This is the empanada I grew up with. Not that I ate a great many of them; I probably have only eaten 10 of these in my life. And I’ve never made them. Until now!
If you are not familiar with these orange colored, deep-fried beauties, they may seem a bit odd. Unless of course, you are Chamoru, or from Guam, or Columbian. (The term Chamoru can refer to either the culture, the people, or the language of the indigenous people of Guam and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.)
Empanadas from Columbia are the only other empanadas outside of Guam, that I’m aware of, that use seeds from the achiote plant to color the dough. The filling for the Columbian empanada, however, is different. I believe they use potato, or pork, or beef, whereas the filling for the Guamanian version is a mix of chicken and rice, onions, and garlic, and is also colored and flavored with achiote.
In tropical areas, people use seeds from the achiote plant to color the water that they then cook with to both stain and flavor the food, usually meats. This is where annatto food coloring comes from.
One of the few things that I remember fondly was how intensely the seeds from the plant stained my hands as my mother showed us how to make red rice, using seeds taken directly from pods of the plant in our backyard. Actually, I think it was from my neighbors plant that grew over to our side. Thanks, neighbor!
I loved the scent of the seeds that lingered on my hands afterwards. It’s a slightly distinct bitter smell and taste that is easily tempered by salt. I tried to describe it to someone yesterday, but couldn’t adequately describe the taste. As a powder, it looks a lot like cayenne pepper or paprika, but it doesn’t taste like either of them. It’s used quite a bit in Yucatecan food (food dishes from the Yucatán Peninsula, in Mexico).
I used this recipe, and followed it almost exactly, except that since the recipe didn’t call for a specific amount or brand of achiote powder, I didn’t know how much to use. I used 3.5 ounce box, or 100 grams, of achiote paste from a company called El Yucateco. This, or other brands can easily be found in the Mexican or “Hispanic” aisle of most grocery stores. I used about 1 ounce of it for the filling, and the rest of it (2.5 ounces) for the dough. I also added almost twice as much chicken in the filling, thinking that it wasn’t going to be enough. Sure enough, I had extra filling, which I ate like a side dish for another meal!
You’ll want to make the filling first, so that when you make the dough, you can fill them quickly after forming them. When you make the dough, you also want to make sure it isn’t too dry, so depending on how you measure your masa harina, the amount of water or chicken broth you use to wet the masa harina to turn it into a pliable dough may vary. You want the dough to be soft and pliable; not too wet that it’s sticky, but not too dry that it starts cracking or falling apart.
Chamoru Empanadas (Note: This is NOT my recipe, but rather based on a recipe featured at 671guamrecipes.org and the Facebook page, “671 Recipes”. I’m very grateful for those sources that have allowed me to recreate this recipe.)
1/2 cup cream of rice mixed with half a packet of achiote powder* (I used 1 ounce of a 3.5 oz. box of El Yucateco brand achiote powder for the filling, and reserved the remaining 2.5 ounces for the dough.)
2 cups of chicken broth
1/2 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped chicken meat
black pepper, to taste
hot pepper, to taste, optional
2 cups masa harina
1 packet achiote powder*(I split the 3.5 ounce box of achiote paste–1 ounce for the filling, 2.5 ounces for the dough. As you can see, the crust is a rich dark orange.)
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon oil
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups chicken broth or water (if using water, increase salt to 2 teaspoons)
*if using achiote seeds, you will need to soak the seeds in water until the water turns a deep orange color
For the filling:
Saute onions and garlic in a large pot. Cook until onion becomes transparent. Add the chicken meat and saute for about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth or water. *if you use water you’ll have to season it with salt (to taste). Bring to a boil.
Using a whisk, gradually add the cream of rice. Keep stirring so that there are no lumps. Bring heat to medium and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add hot pepper (as hot as you want it) and then remove from heat. Completely cool before filling the shells.
For the crust:
Mix masa harina, corn starch, salt and achiote powder in a bowl. Add oil and broth or water to the flour mixture. After adding 1 1/2 of the broth or water, slowly add the last 1/4 cup, but only if needed. If you accidentally added too much liquid, you can always add a little more masa harina, but be careful.
Knead with hands until dough is pliable. Roll or press dough into 1 inch balls. (I used larger balls, about the size of golf balls, and didn’t press it as thin as I could’ve, so I made less than the 2 dozen.) Use a tortilla press to flatten to form a circle. Be sure that you press the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper. Fill the bottom half of the circle with the cooled filling. Fold over the top of the dough to meet the bottom and press to seal the edges. Deep fry until nice and crispy. This recipe makes about 2 dozen.
I made them about golf-ball size.
A tortilla press is handy, but you can also use a rolling pin.
getting creative with flipping the empanadas.
For a really thorough video using a similar recipe, look here.