Who doesn't love a hand pie? Empanadas are the quintessential savory hand pie. I've enjoyed them with a flaky pastry crust but I really love these empanadas wrapped in house-made flour tortillas by Chef Osvaldo Blackaller for his University Heights place, Cueva Bar. And, lucky us, he taught me how to make them.
Originally from a small high desert city called Monclova in Mexico, three hours south of Laredo, Texas, Chef Oz, as he refers to himself, has been cooking since he was a kid, although he pursued a more conventional career path in human resources. In college he befriended a young woman from Virginia who set him up with her twin sister. After a long distance relationship, he moved to Virginia to be with Joanna, making friends in his new country by cooking for them. Eventually Oz and Joanna married and moved to San Diego. Determined to make his passion his business--and with Joanna's support--they opened Cueva Bar in October 2010. The menu is a reflection of his Mexican roots, but also sprinkled with flavors from Argentina and the American South on up to the broader East Coast.
Among his featured dishes are empanadas. The three he introduced me to are chicken with gorgonzola, brisket and sauteed onions, and chorizo with smashed potatoes. It was hard to pick a favorite. Each was packed with intriguing flavors with moist, tender fillings and a crispy pastry. I couldn't choose which I wanted to feature so we've got the recipes for all three fillings, but first let's address making the dough. It's not at all difficult, but as I experienced, the more you make these the better they'll come out--and whatever you don't use for the empanadas can be enjoyed as quesadillas or soft tacos. They freeze well, too.
Cueva Bar Worldwide Empanadas
from Chef Osvaldo Blackaller
Yield: 20 tortillas
5 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces sparkling water (more or less, depending on how the dough comes together)
1. Mix the flour, salt, and shortening until flakes of shortening are formed.
2. Add 10 ounces of sparkling water and start kneading until its almost integrated. Touch for consistency and, if necessary, add more water slowly until the dough comes together--neither too moist or too dry. Don't overknead.
3. Cover dough and let rest for at least an hour before using.
4. When you're ready to roll out the dough, pull out individual pieces about the size of a golf ball. Smooth it into a small disc and gently fold over the edges to create one smooth side. Then roll out the disc to the size of a corn tortilla--about eight inches.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Add 2 ounces (or 2 1/2 tablespoons of the filling) to the center of the tortilla. Fold one side over the filling and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the top with either an egg wash (2 eggs, beaten) or a blend of chili oil and olive oil. Cut slits on the top to let the steam escape while baking.
7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
And here are recipes for each of the fillings. Notice that for the chicken empanadas, Chef Oz creates an upright empanada in the style of a rooster's coxcomb. For the chorizo, he shapes the empanadas into bull horns. Only the brisket has the traditional side shape with crimping.
Chicken Filling for Empanadas
4 pounds boneless chicken breast
6 cups finely diced onion
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
1. Prepare chicken marinade by mixing all spices and vinegar.
2. Grind chicken breast or finely dice.
3. Mix spice marinade with ground chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes before cooking
4. Brown onions.
5. Add chicken and cook on medium heat.
6. Stir thoroughly and add water.
7. Turn heat to medium low and let simmer until 90 percent of the juice is reduced.
8. Remove from heat and let cool before using it for empanadas.
Braised Beef Brisket Filling for Empanadas
4 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Mix all dry ingredients and olive oil together.
2 cups red wine
Rub brisket and store overnight
The next day:
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Add wine to brisket. Place brisket in oven and oven sear for 15 minutes.
3. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and braise for 4 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off and allow brisket to sit in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove brisket from oven and shred the meat for the filling.
Beef Chorizo Monclova Filling for Empanadas
Chorizo Spice Marinade
4 Tablespons of salt
20 Guajillo Peppers
16 Ancho Peppers
1 cup of white vinegar
6 tablespoons of paprika
16 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons dry marjoram
2 teaspoons ground, toasted coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1. Place peppers in low boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft.
2. Grind all spices and herbs together.
3. Discard about 80 percent of the water from peppers and blend peppers.
4. Strain the pepper blend to get rid of all seeds.
5. Place smooth blended pepper mix back in blender, add vinegar, spices, and garlic. Puree until smooth. Taste spice level and adjust accordingly.
7. Cover and set aside until ready to use.
To make chorizo:
Chorizo spice marinade above
5 pounds ground beef
Mix spice marinade with ground beef until is well blended. Allow to cure for 2 days before using.
Cueva Bar is located at 2123 Adams Ave. in University Heights.