From the Old World: Empanada Gallega

Some days, making many individual empanadas simply will not do. Some days, the only thing to do is to roll the dough as big as you can and make an empanada gallega.

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A savory dish, these large round or rectangular Spanish empanadas are stuffed with a sofrito of tuna, or a beef picadillo. Having had none of this at hand, this particular one was filled with about 10 ounces of smoked salmon, a cup and a half of sweet potato puree and a roasted poblano peppers.

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Served with a swipe of tomatillo salsa, it couldn’t have been better.

empanada_gallega

 

Empanada Gallega

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print
  • 200 g all-purpose flour
  • 160 g whole wheat flour
  • 7 g active dry yeast
  • 150 g warm water
  • 90 g extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 egg, beaten well, for wash

 

Dissolve the yeast in warm water and rest for 5 minutes.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flours well. Add the dissolved yeast and flour while continuing to mix at low speed, followed by the oil. Mix for approximately 2 minutes, and add the salt.

Continue to mix until soft and smooth and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Form a smooth ball with the dough and dust lightly with flour on all sides. Place in a clean bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rest for 45 minutes, or until it springs back when pressed with a fingertip.

When ready, knead the dough on a lightly floured surface to press out any air pockets. Divide into two even portions. Roll each portion to a disk approximately the size of a large dinner plate.

Trim both into a more or less even circles, reserving scraps if desired for decorations. Place bottom circle on a parchment or baking mat lined sheet tray.

Lightly brush crust edge with egg wash. Add filling, leaving 1″ clear all around. Filling should not be too wet, to prevent a soggy bottom crust. Place top crust over filling, pressing the edge gently to close.

Fold the edge over, pressing with the thumb over the forefinger to form a decorative rope. Decorate the top if desired. Brush everything well with egg wash and cut plenty of ventilation holes to prevent the top crust from rising.

Bake at 450ºF for 15 minutes, turning down to 400ºF until the crust is golden brown, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

 

Clearly, I really like empanadas:

Empanadas de cerveza

Empanadas de mermelada

How to: Empanadas

Empanadas de Maíz

Fried Corn Empanadas

The most important ingredient when making anything with harina de maíz, is not the flour itself, but the water. The most common mistake in using it, is in making too dry of a dough, resulting in overly lacy edges cracked edges and dense, chewy and flavorless tortillas.

This is a mistake I’ve made myself, having in the past worked only with freshly made masa. Being dehydrated fresh masa, clearly, the key to coaxing the flavor out of harina de maíz (instant corn masa flour, or maseca), is all in adding enough water.

Working with harina de maíz, or instant corn masa flour:

Use the hottest water you can tolerate to hand mix the dough. The dough is easy to mix, and while using a mixer is always acceptable, in this case, it is unnecessary.

Dissolve the salt into the water before mixing, to aid in absorption.

The dough should have enough moisture to stick to your hand, but cleanly separate. It should be able to roll smooth and flatten without excessively separating at the edges.

If too much moisture is added the dough will not cleanly separate from the plastic used to line the tortilla press.

Dough made from corn flour will dry out very quickly. Maintain it covered with a damp kitchen towel. It is helpful to work a small amount of water into portions before shaping by dampening the hands lightly and kneading in. It is also helpful to work quickly.

 

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Tortilla Press.

 

Making the empanadas:

As these empanadas will be fried, it is best for them to be rounded on both sides.

To do this, hold the tortilla in the non-dominant hand. Place the filling in the center, and fold closed. Use the dominant hand to pinch the edge close.

Unlike wheat flour based empanadas, empanadas de maíz do not take a decorative edge well, as the dough lacks the tensile strength. The edge may be trimmed with a fluted rotary cutter (Sur La Table sells an excellent one), or pressed with a fork.

Use more oil than seems necessary when frying, as some will be absorbed during the cooking process.

 

 

Empanadas de Maíz

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 2 cups harina de maíz (instant masa corn flour or maseca)
  • 13 fl. ounces warm water, more as needed
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • Approx. 3 cups of desired filling

Dissolve the salt into the hot water.

