Empadinhas
(Brazilian Shrimp Pies)

Empadinhas are totally yummy tiny pies filled with shrimp, chicken or hearts of palm. One of the first things I do when I arrive in Rio is go to my favorite doceira in Leblon and snack on these delicious Brazilian creations. I love them all, but this recipe is for the shrimp version. It was given to me by my friend Steven Raichlen, the food writer and cookbook author from Miami. It's a superb recipe that was given to him by a great Brazilian cook from Minas Gerais, dona Belita. Try it and you'll see what I mean; it yields 50 tiny pies, perfect for a get-together or cocktail party. Empadinhas and other Brazilian finger foods are sold at doceiras, lojas de sucos, and botequins all over Brazil.

For the crust:

4 cups flour
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 cup shortening (Crisco)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cup cold water

For the filling:

1 pound shrimp
1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup cooked peas
8 pitted green olives, chopped
cayenne pepper

1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt for glaze

50 small tartlet molds

1. Make the dough. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Place the butter, shortening, eggs, salt, and 1 cup water in the well. Using one hand to mix, squeeze these ingredients through your fingers to make a paste. Gradually work in the flour, squeezing the dough between your fingers to mix it. Add water as necessary: the dough should be quite soft. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

2. Prepare the filling. Peel and devein the shrimp (my favorite yucky part...). Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the shrimp, bay leaf, tomato paste, salt, and pepper, plus water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the shrimp is cooked. Strain the shrimp, reserving the broth.

3. Finely chop the shrimp by hand or in the food processor. Stir in the flour, peas, and olives. Stir in 3-4 tablespoons of the reserved broth: the filling should be moist but not runny. Add enough cayenne to give the shrimp mixture a little bite.

4. Pinch off cherry-sized pieces of dough and use them to line the tartlet molds. Push the dough in with your thumb. The dough should just reach over the top of the mold. Place a spoonful of filling in each crust.

5. Roll out the remaining dough and cut out tops for the empadinhas. Try to capture an air bubble when you place the top over the filling: this is what makes the pie light. Seal the tartlets by pinching together the top and bottom crust. Note: the empadinhas can be prepared ahead to this stage and frozen.

6. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Brush the tops of the empadinhas with egg glaze. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Unmold and serve.

If you're lazy like me, try this big pie version, called empadão: make the filling and use Pillsbury pie crusts, one for the bottom and one for the top. Fantastic dinner stuff!

To make chicken empadinhas use:

For the filling:

1 pound chicken (breast or thighs)
1 clove garlic
1/2 small onion
1 bay leaf

1. Cook the chicken and prepare the broth. Place the chicken in a small saucepan with the garlic, onion, bay leaf and water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Drain the chicken, reserving the broth. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and finely shred the meat. Discard the onion, garlic, and bay leaf.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the chicken, bay leaf, tomato paste, salt, and pepper, plus water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Procede as in step 3 above, stirring in the flour, peas, and olives. And so on.

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