Chicken Chorizo Empanadas

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Empanadas are so great for so many reasons: they're flaky, they're hot, their filled with a wonderful variety of fillings, and best of all, can be made in advance! WAY in advance! This is one of those make them 2 weeks ahead of your party or celebration, freeze, then cook before party foods. Love those kind of foods.

Empanadas can be savory or sweet, flaky or doughy, meat-centered or vegetarian. They can literally be filled with whatever you like. That said, I personally have a couple of rules for my empanadas:

1) the dough must be flaky and this is achieved through using a combination of butter and lard;
2) the filling has to be spicy and extremely savory
3) they have to be baked, not fried (I know, I know) because overly greasy empanadas are gross.

Regionally they differ from Spain to South America, so this by no means is a 100% authentic recipe but I do think it hits the right notes. I use spicy chorizo for incredible flavor and color, cooked chicken breast I shredded, 1 chopped egg for authenticity and wonderful texture, and a sofrito base of Spanish onion, jalapeno, and garlic. A little cumin, bay leaf, smoked chile powder and salt and pepper simply season the filling to something wonderful.

Just as important as the filling is the dough. I've seen empanadas done with a basic pastry crust, including from "Mr. Mexican Cooking" himself, Rick Bayless. I respectively disagree. I personally love the taste and texture using a combination of all-purpose flour and masa harina, a corn-flour mixture used to make corn tortillas. The earthiness from the masa harina is incredible and gives the best flavor I think. I also use a combination of butter for flavor and vegetable lard for dough malleability that I think works perfectly.

Play around with your preferred fillings and use what you have on hand, but I think this is a pretty good "basic" version that hits the authentic notes. 

Chicken Chorizo Empanadas
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped very finely
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 chorizo sausages, meat removed from casings
1 cup cooked chicken breast*
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked ancho chili powder
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 boiled egg, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded Montery Jack and sharp cheddar cheese
1 egg lightly beaten with a splash of milk for egg wash

For the dough:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup masa harina -- finely ground
1 stick cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (recommend: Crisco)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6-8 Tbsp ice cold water

First prepare the dough. Place the flour, masa harina, butter, shortening, and salt in the food processor and pulse until the butter and shortening is cut into the flour, and is the size of peas. Slowly add the water with the processor on, until a dough ball forms. Take out, form into a disk on a floured surface, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, make the filling.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook until softened, 7 minutes. Add the garlic and chorizo and cook another 5 minutes. Add the spices and salt and pepper to your taste and mix to combine. Add the broth and cook on medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the filling is "plumped" up. Fold in the chicken, egg, and cheese and set aside to cool.

To make the empanadas, take out the chilled dough and cut it in half. Cover and refrigerate one half while you work with the other. Generously flour out a working surface and roll out the half of dough until 1/4" thick. Using a circular cutter (size depends on your preference -- you can make these as small or large as you like!), cut out perfect circles. Spoon out some of the filling into the center of each circle, then fold over the sides creating a half-moon shape. Gently press around the sides to seal, then use a fork to crimp the edges. This not only is decorative, but helps keep the filling inside the empanada. Repeat with remaining dough. Depending on the size of the cutter, you'll end up with between 20 and 30 empanadas.

Brush the top of each empanada with the egg wash.

 To cook, you can either fry or bake them. If frying, heat enough peanut oil in a large pot (or preheat your deep fryer) and fry in batches until golden brown. Serve hot.

If baking, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay out desired amount of empanadas and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

You can freeze the empanadas as well and pop them frozen straight into a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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