Warm up cold winter days with a hot dish

With the snow comes cold, and with cold comes the want for a warm treat. If one is searching for hot food that’s different from the everyday hot pocket, why not try this recipe for a Costa Rician staple food: chicken empanadas? Not only are they filling but they’re also portable and meant to be eaten on the go.

Filling Ingredients:

3 full chicken breasts

1 ½ cups colby-jack cheese

4 oz softened cream cheese

¼ cup red bell pepper

1 tablespoon cumin

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoons pepper

Olive oil

Cayenne Pepper

Dough Ingredients:

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks of butter (unsalted)

1 egg

¼ to ½ cup milk

Directions: 

Now, the filling is the most time consuming to make, so one should begin with that. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take three uncooked chicken breasts and rub them with a splash of olive oil. Then, using a mixture of approximately 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper and ½ a tablespoon salt, spread across the chicken to pre-season. Put the chicken into a lightly greased glass tray and bake for 10 minutes. 

After 10 minutes are up, remove from the oven, flip the chicken onto the other side and bake in the oven for 15 minutes more. Then, remove them from the oven and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.

After the chicken is cool enough to handle, take the breasts and put them in a large bowl. Begin to shred the chicken apart with fingers or two forks. 

Once shredded to your liking, add 1½ cups of colby-jack cheese and mix. While mixing the cheese in, add the salt, pepper and cumin. (Feel free to also add in any other spices one would feel would fit with the chicken at this point—but it is not recommended to do this unless one knows what specific taste one is aiming for.)

Once thoroughly mixed with the chicken, slowly add in the cream cheese and red bell pepper. If the cream cheese is not properly softened before being added, it will clump up and make it harder to mix together with the other ingredients, leaving patches of only cream cheese. 

Finally, stir all ingredients together breaking apart lumps of cream cheese until it is properly mixed.

The next steps of creating the dough, following the filling are relatively easy and far less time consuming.

Simply use a large mixing bowl and mix the flour, egg, butter and salt together using one’s hands. Once the egg and butter are mixed in, the dough should begin to take on a lumpy texture.

Next, slowly add in the milk. One wants to do this slowly so as to not overly saturate the mixture with moisture. The exact measurement of the milk can change from batch to batch, so one must simply have a feel for when the dough takes on a smoother texture.

Finally, remove the dough from the bowl, placing it on a lightly floured surface. Gently knead the dough with the palms of the hands. Use one’s hands or a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a sheet that is about a quarter of an inch thick.

Use a bowl or a round cookie cutter to cut out the empanada rounds that are approximately three inches across. Repeat as needed.

Take the round of dough and scoop about a spoonful of filling into the middle of it. Fold the dough over the filling and press the edges together using either one’s fingers in the pinching method or by using a fork to seal the empanada shut.

These sealed shells can be kept in the freezer for later (up to 1 month) or cooked immediately. It is recommended, though, to let these sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a whisked egg and lightly brush it over the uncooked empanadas to allow a golden-brown crust to form. Place the empanadas on a baking sheet on the middle rack and bake for 15 minutes.

This recipe is a little more advanced than most, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to get it right. Just like any other skill, baking and cooking takes practice and patience. Take a breath and try again.

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