Save Your Sanity and Be the Life of the Party: Spicy Chicken Empanadas

Empanadas came into my life at a time when I needed them most. It was summer, and we were doing an inordinate amount of picnicking–as a mother with two toddlers is wont to do–and I was running out of ideas for “portable” lunches/snacks. While my eldest two sons were content to eat nothing but sandwiches or cheese & crackers, I would have preferred to eat large salads, or bagels & lox, or hummus with vegetables for lunch. However, my toddlers were highly suspicious of such things. All I knew was that if I had to eat another sandwich, I was going to lose what was left of my mind.

Kid food will do that to a person.

Thankfully, my sweet Bacon Slayer came to the rescue when he brought home the wrong thing for dinner one night. No, really! I’d asked him to stop at a little market in the Mexicantown area of Detroit on his way home to pick up tamales, but what he came home with was empanadas. Apparently it wasn’t Tamale Day at the little market. Lucky for us, it was Empanada Day! Their empanadas were fantastic! My boys devoured them faster than I could plop them on their plates. I knew at that moment that I had found something to save me from the sandwich-and-cracker-oblivion that was driving me mad.

I guess you could say that empanadas saved my sanity.

As my family has grown over the past eight years, this recipe has evolved to this current incarnation, and Friends–I have to tell ya–these empanadas are by far my favorite snack/appetizer/meal on the planet! The savory chicken filling has just enough heat to compliment the slightly sweet corn dough that encases it.

Empanadas make a great snack, picnic meal-on-the-run, or party appetizer. The dough takes minimal effort, and the filling can (read: should) be made with leftover chicken and pantry items. Win-Win-Win-Win-Win!

And they freeze beautifully for another Win.

For the dough gather milk, unsalted butter, egg yolks, all-purpose flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and masa harina.

Place the flour, masa harina, baking powder, and kosher salt to the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse 5 times to distribute the dry ingredients.

Food Dork Interjection: Masa, literally translated, means “dough flour.” Masa harina is a finely ground dough flour made from specially treated corn that has been dried, soaked with lime, ground, and dried again. You cannot substitute regular cornmeal, as the both taste and texture will be off. Masa harina can be found in the ethnic/Mexican/world foods section of larger grocery stores, Mexican specialty markets, or online. But I digress…

Add the cubed butter to the bowl and toss to coat. A fork would be a wise utensil for tossing butter into flour when a sharp blade is just below the surface. I used my fingers because I live on the edge. Don’t be like me.

Pulse 3 to 5 times, or until the butter is the size of small peas.

Drizzle the egg yolks over the pebbly mixture. The yolks don’t need to be beaten ahead of time–one of mine broke when I was separating the eggs. It happens.

Just try to spread out the yolks as much as possible so that they don’t ooze to the bottom of the work bowl.

Oh! Be sure to save the egg whites after you separate the yolks–you’ll be needing those a little later.

Pulse a few more times until the egg yolk is distributed–you’ll be able to tell because the mixture will take on a pale yellow hue. Pretty!

Turn the processor on and slowly pour the milk through the feed tube. I highly recommend pouring from a liquid measuring cup to minimize spillage. I was being lazy and didn’t feel like transferring the milk back to a measuring cup after the cast photo, and as you can see, that move got me a Do-Over because most of the milk missed the feed tube entirely and I had to start over. Le sigh.

After slowly adding the milk, continue to let the processor run until the dough comes together–about 3 minutes. Initially the dough is going to look like it will never come together, but just give it a little time and it will happen.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, roll into a ball, and cover loosely with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out. Allow the dough to rest for about 10 minutes while you make the filling.

The filling requires cooked chicken that has been shredded & diced, cheddar cheese, McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning, ground cinnamon, cumin, chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, and salsa.

Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and place the salsa into the strainer. Let the salsa drain for several minutes to get rid of some of the juice. Trust me when I tell you that soggy empanadas are a real bummer. For real, Dude.

Finely mince a few chipotles in adobo sauce. (Pssst! Chipotle chilies in adobo sauce= smoke jalapeno peppers canned in tomato sauce.) I usually chop up two of them for a nice bit of back heat, but if you can take the heat, by all means add a few more!

Place the shredded & diced chicken, minced chipotles, drained salsa, cumin, cinnamon, and Montreal Steak Seasoning into a bowl.

Give it a good stir and then set it all aside to get happy whilst you tend to the empanada dough.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut discs with a 3-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter. If you don’t have a circular cutter, then the rim of a drinking glass will do. Re-roll pieces and repeat until all of the dough is used. I usually end up with between 28 and 32 discs, depending on how thin I rolled the dough that day.

Place the discs onto a baking sheet, one inch apart, and scoop a teaspoon of filling onto the center of each one.

Plop a pinch of cheddar onto the filling.

Remember those egg whites that I told you to save? Get ’em out and whip ’em with a tablespoon of water until they get nice and frothy. Then brush the egg wash around half of the perimeter of the dough circles. The egg wash dries out quickly, so I usually only do 4 to 6 at a time.

Fold the discs in half over the filling, being careful to keep the filling in the center of the dough. Press the edges lightly with your fingers to seal before pressing firmly with a fork to crimp the edges closed. Continue until all of the empanadas are sealed.

