Chilean Cuisine — Pastel de Choclo, Meat Pie with Corn Topping

One of the great comfort foods of Chile, and one that is considered a national dish, is the meat and corn pie pastel de choclo (recipe follows).  Pastel means “cake” in Spanish, but has taken on widely divergent forms in the various areas of Spanish influence around the world.  Choclo comes from the Quechua language group and refers to the sweet corn used to make the pie’s topping.

Other Chilean dishes on The World Cup of Food:

Pastel de choclo is a perfect case study in the evolution of Chilean cuisine and culture.  The spicy filling, or pino, made from ground meat and often accentuated with chicken pieces, boiled eggs, raisins, or olives, is a Spanish preparation that can be seen in various forms throughout Spanish-influenced regions, including Spain, South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Philippines.  The corn topping is a descendent of millennia of Chilean indigenous food traditions.

The spicy pino, made slightly sweet with raisins and a little briny with olives, is usually baked in individual serving casseroles with a baked corn puree topping.  For our version we used one larger baking vessel and served it in slices.  We omitted the chicken and boiled eggs, opting for a more basic preparation.

Pastel de Choclo

adapted from the Chilean food blog Eating Chilean and the books Three Generations of Chilean Cuisine by Mirtha Umaña-Murray and The South American Table: The Flavor and Soul of Authentic Home Cooking from Patagonia to Rio de Janeiro by Maria Baez Kijac


For the corn topping:

  • 2 cups large frozen corn kernels, thawed (the young, baby kernels available we worried wouldn’t be starchy enough to come together when baked)
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • salt
  • 1 Tbs sugar

For the pino, or beef filling:

  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 large white onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 pounds ground beef
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 Tbs paprika
  • 1 3.8 ounce can sliced black olives
  • 1/3 cup raisins

There were a lot of steps to putting together our pastel de choclo, but none of them were difficult.  First we worked on the topping.  The thawed corn kernels were ground in our food processor until almost completely smooth, which took three minutes or so:


Next we put a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and melted the butter, then added the corn puree and the milk:


The mixture was cooked, stirring almost constantly, until very thick, about nine minutes or so:


The skillet was set aside until the pino was ready.  Speaking of spicy, beefy fillings, we were ready to start ours.  One of our trusty cast iron skillets was put over medium heat, and once the pan was hot we added the two tablespoons of oil and the chopped onions:


The onions were cooked, stirring often, until softened, about ten minutes:


Next we added the beef and minced garlic:


The beef was cooked and stirred, breaking up the pieces as we went, until brown, about ten minutes:


Next we added the spices, raisins, and olives:


The pino was sauteed, allowing the spices to become fragrant, for about five more minutes, all the while stirring frequently to distribute everything evenly:


The pino was at this point finished and the skillet was taken off the heat.  Our plan was to bake our pastel de choclo in the skillet we used to make the pino, so to give us a firmer base for the topping the mixture was pressed down with the back of a wooden spoon until it had a smooth surface:


Our corn topping was very thick, so to make it as easy as possible to spread, we placed it on top of the pressed-down pino in several smaller dollops:


Again using the back of the wooden spoon, the mixture was gently spread over the top, being careful not to disrupt the beef filling below as best as we could:


Our pastel de choclo was ready for the oven, which we had preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  After half an hour of baking, the corn mixture had solidified:


To caramelize the top, we sprinkled the tablespoon of sugar over the corn topping.  To avoid a granulated texture we sprinkled a little water on top and gently spread that around to dissolve the sugar a little.  The pastel de choclo went back into the oven, this time under the broiler, to brown the topping for about five minutes:


Served with our apio y palta, our pastel de choclo was rich, spicy, and satisfying:


It is easy to see why pastel de choclo is such a popular home-cooked meal in Chile.  Like a baked macaroni and cheese or tuna casserole, it is hearty, flavorful, and easy to make for a crowd.  The beef filling was spicy and sweet and would be equally welcome in a Chilean empanada or even as a quick weeknight taco filling.


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