After completing the W trek we decided to treat ourselves to a stay in a cosy B&B, as a break from roughing it and a chance to rest and recuperate properly.
We chose Pire Mapu in Puerto Natales on the basis of excellent online reviews and had a lovely time. The hosts (Brendan is from Leeds and his wife Fabiana is from Puerto Natales) were very warm and welcoming. We soon got talking about food, cooking and Chilean cuisine. Fabiana kindly agreed to show me how to make a classic Chilean recipe, pastel de choclo, which we would then eat together for lunch on Easter Sunday.
Fabiana explained that since Chile is so long and extends through many lines of latitude, the cuisine varies greatly from tip to tip and between the coast and inland areas. Pastel de choclo, however, is adored throughout the country and is essentially the national dish.
It’s not unlike a cottage or shepherd’s pie, but with a topping of mashed sweetcorn (choclo) in place of potato. Also the filling combines chicken, minced beef, hard boiled eggs with softened onions, peppers, garlic (other versions often include raisins and olives although we omitted these). It’s as though every element of a typical farm is represented in each mouthful of pastel de choclo.
Although the components are very different, the end result is just as hearty, warming and comforting as the British classics – and as easy to prepare. It’s definitely a complete meal; no accompaniments are necessary, although we did use some of Fabiana’s homemade crusty bread to soak up the last of the juices in our clay bowls.
This is how Fabiana made it, on the beautiful antique AGA-style cooker which had been a wedding present to her parents, decades ago. I have added some thoughts about how I may tweak the recipe and method to account for UK ingredients, equipment and palate at the end.
Pastel de choclo – Fabiana from Pire Mapu’s recipe
(serves 4 – you can use four individual ovenproof dishes as we did, or put everything in one large dish and divide portions when you serve)
1 red pepper
4 chicken thighs (skinned)
4 cloves garlic
200g minced beef
4 hard boiled eggs (peeled)
1 kg package of blended maize
200g sweetcorn kernels
salt and pepper
Dice onion and red pepper and crush 3 cloves of garlic. Soften in a little olive oil with 2tbsp each of paprika and oregano for a couple of minutes.
Add the chicken thighs and cook for a further few minutes before adding enough cold water to reach just under the surface of the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, stick a lid on and leave to simmer gently.
In a separate pan, prepare the minced beef in a similar way: crush the remaining clove of garlic, soften in oil with another tsp each of oregano & paprika. Add the minced beef, fry for a few minutes until brown, season and add a splash of water to create a tasty gravy. Leave to simmer gently.
Meanwhile prepare the topping: if using ready blended maize paste, drain off excess liquid in a sieve. Use a blender or food processor to pulse the sweetcorn kernels to a rough paste (let a few chunks remain). Combine with the drained maize – the texture should be like soft scrambled eggs. Put the mix in a clean pan to heat through on the stove, and add quite a bit of sugar – a couple of generous handfuls.
By this point the chicken thighs should be tender and cooked through. Place one in the bottom of each individual ovenproof dish (or if using a big dish, one in each corner) and spoon over the red peppers, onions and juice from the pan.
Sprinkle some minced beef around each chicken thigh. Tuck in a hard boiled egg – each person gets a whole one.
Cover with a thick layer of the sweetcorn topping, right to the edges. Dot with butter and sprinkle with more sugar to help brown.
Put in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is piping hot.
- Fabiana says you can use your favourite spices; cumin is typical, or chilli powder if you like hot food. I think smoked paprika or chipotle chillies would work really well in this dish, particularly against the sweet topping.
- I wondered about using poached eggs rather than hardboiled, so you have the joy of breaking into a runny yolk. Or even sous vide if you’ve got fancy kit!?
- While I’m sure it could be tracked down in a specialist shop, I have never seen ready blended sweetcorn or maize in London. Fabiana is confident that making a paste from tinned sweetcorn kernels in a blender would work just as well. If the paste needs to be loosened, a little milk would be the best thing to add.
- Chileans love very sweet food and I would use far less sugar than Fabiana did. Particularly as tinned sweetcorn in the UK is sweeter than the starchy Chilean maize anyhow. Also I want to experiment with brown sugar or even molasses, which would give a richer flavour than refined white sugar.