Bake at 375° F for 12 minutes or until empanadas are golden. See that crispy leakage of cheese emanating from an empanada that didn’t seal properly? That crispy-cheesy mess is fair game for snacking on right out of the oven. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Transfer finished empanadas to a wire rack. Empanadas should be served immediately with a little salsa and guacamole for a great appetizer or snack.

Or…OR! Serve ’em up along side a big ol’ salad and make it a meal. Or you can be like me and pack your empanadas in a cooler and enjoy them cold while picnicking at the beach. Delicious! And if I’m really being honest, then I’d tell you that leftover empanadas are equally delicious right out of the ‘fridge for breakfast.

What that TMI? I never can tell.

Bottom line? These Spicy Chicken Empanadas rock, so eat them any which way you can.


Spicy Chicken Empanadas

Makes 28-32 Empanadas

For the Dough:

1 ¾ C. all-purpose flour

1 C. masa harina

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. granulated sugar

2/3 C. milk (add more by the tablespoon, up to ¾ cup total, if too dry)

2 egg yolks

1/3 C. unsalted butter, cubed

For the Filling:

½ C. cooked chicken, shredded & diced

½ C. fresh salsa, drained

2 whole chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

¾ tsp. cumin

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

¾ tsp. McCormick’s Montreal Steak seasoning

½ C. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

To Seal:

2 eggs whites

1 Tbs. water

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside.
  2. Measure the flour, masa, baking powder, kosher salt, and sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the dry ingredients 5 times to distribute.
  3. Sprinkle cubed butter over the dry ingredients, and toss to coat. Pulse 3 to 5 times, or until butter is the size of peas.
  4. Add the egg yolks. Pulse 5 times to distribute.
  5. Turn the processor on, and slowly pour the milk through the feed tube. Continue to run processor until dough just comes together—about 3 minutes.
  6. Roll dough into a ball and rest on a floured surface. Cover with a damp paper towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the filling.
  7. Set a small dine-mesh strainer over bowl. Pour the salsa into the strainer and allow juices to drain.
  8. Shred and then dice the cooked chicken. Place the chicken into a bowl.
  9. Dice the chipotles in adobo and add to the bowl of chicken.
  10. Add the cumin, cinnamon, and Montreal Steak seasoning.
  11. Place the strained salsa and shredded cheddar into the bowl of chicken and stir to combine; set filling aside while rolling out the dough.
  12. Roll dough to a large rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick.
  13. Use a 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut discs of dough—between 28 to 32 depending on thickness of dough.
  14. Divide the discs between the prepared baking sheets.
  15. Place 1 teaspoon of filling onto the center of each disc of dough.
  16. Whip egg whites with water until frothy.
  17. Brush half of each disc perimeter with the egg wash. Fold the dough in half, ensuring the filling stays inside. Press the edges to seal. Crimp sealed edge with a fork.
  18. Bake empanadas at 375 degrees for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Notes: Empanadas freeze beautifully! Simply allow emanadas to cool completely, and then freeze in a single layer sealed in a freezer bag set on a baking sheet. To reheat, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then remove empanadas from the bag, wrap them in a foil pouch, and set the pouch on a baking sheet. Warm the empanadas in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until heated through. Recipe can be doubled for a crowd.

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  1. says

    Wow, these look amazing and I’m sure the kids loved them not only because they taste great but because they look so cute! Great recipe. Thanks for linking to *what is masa harina! I’m curious as to why the recipe says to use Montreal Steak Spice when chicken is the meat ingredient. I’d be tempted to use Montreal Chicken Spice.

  2. says

    Now you truly are perfect! We are all over Tex-Mex out our way! YUMMMMMMMY! Thank you! By the way, Hannah (oldest) has fallen in love with quinoa! Mackenzy is liking it too. :)

  3. says

    I remember the first time I ever had an empanada. It was at the Texas Renaissance Fair. I know… the renaissance and empanadas don’t really seem to go together. Trust me, though. It was magical. I don’t know why, but I’ve never made them. You make them look so easy! I guess I’d better get on it before someone tries to pull my Texan Card.

    • says

      Renaissance Empanadas? Hey, whatever works. I must say though, I’m shocked that you’ve never made empanadas at home! I promise not to tell the Powers that Be in the Republic on you. 😉

  4. says

    Ok–looks great! I know my kids would love these too> Now I’ll have to run them by Sandra–she hasn’t made us Empanadas yet…Maybe I’ll have to teach HER a Mexican meal for once! 😉
    Your step-by-step is always so helpful!!

  5. says

    You really do make these look easy! I’ve debated whether or not to buy Masa because our cupboard space is limited. What else do you use it for?

    • says

      More than you might think! Besides empanada dough, I also use masa mixed with water to thicken chili or other tex-mex soups, or with equal parts water to make homemade corn tortillas. I’ve seen it sold in a 1 pound bag as opposed to four pounds, so you wouldn’t have to commit to too much space. Also, it’s better stored in the freezer if you won’t use it within a few months. :)


  1. […] When Jen asked that I share a favorite appetizer with her readers, I knew exactly which recipe I was going to post: Spicy Chicken Empanadas. These have been a family favorite for a very long time. I’m cross-posting them on my blog, Comfortably Domestic, where I give step-by-step instructions. If you feel like getting down to the nitty-gritty, you can read about it here. […]

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