Place the instant masa corn flour into a bowl and make a well i. Pour the water in, working it into the flour. Mix very well, until the dough feels smooth, and separates cleanly from the bowl.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or a very lightly damp kitchen towel, and allow to rest for 10 to allow for full hydration.

Divide into 8 even portions, approximately 2″ round in size. Roll smooth. If the dough begins to dry out quickly, wet palms and work into each portion immediately before pressing.

Flatten with a tortilla press lined with thick plastic sheets or parchment paper. To flatten, place in the center, press lightly, rotate the tortilla 180º, and press again.

While holding the tortilla in one hand, still on the plastic or parchment paper, place approximately 1/3 cup of filling in the center. Close the tortilla, distributing the filling while forming the half-moon shape. Press the edges closed.

To prevent drying out while working, cover with a lightly damp kitchen towel.

Fry the empanadas in enough oil for them to float. Cook until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels.

The Nacho: An Ignacio By Any Other Name

The story is simple.

One day, in 1943, in the border town of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, in a restaurant fortuitously placed near the border crossing, a group of American Army wives came in for cold beers and a greasy snack.

Don Ignacio  Anaya (nicknamed ‘Nacho’ as Ignacios tend to be), the manager at this restaurant, Club Victoria, threw together fried up tortilla wedges, Wisconsin cheese and pickled jalapeño rounds, and warmed them in the oven.

As the cliché says, the rest is history.

Fast forward 74 years, and let me hope for a moment we are capable of building a better nacho.

A Better Nacho

  • Corn chips
  • Leftover beef in chile colorado
  • Beans, sautéed onions, whatever you have or want
  • Queso Fresco, crumbled
  • Radishes, sliced thinly and cut into matchsticks
  • Avocado, diced
  • Crema Mexicana
  • Cilantro, picked from stems

Hopefully, you have some leftover beef in chile colorado left lying about. You should. No? Get a cheap cut of meat, braise it till tender, clean a handful of chile colorados, simmer them till soft with a few cloves of garlic and a white onion. Puree the whole thing, add salt, Mexican oregano, dry thyme, and there you go. Add it to your beef.

Too much work? Get a rotisserie chicken and a couple of cans of your favorite Herdez sauce. Get the meat off the bones. Warm the sauce and chicken together.

Get some fancy corn chips. Not the scoops kind. Not the hint of lime kind. Not the kind with flax seeds or anything else. Fancy. Organic. Go crazy and get the blue ones. Spread them out on a large oven safe dish.

You’re going for surface area here, not height. You’re making a beautiful rolling edible landscape, not an avalanche of toppings over a dry flavorless Everest of chips.

Top liberally with the warm meat and sauce of your choice. Follow with cooked beans, sautéed onions, anything you may want to make a dish that is more than chips, meat and cheese. Top with cheese.

Turn on oven to a low broiler setting, placing a rack approximately 2/3 of the way up. Place the nachos in an oven until the cheese is warmed and slightly melted.

Top evenly with radish matchsticks, diced avocado, dollops of creama Mexicana, and cilantro.

Eat paired with cold beer.

Tortitas de Papa y Maíz

This recipe couldn’t be simpler, yet it demonstrates how little is required to make a meal out of corn flour.

Served simply with crumbled queso fresco and chile colorado as is shown here, the soft tortitas easily soak up the sauce.

The corn flour referred to here, is of course harina de maíz para tortillas, masa flour, maseca, whatever you may prefer to call it. Never cornmeal, never grits.

Notes on the Recipe:

The cooking water for the potatoes may be used in place for chicken stock.

This dough is easily shaped by hand into patties, but there is no shame in using a tortilla press lined with a thick plastic bag on both sides.

Tortitas de Papa y Maíz

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 500 g Yukon potatoes
  • Harina de maíz (maseca), as needed
  • 1/2 c to 3/4 c chicken stock
  • Salt, as needed
  • Oil for frying, as needed

Peel and cut the potatoes into large dice. Cover well with cold water, season lightly with salt, and cook until fork tender. Cool slightly.

Mash the potatoes roughly. Add approximately an equal volume of harina de maíz and mix to incorporate.

