmeal -- 1/4 cup
- Cornstarch -- 1 or 2 tablespoons
- Milk -- as needed
- Sugar -- 1 tablespoon
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Butter -- 1 tablespoon
- Sugar -- 2 or 3 tablespoons
- Preheat oven to 375ºF. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium flame. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Stir in the garlic and saute for another 1 or 2 minutes. Add the ground beef, paprika, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper and saute, breaking up the meat, until the beef is just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Pour in the water or stock and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle flour over all and stir in well. Simmer for another 5 to 8 minutes until lightly thickened. Adjust seasoning, remove from heat and set aside.
- Place the corn, cornmeal, cornstarch and sugar in a food processor and process until well pureed. With the blade running, add the milk a little at a time until the corn forms a thick batter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Add the corn puree and cook, stirring constantly, until well thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside.
- Spread a little of the corn puree in the bottom of a greased casserole dish. Spread the beef mixture evenly over the layer of corn puree. Top with the remaining cooked corn puree and spread out evenly over the dish. Sprinkle the sugar over the corn topping.
- Set the dish in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until bubbling and golden brown on top.
Pastel de Choclo Variations
- After placing the beef mixture in the casserole dish, top with two poached chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized pieces, and 2 or 3 sliced hard-boiled eggs. Then top with the corn puree.
- Add 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup chopped black olives to the simmering beef mixture.
- Stir 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil into the corn puree topping.
- Some Chileans add 1/4 cup or more sugar to the corn topping to make it quite sweet.
- Set the finished casserole under a hot broiler for 1 or 2 minutes to brown it well if you like.
- Pastel de Papas, or Pastel de Mandióca: Substitute boiled, mashed potatoes or yuca, mixed with 1 or 2 beaten eggs and some grated cheese, for the corn topping if you like. The pastel with a yuca (cassava) topping is particularly popular in Paraguay.