In Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it’s known as pastelón. In Colombia, it’s a molde de papa (o yuca) y carne. In Cuba, it’s a tambor. Just about every Latin American country, it seems, has its own version of what we also know as shepherd’s pie, that comforting casserole with Irish roots in which stewed beef is topped with lusciously creamy mashed potatoes.
In the hands of Latin cooks, not surprisingly, the flavors vary widely, relying on native seasonings and ingredients. The pastelón, for example, is made with mashed plantains rather than potatoes. (Like this one at auntclaraskitchen.com.) Colombia’s molde also often uses yuca as its main starch. (Like this one at SeriousEats.com.) And Cuba’s tambor—pictured above and for which a recipe follows—calls for a thickened, creamed corn laced with a savory sofrito. In all cases, a tasty, classic picadillo plays the role of sweet-and-savory filling. Though it’s a decadent and hearty structure, make no mistake: this is a dish with humble origins, created out of a need to stretch and make something delicious out of leftovers.
However you decide to assemble it, the combination of a thick and starchy crust atop a boldly flavored filling makes a stick-to-your-ribs meal that’s great for cold winter nights.
Tambor de maiz (Cuban shepherd’s pie)
3 T olive oil, plus more for greasing baking dish
1 onion, finely diced
1 Cubanelle pepper (or green bell pepper, if not available) seeded, veins removed and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup low sodium tomato sauce
3 tsp sugar, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare a sofrito. Heat the olive oil in a large caldero over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot (almost about to smoke) add the onion, peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but not browned. Lower heat if needed. Add the tomato sauce, one teaspoon of sugar and season with salt and pepper. Lower heat slightly so as not to scorch the sofrito and continue cooking for about 15 minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Set the caldero aside when done.
3. In a food processor, puree the corn kernels with the milk. Pour the mixture into the large caldero with the sofrito, stirring well to incorporate. Add two teaspoons of sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the corn mixture is thickened and reaches the consistency of oatmeal.
4. Once the corn mixture is thickened, remove the caldero from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Then whisk in the egg yolks one at a time, making sure to incorporate fully.
5. In a greased casserole or baking dish that’s about two inches deep, pour half of the corn mixture and spread into an even layer. Cover the corn mixture with the cooked beef or turkey picadillo and top with the remaining corn mixture. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.