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The Good Empanada Chilena


chilean food

The empanada, a half moon of baked or fried dough, is different in every Latin American country. The Chilean empanada, a traditional dish of choice, is a masterpiece and one of the few with enough substance to be served as a main course instead of as an appetizer. Though it may take more than a couple of tries to bake yourself an empanada that does not end up in the dog dish, becoming a connoisseur of this South American delicacy is a matter of knowing how a good Chilean empanada is made.

The details of the recipe vary from kitchen to kitchen, yet it is important to look for the quality of ingredients when searching for the perfect empanada. There are three components to the assembly of this dish: the pino, which is the main part of the filling, made of beef, onion and spices; the dough and the rest of ingredients tucked in before baking.

A good empanada is made with finely chopped sirloin, not ground beef as some would dare serve. Once the meat has been cooked in a pressure cooker and the onions added over low heat, the mix is seasoned with paprika, cumin and oregano and left aside for cooling.

In South American fashion, all the women in the house gather to help with the dough, a brute task. Grandma, in charge of supervising (and criticizing) the right amount of flour, butter, sugar, milk and lemon juice, will tell you when it’s time to take the mix out of the bowl and onto a clean table sprinkled with flour. A good empanada has soft dough, made only with energetic, strong kneading. The lazy cook (probably the same one who is putting ground beef on the pino) will add baking powder to make the dough swollen, but as an empanada connoisseur you will be able to see the difference and even criticize a bit, though not as much as Grandma, on the excess butter if the dough comes out too hard.

Finally, the ingredients added as each empanada is assembled are crucial to the quality of the dish. Pieces of boiled egg, chopped olives and raisins must come generously tucked in the dough, which is stretched with a rolling pin in circular shape of about seven inches in diameter, then folded in half once the filling is placed in the middle. As with all empanadas of every flavor and nationality, a good Chilean empanada gains its most important attribute (and certainly a complement to the cook) with the way in which the dough is folded — a hole on the edges will result in the juices dripping out during baking and the empanada will come out dry.

You may not yet be able to make the perfect Chilean empanada, but you will undoubtedly know one when you bite into the golden half-moon.

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22 Jul 2008

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