Perhaps the most ambitious thing on Annie and my New Year's Eve tapas party menu were these empanadas. I mean, the bacon wrapped dates and the portobello bruschettas were really quite simple. We sort of HAD to do something that was a little challenging, maybe a little risky. It's what people expect. My mother once warned me not to make a recipe for a party that I've never attempted before, in case the whole thing doesn't work out. But that's not how Annie and I do things. We try new recipes with unfamiliar methods and we hope for the best. Some times it doesn't work (our home made pasta was a little chewy and let's not even mention the tamale incident) but usually we totally pull it off.
For this little adventure, I went over to Annie's house the day before New Year's and we made a little game plan. We decided to make the filling the day before the party and then the day of the party we'd make the pastry crust and assemble the empanadas. Then when we'd arrive at Annie's friend Jodi's house for the party, we'd bake them all off and serve hot.
After a trip to Trader Joe's and Pavilions, followed by dinner at Casa Escobar down in Marina del Rey with Annie's husband, her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law's new finace, we FINALLY got cooking. I think it helped that we were a little drunk.
This recipe comes from the January 2005 issue of Gourmet, courtesy of Epicurious.
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, thinly sliced
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
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
empanada dough divided into four balls, wrapped in cling film and chilled in the refrigerator. (The recipe suggested using store bought pizza dough, but come on. We're not making calzones here, people. We used Martha's empanada dough recipe.)
Note: Because of the number of people we were expecting at the party, we doubled the filling recipe.
(To make the 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. Watch out, because the oil WILL splatter all over the place. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
Next sauté onions, garlic, and bay leaves in fat remaining in skillet, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add olives, raisins, wine, and broth and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, if there are any. 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.
At this point you could stop - the chicken mixture would be great served over rice - but no. We are making empanadas. And this is how you do it. It's surprisingly easy.
Roll out one of the balls of dough on a lightly floured surface into a small circle about the size of a bread plate. (Because Annie has tile counter tops and does not possess a large slab of marble that is typically used for pastry, she taped a large sheet of parchment paper to the counter. It worked quite well.)
Next spoon some filling onto the half of the circle closest to you, leaving an edge.
Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edge. Then fold the top down over the filling and seal it shut, gently squeezing out any air. Brush the edge with a little more water and then fold the edge up forming a sort of lip.
Using a fork, crimp the lip. Perhaps this is overkill, but it really seals the empanadas well so that they don't ooze while baking.
Place the finished empanada on a cookie sheet lined in parchment paper and then cover with cling film. We did this several hours before the party and did not bother to refrigerate them.
When you are ready to bake them, heat you oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the tops, but not the crimped edges with olive oil, and then bake for 25 minutes, depending on how big the empanadas are, until golden brown.
Our friend Heather declared these to be the best empandas she's EVER EATEN. And they are really good. The filling is sweet from the raisins and a little spicy and the crust is really thin and flakey but not too buttery.
In the end, a significant number of the party's guest list did not make it due to a horrific flu that's been going around and those who did come had, for some reason, gone out to dinner before the party. This left us with dozens of uneaten empanadas. Annie and I split them up between us and the next night we reheated them for dinner. Just so you know, they reheat very well.