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RBR Tailgating: Empanadas

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A modest tale with debauchery, a rant, and a recipe tossed in for good measure.

In the extraordinarily late bit of 1992, I was in a Honda Prelude headed toward New Orleans from Birmingham. It was the model that featured four wheel steering and was supposedly a boon to parallel parkers via the graciousness of Japanese auto mechanics but never caught on because people who learned to drive in cars that didn’t have four wheel steering (everybody) tended to over correct and have to rekajigger and over correct and rekajigger.

We were following a rented Hertz-Penske truck filled with the worldly possessions of a friend and his soon to be roommate and fellow Tulane student. They had leased a place somewhere near a levee and I want to say St. Paul’s… what? Avenue? Street? I don’t know New Orleans very well.

I was on the stated mission of helping a friend move and garnering the grace that comes with such unpleasantness. The unstated mission was to meet up with larger group of friends in town to take part in the New Year’s celebration and do our damndest to get hold of six tickets to the Alabama/Miami Sugar Bowl.

Somewhere along the way I fell asleep in the passenger seat. When I awoke my friend was not so much driving down the highway as holding the steering wheel in place with his knee. There was a beer in the console’s cup holder, a joint in his mouth, and the driver’s side window was rolled down to accommodate the neck of the acoustic guitar he was strumming. He’s currently a very successful criminal defense attorney.

You learn about yourself in moments of sudden and unexpected terror. Do you freak out and risk startling the chemically calm and possibly cause (contribute to really, as I’m pretty sure he would shoulder the blame) a wreck? I’m not saying that I can be counted on to always keep my head in such situations, but I do know that I am capable of doing so. I slowly put a steadying hand on the wheel and firmly offered to take a turn driving. That moment will be forever intertwined with the Sugar Bowl in my memory.

We didn’t get tickets, by the way. We talked to a lot of people with seats for sale, but we were young and broke and finding out why they call it scalping. We agreed that if we didn’t have tickets by six hours before the game we would hop in a car and head back to Birmingham to get in front of a tv for the game. We could have stayed and watched it at my friend’s but he had a tiny little tv and my dad had what, at a whopping 36”, was considered a big screen at the time. The other consideration was that there were six of us and the friend’s place we were crashing at had two beds and two couches and I didn’t want to run the risk of sleeping on the pool table again unless I could watch the game live.

We pulled into dad’s driveway just in time to catch the opening kickoff of what is in the pantheon of best games I’ll ever see. In retrospect, I think it potentially may be the seed that sowed the ruination of college football.

We used to argue about who was #1 vs. who was #2, but after seeing this amazing contest between #1 Miami and #2 Alabama - and it’s key that #2 won - those in power wanted to quell debate and establish a system that unequivocally crowns the best team as champion.

As we all know, they got their way and the BCS was born. Shockingly, @ in a move that no one had predicted @, college football fans started arguing about who was #2 vs. who was #3.

I don’t think there is a lot of debate about whether the BCS got it right just about every year of its existence. But college fans, who will generally point to the regular season when asked why they love the game so much, fell in thrall to those who mocked college football because it was the only major sport without a playoff (it’s not.) Having never read about Chesterton’s fence, regular season be risked, those in power expanded to a four team playoff. Shockingly, @ in a move that no one had predicted @, college football fans started arguing about who was #4 vs. who was #5.

There is talk now that expansion to six or eight teams is gaining momentum. I wonder if we can guess what people will be arguing about if we include six teams? In an eight team tournament you’d think the debate would turn to who is #8 vs. who is #9, but most of the iterations of a six or eight team tournament don’t so much attempt to bring in the best team as they establish sinecures for Power 5 champions and even a representative from the G5. Any remaining spots will go to the winner of, shockingly, the debate about who is the #1 vs. #2 remaining teams. Progress.

I’m sorry, but if you erect a system that still allows the possibility the eight (or ninth debatably) best team has a shot to win an NC you are no longer in the business of finding the best team so much as ameliorating feelings and setting the stage for a Cinderella story. But, dear lord, if you implement a system that results in an unranked four loss PAC 12 champion having even the most tenuous shot at a title, you have failed utterly and epically.

Some of you are wondering what the above rant has to do with empanadas. I’m going to tie that up most satisfactorily by the end of this post.

Spicy Beef Empanadas

- 1 ½ lbs. ground chuck

- 10 empanada dough discs

- ½ yellow onion, diced

- 3 cloves garlic, minced

- red bell pepper, diced

- ½ cup green olives, chopped

- 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped (peeled too, but I’m assuming a little experience on the reader’s part)

- 2 tbsp. tomato paste

- 1 cup dry white wine

- 1 cup chicken stock

- tsp. cumin

- tsp. chili powder

- tsp. dried oregano

- tsp. dried thyme

- cayenne pepper to taste

- salt to taste

- 2 anchovy filets (optional)

The anchovy is totally optional. I’ve long added them to heavy braises because they add such a savory texture when they dissolve into the background. Lately I’ve been adding them to lighter sauces and combinations and I’ve been really pleased with the results. Either way start with a few glugs of olive oil in your sauce pan at medium high heat, toss in the onion with a little cayenne and possibly some anchovies and sauté until the onions turn translucent. 3 minutes or so.

Add the red pepper and green olives and let it go, stirring frequently for a couple of minutes.

Add the ground beef and garlic, salt to taste, and brown.

Add the wine, all the spices, and the chicken stock, bring up to high heat and boil off, stirring often, until you have a silky and thickly sauced filling. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Add the egg and scallions and stir.

Preheat an oven to 425˚F. Lay out a dough disc and add two or so tbsp. of the filling, dip a finger in a bowl of water and wet the edges. When I do these posts I read a bunch of recipes looking for tips before going out on my own. Several sites recommended Goya brand dough so I bought it and it worked quite well. I don’t know about any other brands, but if you’re given a choice, I can attest that it worked for me.

Crimp with a fork to seal.

Brush the top with some fat. I used an egg wash, but olive oil or melted butter should be fine.

Bake until golden, 10 -12 minutes.

I planned on making an Adobo sauce with dried ancho and guajillo peppers, but apparently this side of Birmingham didn’t get their shipment. I went to three grocery stores trying to find what is normally a readily available ingredient before throwing in the towel. In the end I mixed sour cream with an off the shelf taco sauce 50/50 and it was pretty darn good.

I hope you like it.

I didn’t forget that I promised to tie in my earlier playoff rant with today’s recipe. The connection is…

Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide.