Empanada: a soft pocket of dough stuffed with a scrumptious savoury filling.
In Latin America and Spain they are called Empanadas, a portable, easy-to-eat pie… but every country has their own variation - South Asian samosas, Jamaican patties, German strudels, Italian calzones…
However it’s rumoured that the Empanada is actually a descendant of the English Cornish Pasty due to the migration of the Cornish people, especially skilled miners, to Argentina and further afield to find work. There’s a common saying "a mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it!” Obviously its origin as a Cornish Pasty to Empanada developed over years and took on more local spicier flavours, meats and vegetables. Strangely it still remains the same shape, just smaller.
I came across this recipe in a Bon Appétit mail shot last year. I read lots of recipes and get lots of food-based mail shots but for some reason this one remained with me for months. Maybe because it was cited as the “best empanada recipe ever” or maybe the memories of eating empanadas regularly in Miami was making me feel nostalgic… whatever the reason I had a hankering to try it out, and I’m so glad I did. Thank you Gaby Melian from Bon Appétit [and her mother].
2lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
salt & pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
2 blocks of shop-bought Puff Pastry (or 4 sheets of ready rolled) at room temperature
1 egg, beaten for glaze
You also need: a 9-10cm circular cutter
Makes: 32 empanadas
The empanada mixture needs to chill for approximately 3 hours or overnight.
Put the chicken in a saucepan along with the bay leaves and 2½ cups of water. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, 30–40 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a plate to cool. Discard bay leaves but reserve broth.
Whilst the chicken is cooling, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion and chopped peppers until soft but not browned. Season with salt and black pepper then stir in the tomato paste and cook until brick red in colour.
Add the paprika, oregano, and cayenne and stir to combine. Cook for a further minute.
The chicken should now be cool enough to handle, so coarsely chop it, then add it plus the reserved broth and any accumulated juices, to the tomato mixture in the saucepan.
Stir in 4 teaspoons of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.
Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, until most of the liquid is evaporated.
Taste and season with salt and black pepper, if needed.
Transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and chill at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 190°C [375°F].
Roll the pastry out to a 3mm thickness on a lightly floured surface and cut out circular rounds for the empanadas (about 9-10cm in diameter). Do this in batches so that the pastry doesn’t dry out.
Put approximately 1 rounded teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle of pastry. You want to make sure the empanada is filled… but remember too much filling will cause the empanada to burst open during cooking.
Use your finger, and a small bowl of water, to wet the edge of each circle.
Then fold the pastry over and pinch to seal the edges. Or use a fork to crimp the edges to seal them. [For in depth folding techniques check out The Spruce]
Glaze with an egg and a tablespoon of water beaten together. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.
Don’t worry if some empanadas split open - they may look a bit ugly but they will still taste amazing.