The second guest post from Jet Doye! Enjoy! – Christiana
Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires is a truly wonderful book. Anyone who decided to cook potatoes at The International Academy of Gastronomy alongside fellow culinary royalty, Alain Ducasse, Ferran Adria, and Fredy Girardet is worthy of some quite serious consideration. Having built a career as South America’s most famous chef by serving French food to wealthy Argentines, his choice to fully embrace his Andean heritage is extraordinary. “My cuisine became, for want of a better word, barbaric in its attempt to achieve the pinnacle of flavors through the use of fire, whether the massive heat of the bonfire, or the slow steady heat of dying embers.” In case you have an Estancia and a good source for scrap iron, and know a welder he offers a recipe for Una Vaca Entera that calls for two cords of wood and we really hope you will invite us over. We live in a townhouse and have a galley kitchen, so I’m waiting for our Fairy God Butcher, Kent, to hook us up with a cattle rancher who thinks this is perfect for a party to promote their grass fed beef. In the meantime, don’t think this book isn’t relevant. The ideas, recipes and techniques will improve almost everything you make. “The Glorious Empanada”.
Mallmann has a special section on empanadas in the chapter on appetizers. “If I had to pick one food that is most typical of Argentina, it would be the crispy fried or baked turnover known as the empanada.” He goes on to say that the recipe changes from province to province and household to household, but that there are a few points on which there is universal agreement: lard, top quality unhydrogenated lard rendered from heritage pork “makes a light, flaky dough with great depth of flavor”, the beef should be chopped by hand with very sharp knives, not ground, and it is fine to either bake them or fry them (in lard). As we happen to have what seems to be a lifetime supply of lard and, thanks to Dylan, my knives are all sharp enough to shave the share off of my arm, empanadas seemed perfect. Having made them twice in as many weeks, I can assure you that they are effing awesome. The lard adds a delightful and unfamiliar flavor to both the dough and the filling. Well, unfamiliar to me, anyway, since unhydrogenated heritage lard is a brand new ingredient in the arsenal. For those of you, or all of you, who don’t know me, cooking is my favorite hobby and the great irony in my life is that I thought I was a great cook 20 years ago. There is so much to learn and, in my case, every step on the road reveals just how much I don’t know.
The Seven Fires empanada dough is based on a Salmuera, which is an Argentine seasoning solution made by boiling 2 cups of water and 1 and a 1/2 Tablespoons of salt, then adding 3 and a 1/2 Tablespoons of lard and stirring until melted, then cooling to room temperature. 5 – 6 cups of flour are added 1 cup at a time and mixed in by hand until it can be gathered into a ball, then turned out out onto a floured surface and kneaded until the dough cannot absorb any more. The dough should be stiff and dry. Divide into 2 pieces, shape into disks and wrap each in plastic, then chill for at least 1 hour or up to 24. It can be frozen, well wrapped, for a month. The resulting, sturdy dough is ideal for frying or cooking over fire on cast iron. Also? It is delicious. My Aunt Wilma made fried apricot pies when I was growing up in Oklahoma in the seventies. They remain a peak memory and favorite comfort food and I can, even now, hear her admonishing me that regular pie dough can’t stand up to frying. She would love this dough and the Salmuera technique.
There are two different fillings described. The Empanadas Mendocinas call for olives, to which my beloved sister-in-law has an inexplicable aversion. Nonetheless, I adore her and was making the empanadas for a special family occasion, so I went with the olive-less Empanadas Saltenas. These are made by peeling and cutting 2 medium boiling potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes (on the second go round, I went withan 1/8 inche dice and vastly preferred the results), bringing them to a boil in salted water, then boiling for seven minutes, until tender. Mallmann suggests wrapping them in a wet towel after draining so they do not dry out. 1 pound of sirloin tip or tri-tip is trimmed and cut into 1/8 inch dice and seasoned with salt and pepper. I realize this is the third mention of how sharp my knives are in two guest posts, but this job was delightfully easy. Make sure the meat is very cold. Cold meat is easy to cut with a super sharp knife. As a next step, quarter and peel two onions, then slice them very thinly. The slicing disk on a food processor makes this even easier than sharp knives. The onions and thinly sliced white parts of 8 scallions should be sautéed in one Tablespoon of butter and 1 Tablespoon of lard in a large skillet over a medium-low heat for about 7 minutes until translucent, but not brown. The chopped meat is seared in 2 Tablespoons of melted lard over high heat. This should be done in batches and the meat should be spread out on a tray to prevent steaming. Next up, mix the meat, the onions and the thinly sliced green parts from the scallions in a bowl. Stir in 1 Tablespoon of red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin. Add the potatoes, 5 Tablespoons of melted lard, and 2 finely chopped, hardboiled eggs. Combine and season to taste with salt and pepper, then cover with plastic and chill until firm. The filling can be made a day ahead, but the eggs should not be added until you are ready to make the empanadas.
At this point, roll out the dough to a 1/8 inch thickness with a rolling pin or pasta machine, cut 3 1/2 inch circles, and fill each with a heaping Tablespoon of the meat and potato mixture. Leave a 1/3 inch border. Brush the edges with water and fold into half moons, then crimp the edges with a the tines of a fork, or use your thumb to form pinch pleats. You should have about 24 empanadas which can be baked on oiled sheets for 15-17 minutes at 350, or fried at 375 in oil or lard.
A few observations, just in case you aren’t using a cast iron horneo and wood fire: baking at 350 takes 45+ minutes and they never really look great. Try 20 minutes at 400, then brush the tops with melted lard and broil for 2-4 minutes. They will look a lot more like the pictures in the book. Also, I made these with 1/4 Tablespoon of chili flakes and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin the first time as I was concerned my nephews would be put off by too much spice. They are better…a lot better…with 1 Tablespoon of chili flakes and 3/4 Tablespoon of cumin. I didn’t taste the filling and adjust the seasonings prior to refrigerating the first go round. Shocker. Version 2.0 was better. The dough is stiffer than those with which I’m familiar. It is delightful at 1/8 inch, but too hard at 1/4 inch. Here again, the results improved when I wasn’t being lazy. We wound up with 35 and another cup and a half of filling.
The empanadas can be frozen after they are cooked. Truth be told, these take the better part of an afternoon. Christiana would, no doubt, make the dough one night and execute each of the filling elements on subsequent nights, over the course of a week, so that all she needed to do was roll out the dough, mix the filling, assemble, then bake and/or fry them prior to serving. That would work really well. I am nowhere near as organized and don’t have children and often find myself with a Saturday afternoon to mess around with a few projects in the kitchen. You should make these however they work for you, but, make no mistake, you should make them.
Bottom line is that I would have tracked down unhydrogenated heritage lard a long time ago if I had known how unbelievably magic “The Glorious Empanada” can be.
We love them. A lot.