If you know me IRL (that’s “in real life” for those of my readers who are not Millennials lol) (that’s “laugh out loud” for people like my mom who think it means “lots of laughs”), then you know that all I’ve been able to talk about these past few weeks is EMPANADAS.
Empanadas are not at all something I grew up eating and weren’t really on my radar until I studied abroad in South America during college. In South America, empanadas are kiiiiind of a big deal. Although Santiago de Chile (where I went to school) has a Starbucks on every block like most other major metropolitan cities, there are many suburban areas where mom & pop panaderías reign. In addition to several other types of baked goods (usually flowing with manjar, a Chilean form of dulce de leche) there are always several empanadas on rotation. The most popular flavors, from what I can remember, are ham & cheese (my favorite), spinach & cheese and pino (beef with hard boiled egg and chopped olives. I wasn’t a big fan but these are the most popular). The empanadas in Santiago are good and, most importantly, dirt cheap, so they’re often a part of the daily routine.
Let’s skip forward to the end of my semester abroad when I backpacked through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil with a friend. I distinctly remember that on my first night in Buenos Aires, my couch-surfing host told me that Argentina had the best empanadas in the world and that the best empanadas in Argentina were in Buenos Aires and that the best empanadas in Buenos Aires were around the corner from his apartment in San Telmo. So, he pretty much just said that this little place around the corner from his apartment had the best empanadas in the world!!! I’m not the type of person to let someone off the hook for a statement of that magnitude, so my friend and I decided to put his words to the test right then and there.
Two minutes later, my life changed. I’m not even kidding you. From my experience in Santiago, I kind of saw empanadas as decent-tasting street food that wouldn’t run you out of too many monedas. But these Argentinean empanadas blew me away and I haven’t stopped thinking about them ever since. They were just so juicy and the flavors were off the charts and WOW! I believe that night we had the marinated chicken empanadas and the mashed potato/corn empanadas — incredible combo, by the way. We probably ate empanadas every single day that we were there (along with 3-4 alfajores, but that is a story for another time).
Since I’ve returned to the U.S., I’ve been relying on the sweet Mexican-style empanadas to satisfy my occasional cravings (there’s a local restaurant that serves ridiculous guava ones). I’ve even made cinnamon apple ones once, much to my nana’s pleasure (check it out on my old blog!). With another trip to Buenos Aires just a few weeks away, however, those savory Argentinean empanadas have been on my mind more than ever.
Empanadas are not too hard to make — most people just buy pre-made dough and worry about the filling. This has been a struggle for me because you can’t just buy pre-made gluten-free empanada dough. I’ve lost count of how many batches of gluten-free empanadas I’ve made while trying to find a good recipe… way more than is healthy, I’ll tell you that much! I’ve produced lots of decent tasting empanadas but I didn’t want to share any recipes until I could find one with that WOW! factor that I experienced in Argentina. You see, I don’t want to make food that tastes “gluten-free”. My main goal with this blog and with my cooking in general is to create food that everyone will enjoy, whether they eat gluten or not.
And with this recipe, I believe I found it. Excuse my sub-par photography skills and inability to braid dough. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know! The bread is thick and chewy with just enough crisp and a little kick of garlic. The chicken filling is incredible… I might use this recipe for all my Mexican chicken needs from now on — tacos, quesadillas, etc. The sugar combined with the cayenne, cumin and onions resulted in a wonderful melody of flavors. Clearly, I’m obsessed. So incredibly excited to share it with you!!!!
Gluten-Free Chicken Empanadas by cocinadecella.com
3 chicken breasts
1 tbsp. cumin
1 bay leaf
3 garlic cloves
12 oz. chicken broth
2 large onions
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. cayenne
1 and 1/2 tablespoons sugar
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)
red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if you are using regular flour with gluten or if your gluten-free all purpose flour already contains xanthan gum, which some do)
2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. cold butter (I used my roasted garlic-infused butter)
12 tbsp. cold shortening
2 egg yolks
1 cup water
I recommend making the filling first so that it has time to sit and let the flavors intensify. Extra credit if you make the filling the night before.
Place chicken breasts in a large pot with cumin, bay leaf and crushed garlic cloves. Pour the chicken broth on top so that the chicken breasts are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow breasts to cool in the broth.
In a large pan, saute two large onions (chopped) with all of the seasonings over medium heat. Let cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and the entire mixture is a nice golden brown.
At this time, chicken is probably cool enough to shred. Shred all of the breasts and mix the chicken into the onion/spice mixture. Save that broth for later use! Set chicken mixture aside until you’re ready to fill the empanadas.
And now for the dough. Mix the flour with the xanthan gum, salt and sugar.
In a food processor, mix the flour mixture with the butter and shortening until crumbly. Pour into a large bowl.
Mix the egg yolks into the water. Pour half of the egg mixture into the dough and knead it with your fingers. Continue to add liquid as needed.
Mixture should be solid but, yes, kind of watery. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
When it is time to start assembling the empanadas, prepare your station and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. If you bake with gluten-free flours then you know how fragile the dough can be, so enlist in some help. Place saran wrap on the counter to help you roll out the dough or use a silpat baking mat if you didn’t lose yours like I did. Also, place wax paper on your baking sheet so you are ready to go.
Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it into golf-ball sized balls. You may need to put flour on your hands (I used sorghum because I was out of all-purpose) because the dough is pretty sticky. Let dough balls sit for five minutes.
On top of a sheet of saran wrap sprinkled with flour, roll each dough ball out until it has reached about 6 inches in diameter. I don’t use a rolling pin, by the way — I use my hands. Old school! I try to flip the disc over a couple of times to make sure it doesn’t stick to the saran wrap.
Place 2-3 tablespoons of the filling in the center of each disc. Sometimes I put it in the center and sometimes I favor one side, to make it easier to flip the other side on top of it and encase all of the filling.
Dip your finger in water and trace the edge of the one side of the disc to help the sides stick together.
Use the saran wrap to help you flip one side onto the other. Press firmly around the edges to make sure there aren’t any openings.
At this point you can either braid the edges (which I’m still learning to do) or just press the prongs of a fork around them.
In a separate dish, mix an egg yolk with a bit of water. Brush this over your empanadas before baking to give them a crispy, golden brown exterior.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Wait a few minutes to eat because will be hot! If they don’t get eaten immediately, store in the fridge and bake again to reheat.
Have you ever made empanadas before? Please share your favorite recipe below! I can’t wait to experiment with different fillings and even sauces. Will you try this recipe?