Heat chicken stock slightly, dissolving approximately 1 teaspoon salt into it. Slowly add the warm stock to the potato mixture, mixing until fully incorporated. Do not over mix. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

The resulting dough should be slightly tacky to the touch and easily shaped into a smooth ball. It should stick to the hand, but cleanly separate.

Cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, giving time for the flour to fully hydrate.

If dough feels too dry after resting, mix in a small amount of chicken stock, 1 teaspoon at a time.

Form portions into the desired size, rolling smooth and pressing into patties approximately 1/4″ thick.

Fry in 1/2″ or so of oil over medium high heat, cooking for approximately 2 minutes on the first side, and 1 minute after turning, or until golden brown and crisp.

Pan de Dulce: Conchas

After living in upstate New York for almost two years, I have begun to see the Phoenix area as the Mexican food outside of Mexico promised land. I could find almost any ingredient or dish easily, most within just miles of where I lived.

Sure, I had to go clear across town if I wanted to eat crickets (frankly I only did this once as I’m far too lazy to drive 45 minutes for something that tastes like spicy potato chips). All the other basics of Mexican cuisine were right within reach. A dozen kinds of dry chiles, flaky rolls of cinnamon, pillow sized bags of jamaica, oregano, bolillos, stacks of tortillas both corn and flour still warm…

As much as I missed them all, I didn’t miss them as much as I did conchas, a rather simple sweet brioche bun with a streusel topping called costra, or crust. Never mind the word costra can also refer to a scab, that is far less appetizing. I could find a perfect sugar topped concha in almost any neighborhood in Phoenix. I can’t find one here within a 2 hour drive.

The Concha

 

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Conchans resting before baking.

 

The concha is a French brioche bun, with egg, butter and milk. Many of the baked goods and desserts of Mexico have a greater degree of French than Spanish influence, a shift which began in the 1820’s after the overthrow of Spanish rule in Mexico, when a new Mexican identity began to develop.

Part of this identity is owed to the influx of European immigrants during this time. It didn’t hurt to cement French influence in Mexican food to have had a French appointed Emperor to the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. Drink a German Mexican beer and listen to a Polish Mexican polka while you think about this crash course in Mexican history. I could go on, but the recipe itself is long enough reading.

Head to Eater to read more on the topic of the concha.

Advice for the recipe: 

Being a sweet dough, the rise on this particular dough will be slow and should not be forced to do otherwise. It is the slow rise which will produce a tight and bouncy crumb in the bun.

If you are unsure of your yeast, bloom before mixing at both the starter and dough steps. Otherwise, mix as indicated following a straight dough mixing method, and using liquids slightly warmer than body temperature.

Any rising times indicated on this recipe, or for any other, should be completely disregarded if they do not match where the dough needs to be. Temperature of the ingredients, of the room, humidity, and elevation all will have an affect on how quickly dough rises. Ignore the clock and look instead at how far along the dough is.

Like any other brioche dough, the concha dough will have some stick to it when first mixed.

To make things easier, prepare the starter in the same bowl the rest of the dough will be mixed in.

The costra, or streusel if you will, should be fairly dry and crumbly, to prevent it melting off during the baking process. It should only have enough moisture to hold it together when clumped.

If using a stamp to score the costra, do so against a flat surface before placing on the bun, and avoid scoring more than halfway to avoid breaking. It is preferable to score too deeply, rather than not deeply enough, as then it will not separate when baking.

Unfortunately conchas do not keep well for long. Bakeries producing them bake them throughout the day, as they do harden quickly. Keeping them in a paper bag, or wrapped in parchment or wax paper will help slightly. Warming them gently in a microwave or oven also helps, as well as a nice dunk in coffee or hot chocolate. Cómo se dice, sopeadito. 

 

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Tight crumb inside the bun and a costra not properly scored.

 

Conchas

  • Servings: 14
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Starter

  • 115 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 g sugar
  • 2 g yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 fl. oz. water, 100-110ºF

Dough

  • 385 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 125 g granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 fl oz milk, 100-110ºF
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 120 g unsalted butter, diced, room temperature

Costra

  • 120 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 115 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Using a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients for the starter until a smooth thick dough forms. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 2 hours.

