Empanadas, so yummy. (So poorly displayed. Oh well.) Easy to eat finger food. They lend themselves to all kinds of fillings and sauces. Whenever I serve them, they are all eaten, fast. In the never-ending quest for culinary perfection, I have been trying out several empanada dough, filling and sauce recipes over the last couple of years, and I have come to a winning formula.
I thought making empanada dough would be quite tedious. I imagined it taking forever to roll out 20 or 30 rounds. So I took the lazy route. I found frozen empanada dough at an outstanding Italian (!) grocery nearby, Lucca Ravioli Co. Interestingly, while you can get them at a couple of hispanic groceries in The Mission, the Hispanic markets around Sonoma don’t stock frozen empanada dough, a clue to me that it must be better and reasonably easy to do them by hand (or empanadas are not popular in Sonoma). If you choose to go this route for convenience’s sake, know that there are two kinds of frozen empanada dough, one for frying and one for baking. I don’t do deep frying, so I got the baking ones.
I thought they were a little cardboardy and they didn’t puff and didn’t brown well. So I leapt to the other extreme, and tried French butter puff pastry from the supermarket freezer. This was delicious, but it puffed too much. The empanadas got too big to eat easily, and they mostly popped open. I guess I could roll the pastry out thinner, but that’s getting close to what I would have to do with hand-made pastry.
Hand Made Dough
Once I made this pastry, I couldn’t believe I had put it off for so long. It’s simple, it behaves well, it delivers the goods, and you make it in a few minutes in a food processor.
I should have measured the thickness of the dough as I rolled it out, but I basically rolled until the dough started to get too thin to work easily. I cut the rounds with a 4″ cookie cutter. Because I was worried about the rounds sticking together, I cut out 30 circles of parchment paper the same size, and used them to separate the individual rounds as I stacked them up. The paper is reusable, and I keep it in a ziplock bag in the freezer.
You can put anything in empanadas that you could put in a pie or a calzone, though it should be pretty dry. People even make sweet empanadas with fruit fillings. The Argentinians love theirs filled with beef, of course, and they are delicious, especially with sliced olives, a raisin and a slice of hard boiled egg in each one. I have made squash and mushroom empanadas, chorizo and ham empanadas, Italian sausage empanadas. Today we are going to use shrimp.
No matter what the filling, you have to chop finely. You are only going to put a tablespoon or so of filling in an empanada, so that tablespoon has to be a good sample of the filling recipe. That means very small pieces, so sharpen your knife.
Working with shrimp makes this a bit problematic. If you chop shrimp too fine it will cook too fast or turn into paste. My solution was to mince the filling after it was cooked. First I chopped all the ingredients finely and cut the shrimp into quarters. I cooked up the onion/tomato sauce, added the shrimp quarters to poach in the liquid, quickly cooled it on a plate, and then spread it on a chopping board and minced it with my chef’s knife. Here it is cooling, prior to mincing. You can see I am looking for a very fine chop.
You have to pay attention to mise en place for your assembly station. Circling your workspace of about a foot square, you need the empanadas, the filling, with a spoon to measure it out, a small bowl of water, a cloth to wipe the workspace and your fingers, a fork to crimp the seal, and a lined baking tray to receive the finished pastries, ready for baking. I use a silpat sheet in the baking tray, because the empanadas don’t stick to it, and it cleans up easily after the inevitable in-oven leakage. The finger that wets the dough has to not have filling on it. The workspace needs to be dry when you put a pastry round on it.
There is a tension in making empanadas between the quite reasonable wish for more goodies, and the desire not to have the patries burst open in the oven. For my 4″ empanadas, a heaped tablespoon is about enough. You place an empanada round on your workspace, add the filling, and push it into itself, back from the edge. Wet a finger in the bowl of water and use it to dampen all the way around the rim. Fold the top over the filling, trying not to let filling get into the seal area. Press down on the rim with the back of the fork to seal the join. Be scrupulous in making sure the entire edge is crimped.
Pierce the top with the fork, and load the empanada onto the baking tray. When the tray is full, brush them with beaten egg and bake at 350F for 10-20 minutes, until well browned, but watch for the bottoms burning.
There are at least as many sauce recipes as there are filling recipes. Anything that goes with the filling works. For these shrimp empanadas I made a spicy tomato and red bell pepper sauce, similar to a typical seafood cocktail sauce, as well as a classic chimichurri.
Now to the recipes.
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces
4-5 tbsp iced water
Place the flour and salt in a food processor and whirr to mix.
Add the butter, egg and 4 tbsp water. Process just until a clumpy dough forms. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to several days. (In the freezer, it will keep indefinitely. Thaw for a couple of hours in the fridge before using.)
Roll out into a thin sheet and cut into rounds about 4″ in diameter. Stack between circles of parchment paper. Cover with a damp cloth if you are using them straight away, or wrap in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Shrimp Empanada Filling
2 garlic cloves
half a bunch flat leaf parsley
14oz can of whole tomatoes
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or hot paprika
1 tsp vinegar
1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
Chop the onion finely and saute it until soft but not browned. Add the finely chopped garlic and cook another minute or so. Reach into the can of tomatoes with scissors and chop them up. Add to the onion and garlic and stir well. Chop up any big bits of tomatoes with the scissors. Add the sugar and vinegar and taste for salt.
Simmer until the onion does not taste raw and the sauce is thickened. This is where you can balance out the sauce flavor to taste with sweet/sour/salty and hot.
Meanwhile cut the shrimp down the vein and then across the body. When the sauce is ready, add the shrimp, turn the heat off, cover, and let the mixture sit until the shrimp is cooked, stirring a couple of times. Stir in the parsley.
Turn the mixture out onto a plate to cool, then transfer to a chopping board and further mince to reduce the size of the pieces to about 1/4″.
Tomato bell pepper Dipping Sauce
1 cup tomato ketchup
1 (7oz) jar of roasted red peppers, drained
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 tsp drained prepared horseradish
Blend the ingredients. Add salt to taste.
1 cup packed flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp crushed Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
Blend all the ingredients. Add salt to taste.