Some of you may know this already, but I suspect newer readers do not; I was dairy-eating vegetarian from the time I was 13 until I was 28 (that’s Alex smirking in the corner, he likes to take credit for breaking me of my bacon-eschewing ways), a whopping half of my life (though, sniffle, not for long). If you click over to the recipe index, you’ll see that in the eight months this Kitchen has been open for business, if you exclude the dessert section, you’ll find a ratio of 92 vegetarian recipes to 11 meat, poultry or seafood-related ones. It’s not hard to make the argument that I’m still just not that into that which I once swore off. To this day, I consider meat a side dish and probably always will, and unless that fleshy dish is going to be transcendent or spectacular, I’ll probably skip it altogether. What this means is, if chicken cutlets have failed me again and again, it’s cool. I don’t need to fix it, I’m not dying to get over it, I’ll probably just move on and try other things. (That said, I want to thank Abbey for her helpful comment; this brining method is truly the only one that’s ever successfully brought cutlets back to life for me, and I need to get back to using it.)
But when I went to move on to other things, I really didn’t get far. I’ve had my eye on this empanada recipe for a while now, equally intrigued by the variety of flavors as well as a certain comment that stated plainly “This is one of the best recipes on this site.” The reviewer wasn’t kidding, and do you know what really, really makes this recipe? The chicken. It’s so tender, flavorful, and lush, I entirely failed at not eating bits with my fingers as I pulled it from the bone. I don’t think chicken has ever had such a carnal effect on me before. Thigh and leg pieces are first browned, and then braised for thirty minutes with the other ingredients, including broth and wine. In the end, you remove both the skins and bones–a boneless, skinless cutlet, so to speak–but you’re left with something that bears no resemblance to the pink, vacuum-sealed pieces on pieces of antiseptic foam lining your grocery store’s refrigerated section. And I vow from this point forward to stop bitching and moaning about the “pressed sawdust” effect and at least try to make my own damned cutlets when chicken pieces are in order.
I made only a couple changes to the recipe, replacing the oddly-chosen pizza dough crust for a more classic empanada one also the site. I also ended up with enough filling for 18 and not 12 empanadas, forcing me to make a second batch of dough the next day. (I’ll spare you this and scale up the recipe for you.) I also omitted the raisins, as Alex has deep-seated issues with both the combination of sweet flavors with meat, as well as raisins themselves. I think he’s nuts, but having no great desire to eat raisins, olives and chorizo together, I didn’t push the envelope. However, when further researching empanadas later last night, I couldn’t help but notice that a good lot of them involve raisins, pretty much assuring me that the recipe I used was fairly standard, and my reaction to the ingredients was not.
Nevertheless, these empanadas are the best things I’ve made in a while. The crust is flawless, and the dough terrifically easy to work. The filling would be equally tasty over rice or another grain, but tucked inside a pocket, the ultimate finger food. Food like this makes me certain that we and our guests are getting more spoiled by the week, and this, my friends, is a very good thing.
Chicken Empanada with Chorizo and Olives
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2005
Makes 18 empanadas
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I swapped 1/2 cup with whole wheat flour)
3 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs
2/3 cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
3 whole chicken legs, including thighs (2 to 2 1/4 lb total)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
1/3 cup finely diced Spanish chorizo (cured spiced pork sausage; 1 1/2 oz; casings discarded if desired)
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (not hot)
1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Make Dough: Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.) Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. (Deb note: If you use a large-ish bowl, you can do this step in-bowl.) Form dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 6 hours total.
Make Filling: Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken, turning over once, about 6 minutes total, and transfer to a plate. Sauté onions, garlic, and bay leaves in fat remaining in skillet, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add olives, wine, and broth and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return chicken to skillet along with any juices accumulated on plate, then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer chicken, covered, turning over once, until tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.
Transfer chicken to a clean plate. (Sauce in skillet should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it’s not, briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.) When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and coarsely chop meat. Stir chicken into sauce and discard bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, then cool filling, uncovered, about 30 minutes.
Form Empanadas: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Divide first dough and half of second dough into 18 equal pieces and form each into a disk. (The remaining dough can be stored in the freezer for future use.) Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).
Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make 17 more empanadas in same manner, arranging on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets.
Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* Not wanting to engage you all in egg-splitting, this empanada dough recipe technically makes enough for 24 pockets. The extra can be stored in the freezer for future use.