Pastel de Choclo is typical Chilean dish that is quite similar in concept to a Shepherd’s pie. Instead of using mashed potato, a savoury corn mash is used. I really enjoyed eating this dish in South America, it was a really hearty, wholesome dish that celebrated their local produce.
Inside the pastel de choclo, besides the meat and the corn, which are undoubtedly the heroes of the dish, you will typically find a bit of roast chicken, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins. This is a nod to the old days when pastel de choclo was made as a way to use up leftovers in the fridge – much the same concept as a meatloaf or a shepherd’s pie. I thought it was kind of funny how I went out of my way to find those specific things to hide inside the pastel de choclo, when I could have just raided and emptied out the leftovers in my fridge.
South America boasts over a hundred types of corn (in Spanish, it is called choclo). The corn typically used in this dish is the Andean variety of choclo, it is a montrous corn, with huge kernels, and is quite a pale yellow colour. This corn is quite neutral in its taste, which makes it great for carrying other flavours. Most recipes you will see for this dish will ask you to add sugar to the corn paste. Unfortunately, in Australia, we only really get the sweet corn. This means that you shouldn’t add sugar to your corn paste, as the sweet corn truly has enough.
There’s quite a wide range of Pastel de Choclo’s throughout Chile, and I would say of the 3 Pastel de Choclo’s that we tried, 2 were amazing! I really like the savoury take on the dish. There were some places that just added way too much sugar, and I wasn’t a fan of that.
When I made this dish, I used tinned corn kernels. I just didn’t want to stuff around with boiling the corn, stripping it, burning my fingers, and then shaving the corn kernels off. I didn’t really notice any difference in the taste or texture. You can totally do it from scratch though, just do you.
South America also uses this special Mapuche spice called Merkén. I did get up close and personal with this spice, and to be honest, I’m a little ambivalent about it. It wasn’t really spicy, like chilli spicy. It also didn’t taste like our Old El Paso Taco seasoning, so that wasn’t going to fly as a replacement. I didn’t feel like it added anything to the dishes that I tried, which is why I didn’t buy some Merkén to bring back home. Instead I have found a substitute for Merkén, you can find the recipe below. I think it worked, it certainly wasn’t tasteless!
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did!
Serves: 8 – 10 people (as a main)
Prep-time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
For the meat base (Pino):
500g scotch fillet or rib eye fillet (ask your butcher for this), chopped into 1cm cubes
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp merkén (or a substitute, see * below)
1/2 tsp oregano
salt to taste
Flour to thicken
2 boiled eggs
12 black olives, pips removed
150g leftover roast chicken (optional)
For the corn paste:
4 x 400g Corn kernels (tinned)
1/2 bunch basil, pick the leaves
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
- For the meat base (Pino):
- Melt butter in large pan on medium high heat. Add brown onion and cook until onion is soft.
- Add meat, salt and spices. Add flour to thicken.
- Cook until the meat is done and juicy.
- For the Corn paste:
- Blitz corn kernels and basil leaves
- Add to large sauce pan / pot, bring to medium high heat.
- Cook the corn paste in this pot, stirring every now and again, until it gets a golden colour and becomes thicker.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- In a baking dish, spread the meat base evenly. Halve and place the boiled eggs, place the olives, raisins and the ripped up roast chicken over the meat base.
- Spread the Corn paste evenly over the top.
- Just before serving, grill the top of the dish in the oven for about 10 minutes to get a lovely crispy top.
* Substitute merkén recipe:
Yields 3 tsp
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
Combine dried oregano, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and ground coriander seeds.