Once the starter is ready, add flour, yeast and sugar to the bowl. Using a dough hook, mix at slow speed while incorporating the eggs and milk into the dough. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Add salt, and continue to mix at medium speed, while incorporating butter pieces into the dough. Mix until the dough is smooth and soft but still has some stick to it.

Turn out the dough and form into a smooth ball. Oil the bowl, coat the dough ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise for approximately 4 hours in a warm place, or until the dough has risen to slightly more than double its bulk.

While the dough is rising, mix together the costra with a paddle attachment until it can be clumped together.

When the dough is ready, divide into 14 even pieces of approx. 71 grams each. Working on a lightly floured surface, shape each portion smooth. Place on parchment or silicone mat lined baking trays, allowing as much space as possible between each portion. Flatten the portions to prevent the conchas from becoming too round while rising and baking. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place while shaping the costras.

Divide the topping into 14 even pieces of approximately 25 grams each. Cut a quart sized plastic bag open. Place a portion inside the cut open bag, and using a tortilla press, the undersize of a sauté pan, or hands, press each disk evenly to slightly thinner than 1/8″. Score with a concha stamp, or with the tip of a sharp paring knife into desired pattern.

Place a costra over each bun, pressing carefully to shape them.

Allow the conchas to rise until doubled, appriximately 1 1/2 hours.

Bake at 350ºF for approximately 18 minutes, or until the bun sounds hollow when tapped a the bottom.

Celebration Food: Bacalao a la Vizcaina Estilo Mexicano

It’s hard to say there is any one food which heavily represents Mexican Christmas tradition. Like everything else in Mexican cuisine, this is heavily dependent on region and class.

Tamales are hugely important, but so are pozole and turkey. In some central and souther areas, Spanish dishes such as paella and bacalao are preferred and eaten on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), as well as New Year’s Eve.

A small box of dry salted cox opens up a Basque style dish, Bacalao a la VizcaÍna to a spicier Mexican influence.

A few notes on the recipe:

Do not use salt in this recipe. Even with 24 hours of soaking in milk, the bacalao will retain enough salt to season all other ingredients. If it seems wasteful to soak the fish in milk, half can be replaced with cold water.

 

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Bacalao a la Vizcaína Estilo Mexicano

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 1 lb bacalao (dry salted cod), skinless, without spines
  • Milk as needed
  • 4 small waxy potatoes
  • 2-3 red bell peppers
  • 2-4 dry chile colorados or guajillos, cleaned
  • 1 tsp dry Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 dry thyme
  • 14-oz can whole plum tomatoes, unseasoned
  • 1 yellow onion, small diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 manzanilla olives, with pit or pimento stuffed
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Finely chopped cilantro and parsley, to taste

 

Rinse the bacalao well with cold water, removing any salt still attached. Soak in milk for 24 hours, changing the liquid twice. Drain the fish, and pat dry, pressing slightly to remove excess liquid. Cut into 3-4″ pieces.

Cover unpeeled potatoes with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until the skin can be peeled back. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel with the back of a knife and cut into large dice.

Broil red bell peppers until skin begins to turn black. Place in a bowl and cover. Rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and clean, cutting into 1/4″ by 2″ batons. Reserve any juice from the peppers.

Clean the chiles, removing stems and seeds. Cover with cold water, adding a small splash of distilled white vinegar. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to rest until chiles are completely softened, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Keep the chiles submerged.

Puree canned tomatoes, softened chiles, dry oregano and thyme together until completely smooth. Pass through a fine mesh strainer, pushing through with the back of a spoon.

Place a large skillet over medium high heat. Coat well with olive oil. Working in batches, fry the bacalao on both sides until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Lower heat lightly, add more oil as necessary, and add the diced onion, cooking until soft and transparent. Add minced garlic, cooking until fragrant, stirring regularly. Add the tomato and chile puree and cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly.

Return the bacalao to the pan. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add potatoes, red bell peppers, olives and rinsed capers to the pan. Stir well, and cover. Continue to simmer until the balacao and potatoes flake easily.

