Pastel de Choclo, Chile’s Traditional Beef and Corn Casserole

Today’s dish is one of the most traditional ones in Chilean cuisine.

In Spanish, “pastel de choclo” translates to “corn pie”. But as you’ll see later on, it’s actually more of a casserole than a pie.

We can say that it’s the Chilean version of the English shepherd’s pie.

In this post, you’ll get to know the origin of this amazing dish, its recipe, and its vegetarian counterpart. Without any further ado, vámonos!

Overview and Background

The striking resemblance between shepherd’s pie and pastel de choclo can be explained by history. When the Spanish troops arrived at Chile in the 1500s, they were forced to adapt their recipes with the most abundant food there — choclo.

Technically speaking, “choclo” is Spanish for corn. But unlike the corn we have in the US, choclo has larger, more starchy kernels that have milder sweetness.

Although any corn would work for this dish, I highly encourage getting original choclo; you can find it online or inside most Latin American grocery stores.

As you might’ve deduced, the choclo caramelizes inside the oven to make a juicy pudding that covers the stuffing (aka Pino) underneath.

Every Chilean family might have its own version of the pino. The most famous one comprises ground beef, chicken, and onion. To strengthen the contrast between sweet and savory notes, some families like to add raisins and olives.

Pastel de Choclo Ingredients

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s see what you’ll need to prepare this traditional dish.

  • 3 chopped, medium-sized onions
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 3 cups of corn kernels
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1/3 cup of chopped olives
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 pieces of chicken breasts

How to Make Pastel de Choclo in 6 Easy Steps

Pastel de Choclo Chilean Dish with spoon
Pastel de Choclo Chilean Dish

If you want to enjoy a truly authentic meal, consider getting a terracotta dish.

I don’t really know why, but it does make the final meal a bit tastier.

If you don’t have that, you can use any glass casserole dish. I’ve seen some people using a cast-iron skillet, too.

Now let’s get to the actual steps:

Step 1: Prepare the Onion and Meat

In a cast-iron skillet, sauté 3 chopped onions with 2 chopped cloves of garlic in vegetable oil on medium-low heat.

Keep stirring until the onion turns soft and translucent.

Add 1 pound of ground beef to the skillet, and sprinkle 2 teaspoons of cumin, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper.

Keep stirring until the meat crumbles into small brown pieces.

Step 2: Prepare the Chicken (Optional)

Roast or boil a couple of chicken breasts according to your preferences.

Since the dish already contains a handful of flavors, some people prefer to ditch the chicken altogether.

Step 3: Boil Eggs and Preheat the Oven

As the beef cooks, start boiling 3 eggs to have them ready when it’s time to assemble the dish. The traditional pastel de choclo uses hard-boiled eggs, but feel free to make them soft-boiled if you prefer.

Meanwhile, let your oven preheat at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 4: Prepare the Corn Topping

Using a food processor, blend 3 cups of corn kernels with 2 tablespoons of basil and 1/4 cup of whole milk; you can also use cream if you want to enjoy a denser dish.

Start pulsing the blender to get a creamy mix. You don’t want to completely eliminate the kernels’ texture, though. Aim for a granulated mix to enjoy the original taste.

In a large saucepan, add 1/4 cup of butter and let it melt on medium heat. Then, add 1 tablespoon of sugar and salt, and pour the blended corn mix.

Afterward, lower the heat to medium-low. Now add 3/4 cup of milk and let it simmer until it thickens. Don’t forget to keep stirring to get a consistently cooked topping.

Step 5: Assemble the Dish

Grease your casserole dish (grass or terracotta) by smearing a small cube of butter. Now add the ground beef that you cooked earlier. Then, layer 1/2 cup of raisins, 1/3 cup of olives, the boiled eggs, and the chicken breasts in whichever order you like.

I like to keep the chicken at the top layer to separate it from the beef with as many flavors as possible. This should enhance the contrast between the sweet and savory ingredients to a whole new level.

Lastly, spread the corn mixture over the top, making sure that it covers every bit of the stuffing. Some people like to sprinkle a pinch of powdered sugar to improve the sweetness of the rather neutral choclo.

The typical North American corn, on the other hand, should be inherently sweet enough.

Step 6: Baking

Place the layered casserole inside the preheated oven and let it bake for 30 to 40 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the corn topping forms a golden-brown crust.

The Vegetarian Pastel de Choclo: A Lighter Alternative

Despite being exquisitely delicious, some people might be reluctant to prepare pastel de choclo on a regular basis.

And to be honest, its forceful ingredients leave me awfully bloated most of the time. For that reason, I decided to give a lighter alternative that also suits our vegan friends.

Naturally, the corn topping won’t be changed; I won’t discuss it again in this section to save your time.

The biggest difference, however, will be in the pino. Instead of beef, we’ll use aubergine and mushrooms: these two will let the original flavors shine without messing up the texture.

Step 1: Prepare the Stuffing

In your cast iron skillet, pour 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and fry 2 chopped onions until they become translucent and soft.

Then sauté the chopped mushrooms and aubergine with salt, cumin, and pepper. Keep stirring until the mushrooms darken and shrink to about half the initial size.

Step 2: Assembling the Dish

Start by greasing your casserole dish with a thin layer of vegetable oil. You can start by adding a thin layer of the corn topping if you want your bites to start and finish with a sweet note.

Place the aubergine-mushroom mix, raisins, olives, and eggs in whichever order you like. Finish by adding the corn topping and ensure that all the stuffing is sufficiently covered.

Step 3: Baking

The 350 degrees that we used to bake the original version would be way too much for the veggies. Instead, set your oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the dish for 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the corn gets a golden-brown crust.

What to Serve With Pastel de Choclo?

Whether you chose the original or the vegan version, this appetizing dish can stand on its own.

Nevertheless, if you want to have a full Chilean experience, you should try the good old Chilean salad.

If you’re unfamiliar, this salad combines chopped tomatoes and onions, bathed in lime juice and olive oil. Bon appétit!

The Final Word

Pastel de choclo is a must-try for everyone but especially people who’re interested in Latin American cuisine.

The original version combines beef, onions, raisins, olives, eggs, chicken, and of course, the choclo corn.

Remember, while blending the corn with milk, stop before the mix becomes too smooth. Otherwise, you’ll lose an essential part of that exquisite meal.

Have you ever tried Sopaipillas? It’s another traditional Chilean dish! Check out Sopaipillas, A Tasty Chilean Dessert.

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