Unless you are feeding a large family, or your small family is a bunch of sauce junkies, chances are if you make something like the velouté I shared last week, you are going to have some leftovers. Mine worked out to just under a cup of sauce (you will probably have a touch more – I oversauced my chicken a bit because I was taking photos of the stream of velvet I was pouring), which was clearly too much to trash but, it seemed, not enough to do much with. True, I could have just warmed it up again and scarfed another cutlet, but that didn’t seem very original. Additionally, this sort of flour-thickened sauce doesn’t always reheat particularly well – think about the resolute globs of leftover Thanksgiving gravy. It was going to need some help.
When I thought velouté, I thought pot-pie. However, a mere cup of sauce didn’t seem like enough. Smaller quantities of sauce would require smaller packages. I’ve been tossing around the idea of hand-pies for a while (see what I did there? Yeah.), and suddenly it became clear that this final bit of sauce would become the base for the filling of pot pie empanadas, spiced up with chunks of cheddar cheese in the crust.
Yes. This was happening.
I think every culture has a snack food created by enclosing a savory little morsel in a puff of dough. Samosas, gyoza or pot-stickers, pierogies, Cornish pasties, think about it. For Spain, and for Central and South American cuisines, empanadas are that snack. A tumble of meat, cheese, and spices (with the occasional vegetable – a few summers ago I had a spectacular one filled with cheese and fresh spinach) wrapped up in a lovely soft dough that is sometimes baked but more often lovingly tipped into the deep fryer: it’s quite possibly my dream food.
And here I was about to Americanize it beyond belief. The leftovers of my grad school training screamed things at me about colonization and cultural appropriation, but I swatted them down. It’s improving the classic by acknowledging and incorporating a new angle. Yeah.
And it was so worth it.
The dough here is baked, not fried. I don’t have a deep fryer, and to be honest, crammed with cheddar as it was, the crust did not provide the most airtight of seals. I would have been nervous about dropping these into hot oil.
There’s nothing to be nervous about when it comes to the taste, though. You can stuff these with whatever you’d like in a pot pie, meats or vegetables. I opted for potatoes, carrots, a few mushrooms, green onions, a breath of garlic, and some green beans that had been in my fridge for a touch longer than they should have. A bit of shredded up chicken breast completed the pot. These get cooked in the leftover velouté with a splash of white wine (and a bit of water, if you feel there isn’t enough liquid) until they are tender, then, once they are cool, jammed a mere tablespoon at a time into circles of sticky but pliable dough. A quick fold, a squeeze, and a crimp with the tines of a fork, and they are ready to bake.
I had designs on serving these alongside a salad for a balanced meal, but we never made it to the salad. We just ate these, burning our fingers and our tongues as we picked up one and another and another. These are pot pies for crust lovers. The dough becomes rich and crisp and flaky, and the cheddar cheese is, I have to admit, a bit of a stroke of genius. It’s a perfect little package, and writing about it now, I desperately want another.
Sometimes leftovers are better than the original. This, friends, is one of those times.
Makes enough for 18-20 empanadas, if re-rolled once or twice
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt (this doesn’t seem like much, but the cheese is salty and the filling will be seasoned)
8 tablespoons very cold butter (1 stick), cut into cubes
½ cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes
⅓ cup ice water
1 tablespoon vinegar
- Dump the flour and salt into a food processor and pulse once or twice to mix them.
- Add the cubes of butter and cheese and pulse 4 times for 3 seconds each. This seems fussily precise, but it worked very well.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg lightly with the water and vinegar. Add to the food processor and pulse once or twice until the mixture comes together in large clumps. You’ll know it’s ready when it stodgily mashes against the side of the processor bowl, reluctant to whiz in circles anymore.
- Turn this mixture out onto a large square of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap to help you, form it into a disc 5 or 6 inches in diameter, then wrap up and refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. This will allow the flour granules to absorb some of the liquid and fat, which makes for easier rolling, and the butter (and cheese) to firm up again, which makes for better texture.
- While the dough chills, make the filling.
Pot pie filling
These quantities may not seem like enough, but remember, you are using only minute quantities of filling for each empanada. Overfilling dumplings is somewhere in the top ten of my frequent cooking mistakes, so trust me. You will have plenty.
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced in little moons
3-4 mushrooms, diced
2 small carrots (or one large), diced
1 small Yukon gold potato, diced
6 green beans, stems removed, sliced into ½ inch pieces
½ cup cooked shredded chicken
¼ cup white wine
1 cup velouté
Salt and pepper, and herbs of your choosing, to taste
- In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to brown, 5-8 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and carrots, stir to combine.
- Add the wine and velouté. Season with salt and pepper, if needed, and any herbs you feel inclined to add. Simon and Garfunkel’s usual suspects would certainly be welcome.
- Cook over a healthy simmer until the carrots, which will likely take the longest, are almost tender. If the pan looks dry, add a little water or chicken broth. Depending on how small you have cut the vegetables, this could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Mine took about 15.
- When the carrots are almost tender, add the green beans and simmer until they are just losing their raw crunch.
- Kill the heat and add the shredded chicken, then let the whole mess cool to room temperature.
To assemble and bake:
- Preheat the oven to 425F and spray two baking sheets with non-stick spray or line them with parchment paper.
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it on a floured board. Using a rolling pin or a straight-sided wine bottle (it totally works!), roll it out into a rectangle or oval about ¼ inch thick. With the floured lip of a glass, a jar mouth, or a biscuit cutter, cut out into 4-inch rounds. When you cut, to avoid extra stickiness or tearing the dough, press straight down without twisting all the way through the dough. Once you have cut all the way through the dough, then you can twist the cutter a bit to loosen the round from the board.
- Once you have made all the circles you can with the dough, gather up the scraps and roll them out again. One or two re-rollings should produce 18-20 dough circles.
- Add about 1 tablespoon of the cooled filling to each round of dough. You will be tempted to add more. Don’t do it! A solid 1 tablespoon is about all that can fit without making a tremendous mess.
- As you place each tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough round, fold it in half and press the edges together with your forefinger and thumb. To seal each little half-moon package, set it down on the floured board again and press down on the edges all the way around with the back of the tines of a fork. This really crimps it closed, but it also looks pretty, which I’m a fan of.
- Settle each empanada on your prepared baking sheet. They aren’t going to spread, so they don’t need too much room in between them, but you don’t want them touching each other. Each needs to get the full oven experience without its neighbors interfering.
- Bake in your preheated 425F oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and crisp to the touch, and any filling that has had the misfortune of leaking out is bubbling assertively.
- You will probably need to let these cool for 5-10 minutes before eating. Just enough time to, if you’re feeling virtuous, toss together a quick salad. Or, you know, not.