Serve garnished with finely chopped cilantro and parsley to taste.

Only From Sonora: Coyotas

If I am to speak in the quaint superlatives Mexico and Mexican cuisine are often described in, I would say a walk through an old Mexican neighborhood is an endless tease of heavenly fragrances promising steaming bowls of caldos, fresh tortillas, silken frijoles refritos etc etc.

If the particular neighborhood in this cliche is the Villa de Seris area of Hermosillo, in Sonora, one particular scent will pull you through picturesque dirt roads, past colorful houses accented with sprays of climbing bougainvillea, past a sleeping street dog or two, and into Coyotas Doña Maria, where the mixture of flour, piloncillo (lump brown sugar), shortening and a wood fired oven produce that powerful olfactory siren.

Hermosillo is known for a few things: the heat, the carne asada and machaca, and coyotas. Anyone coming back from Hermosillo without a stack of coyotas wrapped in grease stained paper is immediately removed from the Christmas card list and permanently thought of as a dead man or woman.

I had not made these in years, but a visit to a friend and gift her with a small stack seemed like the perfect opportunity. Life is better with people that bring you coyotas.

The Doña Maria coyota recipe has been in print for years, with the expected amount of vagueness of a proprietary recipe. It has been scaled down from the original to a more manageable size for a domestic kitchen, and lard is used, instead of the original vegetable shortening.

Coyotas

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

For the syrup:

  • 1 piloncillo cone (see note)
  • ½ cup water

For the dough:

  • 500 g all-purpose flour
  • 250 g grams lard
  • 1 ½ tsp dry active yeast
  • ¼ cup water, approx.
  • ½ tsp kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 2 piloncillo cones
  • Additional flour as needed

Note: Piloncillo cones are raw lump brown sugar cones easily found in most Mexican grocery stores. Still containing all of the molasses of unrefined cane sugar, they have a rich caramel flavor with a slight mineral undertone. Most cones weigh between 130-150 grams (approx. 4.5-5.25 ounces). If piloncillo is not available, one cone can be substituted with half a cup of packed dark brown sugar plus a tablespoon of molasses.

Make a syrup with the half cup water and one piloncillo cone, or half a cup of packed dark brown sugar and one tablespoon of molasses. Cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, mix the flour and yeast. Cut the lard into the flour until evenly incorporated. Kneading by hand or in a mixer fitter with a dough hook, slowly drizzle in the cooled piloncillo syrup into the flour. Be sure cooled syrup is no more than 110°F as it will kill the yeast. Add in more room temperature water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough has a slightly tacky but not sticky consistency, approximately 3 tablespoons, but no more than ¼ of a cup (4 tablespoons).

Once all the liquid has been incorporated, add the salt, and continue to knead for 2 more minutes. Finish the dough by hand, kneading into a smooth ball. Grease a clean bowl lightly, turn the dough to coat, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for one hour, until the dough feels smooth and relaxed.

Prepare the filling by grating the piloncillo with a box grater. Toss with a small amount of flour to prevent from sticking.

As each coyota is made up for two tortillas, divide the dough into an even number of golf ball sized pieces (approx. 1 ½”), rolling smooth. Keep portions covered with a damp kitchen towel while working.

Dust working surface lightly with flour. To roll each portion, flatten slightly into a disk with the heel of the hand, then working with a rolling pin, begin by rolling from the center out away from you, then from the center towards you. Turn the dough 90 degrees, and repeat the rolling motion. Continue to turn the dough 45 or 90 degrees and rolling until a thin flat disk of approximately 5 inches in diameter is achieved.

Place each bottom layer of the coyota in a parchment or silicone baking sheet lined tray. Add an even layer of grated piloncillo filling on each one, approximately a tablespoon, leaving ½” clearance all around the edge. Lightly dampen the edges and press the top layer, being sure to seal the edges. Trim to shape if necessary. With a fork or paring knife, poke or score vent holes to the top.

Repeat as needed. Allow to rest before 15 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350°F for approximately 15-18 minutes. Coyotas should still be slightly soft to the touch when done.

Cool before serving.