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  • Writer's pictureNick Clarizio

Illicit Empanadas 🕵🏼🤫🥟🔞 (Friend Feature Friday #2: Nano)

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Dear Storied Readers,

I'm back with another installment of Friend Feature Friday. I've really loved seeing all your ideas come in, and I have quite a few exciting projects in the pipeline to satisfy them. This week, the request comes from my friend Nano.

For those of you who don't know Nano, you're missing out. He's one of the most incredible, astounding, inspiring people you could ever meet. And the proof is in the pudding. He's currently on a cross-country bicycling trip from Washington state to Washington, D.C. If you want to follow along and get to know him better, he keeps a podcast journal about it here:

It's a lovely listen, and I highly recommend it.

One morning, I woke up to a cryptic three-word message from Nano: "pork adobo empanadas". My curiosity piqued, I opened WhatsApp and read on. He explained to me that Adobo is a Filipino dish often made with either pork, chicken, or both. Serendipitously, I had eaten chicken adobo for the first time from a food truck at my local farmer's market the weekend before. I found it phenomenal. The one-two sweet-and-sour punch of sugar with soy sauce/vinegar, spiked with a few other flavors from spices, was mouthwatering.

Empanadas are...well...empanadas? According to their Wikipedia intro, empanadas are "a type of baked or fried turnover consisting of pastry and filling". The premise is deceptively simple: put food inside dough, fold it closed, and bake or fry. It's an idea that seems to have been with humankind since we could cook: "What if we took food and put it inside other food"? There's a hint of naughtiness about it, which only makes the eating experience all the merrier. And when it comes to stuffed foods, the eating experiences are nearly endless: Turducken, Thanksgiving turkey, egg rolls, bao buns, pizza fritta/calzones, samosas...look at this Wikipedia article if my list doesn't suffice:

The beauty of empanadas and other stuffed foods is that you can try and put pretty much anything inside them. But there are some out there who may contend that traditional fillings are best. Nonetheless, I found Nano's suggestion to be incredibly imaginative. In fact, Nano is a sort of expert in what I've come to call "illicit empanadas" 🔞- empanadas that might the aforementioned culinary purists cringe.

I racked my brain, and I seem to recall him mentioning adobo empanadas before. We were in his dorm, chatting with some other friends, when he brought up adobo. He then posed, with the gravity of a visionary, a hypothetical, "what if you put adobo inside an empanada"? I don't know what the others thought, but at that moment I was proud to be his friend. Another time, we were shooting the breeze with friends in the shade of a tree when he brought up another "illicit empanada" 🔞: the PB&J empanada. That one got me pretty damn excited, as I'm personally a PB fiend. He asked me if I thought it would be feasible, and I said, "why not". This post is in honor of the promise embedded within that "why not".

Let's dig in.

I'd never made either of these dishes before. So I followed two recipes. I have an innate disdain for following recipes step-by-step and ingredient-for-ingredient - or even looking at recipes at all. Yet I realize my limits and recognize that when making a dish for the first time, a recipe is required. To try and cook something the first time without the recipe would be like trying to speak a language without knowing - implicitly or explicitly - the grammatical rules. Without the rules, you may be able to string together some intelligible words and phrases, but you'd be hard-pressed to replicate the harmony of fluency. Without a recipe (yours or someone else's), you may be able to chain together discernible flavors, but in such a cacophonous cascade of tastes to render the dish inedible. When you become a native speaker of cooking, then you can riff on and create recipes as you please; and yet, even then you will always being using the same rules and building blocks as before - just in novel ways. Magical, isn't it?

I started this project by making the adobo the night before to have it ready to use as filling. I had chicken thighs on hand, so that's what I used. The recipe I followed gave decent but frankly lackluster results compared to the food truck adobo I ate. Here's the link if you're interested:

I started by marinating the chicken the morning before cooking it (not pictured) to give it plenty of time to build flavor.

That night, I fried it on both sides til' golden brown, adding the marinating liquid after. I then allowed it to cook down to a thick coating for the chicken.

The next evening, I made the empanada dough while my dad chopped up the chicken - teamwork makes the dream work!

For some reason, I thought the dough would be much more difficult or time-consuming to make. Instead, it was quite straightforward and quick:

I started by grating butter into flour and mixing by hand.

I then added some water and oil and combined with a fork into a dough, which I kneaded on the counter for a few minutes.

After, I wrapped and rested the dough for 5 minutes.

Here, I rolled it out and used a cup to cut out rounds for the filling.

I decided to add a coating of avocado crema so that they wouldn't be too dry with just chicken.

Fully filled :)

Sealed up and ready to bake!

Et voilà ! Here's the platter of empanadas that came out. I have a penchant for overstuffing stuffed foods, so next time I would probably cut the empanadas larger to accommodate more filling in each. This would also resolve the one other issue I had with them - the dough to filling ratio. As they were, the walls of the empanadas were a bit too thick (delicious, still), which led them to overshadow the flavor of the chicken. I'd also look to remedy this by seasoning the chicken more heavily than the recipe stipulated.

I decided to eat mine with zhug, which is a Yemeni condiment "akin to chimichurri [my italics]" (López-Alt 2022) . I also used the leftover chicken to make a salad of tomato, scallions, tomatoes, and toum (Lebanese garlic sauce). What I liked most about the empanadas is that the buttery, flaky texture was a lovely segue into the creaminess of the avocado and the umami-rich flavor of the chicken. Zhug brought some scintillating high notes of spice and herbs to really wake up and prepare your taste buds for the empanada. Overall, it was well worth the time. I'd give it a 7/10, and with the modifications I wrote about, I think this could be a 10/10 dish. Moreover, this has inspired me to take on other illicit empanadas 🔞. Maybe this will become a miniseries 🤷🏽. Maybe the PB&J empanada will be brought to life 🤷🏽. Thank you again to Nano for the idea.

p.s, Please keep sending in your suggestions :)



López-Alt, J. Kenji. 2022. “Zhug (Yemenite Hot Sauce With Cilantro and Parsley) Recipe.” Serious Eats.

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1 Comment

Grace Scartz
Grace Scartz
Sep 08, 2023

So cool to see these personalities peeking out from the food :)

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