I have an extreme affinity toward seafood. For those readers that have been with me for more than 6 months, you probably remember my seafood frenzy of last summer. I actually had someone tell me to cease the fish posts and create some variety. What can I say? Summers on the East Coast are like Disneyland for me. So many options and so little time! Fresh lobsters, clams, mussels and more are only available the month of August. Having said that, one could only imagine how gitty I was to try the highly acclaimed Chilean seafood. While touring Valparaiso, a port town known for its advanced cuisine, we hiked through town and landed at one of the oldest pubs known for their crab soup. Naturally, we understood almost nothing displayed on the black chalkboard of that day’s specials. I saw ‘sopa de mariscos’ or something of that nature and figured it had to be the fish soup to warm my soul. My husband Scott took a gamble and ordered a dish named ‘Pastel de Choclo’.
All of our meals arrived in a ceramic oval dish referred to as a paila (perfect for baking). My face lit up as the steam opened the tightly closed pores of my face; it had been a chilly morning walk. Mussels, clams, and other fresh fish dominated my broth filled bowl. One bite deep and my taste buds had a minor stroke. Aside from the boiling heat paralyzing any chance of enjoying the meal, I did feel a crunch from obscene amounts of sand in the bowl. Now lets get something straight… I am all about the freshest of the fresh when it comes to seafood. While at a festival in Rhode Island, I slurped down half a dozen live oysters straight from the sea. I hate to describe the ‘sopa de mariscos’ this way but honestly feel there is no other option… it was too fishy. I rarely discard a meal ordered in a restaurant, but this gritty and watery disaster wasn’t going down.
In desperation, my spoon uncontrollably lept to my left and landed in the casserole ordered by Scott. Thankfully this tragedy soon became a triumph. A combination of richly seasoned beef and olives served as the base. A creamed corn mixture veiled with a slight caramelization from the broiler. I engage in foreign meals on a daily basis but when I discover something extraordinary for the first time, I can barely control myself. Our spoons quickly became a fencing tournament of swords fighting for the win.
In an effort to bring one of my favorite Chilean concoctions to your table, I re-created this dish. I took a few standard recipes and added my own twist. I like the use of honey rather than sugar. Additionally, I used Jamaican allspice for the warmth it adds to the beef. I thought feta added a natural saltiness to the creamed corn. Smoked paprika is a nice finish to dust on top.
Pastel de Choclo – serves 2
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1/2 large white onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup black olives chopped
- salt to taste
- 1 tsp Jamaican allspice
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 4 shaved kernels of corn or 3-4 cups canned corn
- 1/2 cup half n half
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/4 cup feta crumbles
- 2 tbsp butter to glaze over top while broiling – optional
- chopped fresh parsley or basil
For fresh corn… bowl in water until bright yellow. Shave the kernels off and put into blender. Add honey and cream.
Meanwhile, saute onion and garlic over medium heat in a medium skillet . Add beef and spices except paprika and parsley. Cook until brown all the way through.
Heat oven to 375. In two ceramic bowls or a square baking pan, layer beef mixture on bottom. Spoon creamed corn over top. Drizzle feta and paprika. Bake for 30 minutes. If crispy top is desired, increase heat to broil, add butter, and cook for 5 more minutes.
Serve with Carmenere or Guinness.