Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Argentinian Big-Bellied Beef Empanadas with Red Chimichurri

I recently purchased Gran Cocina Latina, and I gotta say, holy shitballs it's amazing. It's 900 pages of exhaustive research travel from Maricel Presilla, co-owner and chef of two Latin restaurants in Hoboken, N.J. This is the first recipe I've tried, but I dare say that this book is on par with Marcella Hazan and Julia Child.

On to today's recipe: these empanadas are fantastic, but dear god do they take a while to make if you aren't familiar with assembling empanadas. If you're not up for devoting a few hours in the kitchen, I'd consider making the stuffing and dough one day, and assembling and baking these off the next. A few notes on autheticity:

  • The dough traditionally uses suet as the fat. You can substitute with lard, or if like me you can't find any in the grocery store use a mix of bacon fat and vegetable shortening.
  • Speaking of tradition, lean beef, such as beef shin, is usually chopped small for the filling; I  substituted ground beef.
  • The recipe for the filling also incorporates (3) hard-boiled eggs and (24) black olives. I omitted the black olives because I can't stand them, and the eggs I boiled turned out soft instead of hard. Whoops. The recipe in the book recommends spreading the eggs/olives over the beef mixture once it's cooled. Makes it easier to spoon the filling onto the dough.

This recipe will make 24 empanadas. I ended up with 15.6 ounces of leftover dough as well, which I froze.

For the Dough:
2 lbs. low gluten flour such as Argentinian Blanca Rosa 000 or cake flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup bacon fat
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 extra large eggs
1 1/4 cup cold water

Combine the flour, salt and sugar. Blend in the fat/shortening, using a pastry blender or your hands, until the fat is the size of pebbles. Mix the eggs and water in a bowl, and slowly incorporate it into the flour to form a dough. Turn out on a lightly floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Split in half and roll into two 12 inch or so logs. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 24.

For the filling:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large yellow onions (10 to 12 ounces), finely chopped (about 4 cups)
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 medium orange bell pepper, deseeded, deveined and finely chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium, add the garlic and cook for 40 seconds until golden. Add the onions, scallions, bell pepper as well as all the seasonings and let cook for 7 minutes, or until the onion and pepper are softened. Add the meat and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until cooked through but still juicy. Transfer to a baking dish, and spread with a spatula. Refrigerate until cooled. While that's cooling down, it's time for the chimichurri.

Red Chimichurri:
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 large head of garlic (12 cloves), peeled
1 small yellow onion (5 ounces), finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon, crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

I used the slicer on my food processor to chop the garlic. You can use a knife if you want to deal with it that way. Add everything else to the food processor, and pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped, but not pureed. Serve at room temperature. This will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks.

2 large eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons of cold water for an egg wash

You'll need to use a 5 inch round ring/cookie cutter/improvised object. The lid of my sugar container measured 5 inches, so I popped it off and used that.

Cut each log into 12 one-inch pieces, keeping the dough you're not working with covered with a towel.  On a wooden cutting board, knead a piece of the dough into a circle. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to between 1/8 and 1/16 inch thickness. Using your handy-dandy template, cut the dough into a 5 inch circle. Spoon a healthy 2 tablespoons filling onto the center of the dough, then fold the bottom of the dough onto the top.

Press the edges of the dough to seal. Fold one corner into a triangle. I made pleats in the dough by placing my finger onto the dough, lightly applying pressure, then rolling the next section of the dough up and repeating. It takes a little while to get the hang of assembling these, but since you'll be repeating this 24 times you'll no doubt get the hang of it.

Preheat your oven to 375F. Place the assembled empanadas on two parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, and brush the egg wash generously onto them. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the crusts are golden (mine didn't quite get that color on them), and the empanadas sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.


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