I had quite of chicken leftover from the Bayless recipe, and I wanted to use it in a Mexican recipe, but not enchiladas or burritos, or really anything that would require me to stand in front of a blistering hot skillet making tortillas first. Instead, I hit on empanadas, which contain the chicken in a different sort of starchy wrapper, a baked crust. I’d never made or eaten these before, but they sounded like little savory turnovers, which couldn’t be all bad.
I made the crust in my food processor first, because like pie crust, it is intended to have a flaky texture that requires the fat in the dough to stay as cold as possible. It was a pretty standard recipe; I was 2 tablespoons short on butter (the rest of my butter was still stacked in the freezer, and I didn’t feel like hacking through it in that state) so I went the lazy route and filled in the gap with shortening. The substitution made my dough a little sticky, since the shortening was decidedly not cold.
After the wrapped dough was in the refrigerator, I started contemplating my filling while getting a head-start chopping and sauteing some onions and garlic. The recipe I was adapting called for chorizo, green olives and golden raisins, none of which I had on hand. I don’t even eat olives or raisins, but since I’ve been experimenting in the past few months with similar flavor profiles, I decided to take a leap of faith and try a combination of chopped dates and briny capers instead. (We found some lovely tender dates at Costco, pits and all, and my husband and son have been snacking on them. I like date chopped up in baked goods—they debuted in my zucchini muffins very successfully last week—so it’s nice to have a supply of really fresh ones on hand.) Tomato paste and splashes of white wine and chicken stock gave the filling moisture, and ancho chile powder, smoked paprika, and cinnamon all echoed the flavors present in the roasted chicken. I let everything simmer together until the liquid was essentially gone, and set the pan aside to cool.
Filling the empanadas, as with any filled pasta or pastry, was just a matter of effort. I look forward to the day when my son is old enough to help me prepare foods like this (before the novelty wears off and he realizes he is my manual laborer, heh). You just flour your board and roll out the dough into about 5″ circles, dump a few tablespoons of filling in the center, smear the edges with a bit of egg wash, and then fold and crimp the edges to seal them. I put each of my empanadas in the fridge on a parchment-lined baking sheet as I made them, in an effort to keep that dough as cold as possible. Just before they went in the oven, I brushed them all lightly with my remaining egg wash, and sprinkled on a little finishing salt, alternating between fleur de sel and smoked salt for fun. Twenty minutes later, they came out crisp and golden. I did have some minor leakage, mostly caused by trying to shape delicate pastries with my long fingernails. I was happy with the flavor of the filling in general, but decided I could have diced up the dates a little more finely, and I also wished I had thought in advance to bake a few of the empanadas with a sweet filling for dessert. My husband, who has eaten at an empanaderia in New York, said that my version tasted pretty authentic, so I guess I’ll keep playing with these from time to time.
Chicken and Date Empanadas
2 T olive oil
1 C sweet onion, diced
1 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp ancho
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of chipotle powder
1 T tomato paste
1/4 C white wine
1/4 C chicken stock
2 fresh dates, pitted, diced
1 T capers, drained, chopped
About 1 1/2 C leftover roast chicken, diced or shredded
1 recipe empanada dough, chilled (recipe below)
1 egg, beaten with 1 T water
In a large skillet, saute the onion and garlic with a glug of olive oil until translucent and tender; add the spices and tomato paste, and stir to combine, smearing the tomato paste around to incorporate it through the onions. Add the chicken, dates, capers, wine and broth, stirring well to combine; bring to a simmer, and allow to cook until the liquid has nearly all evaporated and the flavors are combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Remove the empanada dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters. Return 3 quarters to the fridge and divide the remaining dough into quarters again, rolling each into a ball. With a floured board and rolling pin, flatten a ball of dough into about a thin 5″ round. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of the round, brush the edges with egg wash, and fold the round in half. Firmly press the edges together to seal in the filling, then roll, crimp and/or press the edge with a fork to make an attractive seal. Place the finished empanada on a baking sheet in the refrigerator (or even the freezer, if you work quickly) and repeat this process with the remaining dough, keeping unused portions of dough wrapped in the fridge while you work. You should end up with 15-16 small empanadas.
When all or most of the empanadas are shaped, preheat the oven to 400F. Just before baking, brush the tops of your empanadas with egg wash and sprinkle them with a pinch of finishing salt for crunch or paprika for color. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and set.
Source: Freely adapted from Epicurious.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 stick of unsalted butter, frozen, cubed
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
4-5 T milk
1 egg, lightly whisked
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the cold butter until you get a crumbly mixture. Add the egg and a splash of milk, and pulse a few times. If the mixture still looks crumbly, continue adding splashes of milk and pulsing them in just until it begings to come together as a ball. (I used an extra-large egg, so I needed slightly less milk for this.) Dump the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and squeeze together into a ball. Pat down into a circle about 1 inch thick, wrap firmly, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Source: Adapted from Fork Spoon Knife.