In memory of my grandpa: Peruvian-style chicken empanadas

Letting go is never easy.

My grandpa passed away at 5 o’clock in the morning two Sundays ago. I feel fortunate to have spent the last few days of his time with us beside his bed, holding his hand and giving him kisses. Though he was mostly unresponsive, we knew he could hear us, feel us and sense our presence gathered around him. When he slipped away from us in the wee hours of the morning I found solace in the knowledge that he was resting peacefully. Never in my life had I felt such a strong love, a love that reaches beyond our comprehension, beyond what is tangible, beyond what is seen. I find comfort in my love for him and it brings me joy each time I think of him and the fond memories we’ve shared together. His soul has drifted up and up but I know in my heart of hearts that I will see him again in another lifetime. And that makes me happy.

I am blessed to have such a big family. In the days that followed, we spent every waking moment together, reminiscing, consoling, laughing, cooking. My grandpa was known for his delicious chicken empanadas. Totally homemade and completely from the heart.

So, of course we had to make them.

Here’s my grandpa’s original chicken empanada recipe. We eat this warm, straight out of the oven, with nothing but a squeeze of lime juice. Perfection.

My grandpa’s chicken empanadas

[Recipe updated 4/8/12]

Makes 12 delightful empanadas (recipe can be doubled, but if you do, make the dough in 2 batches)

For the filling:

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small 1/4″ pieces or thrown into the food processor for a quick whirl

1 medium yellow onion, diced finely or thrown into the food processor

Olive oil

4 slices of white bread; allowed to soak in warm water, then drained, squeezing out excess liquid and separating into small chunks with fingers

2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon msg*

2 fat cloves garlic, pushed through garlic press or finely minced, about 1/2 teaspoon

1 tablespoon paprika or ají colorado

1/4 cup sliced black olives

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional; my grandpa never added this but I’ve been adding it for extra umami flavoring, which is a good substitute for the msg)

2 hard-boiled eggs, each cut into 6 slices

1 egg, whisked for egg wash

Lime wedges, to serve

*You can omit msg if you’re averse to it. Personally, I don’t use it in my cooking but my family has used it for years, and I don’t mind eating their foods prepared with it. You can find more information regarding msg here and here. 

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the chicken with the salt, black pepper, cumin, msg (optional), garlic, and paprika or ají colorado. Set aside to marinate while you cook up the onions.

In a large frying pan set over medium-high heat, drop in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When it starts to shimmer, toss in the chopped onions and cook through until they’re soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the torn pieces of bread and mix together. Once all the liquid has evaporated, take this onion and bread mixture off the heat and set it aside in a medium bowl.

Grab your chicken and toss into the hot pan, adding a touch more oil if necessary and cook through, about 7 minutes. Toss in the sliced olives and mix. Take this off the heat and combine with the onion/bread mixture. Sprinkle in the Parmesan cheese, if using. Mix everything together. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Set aside in a shallow baking pan to cool (if you flatten and spread it out, it will cool a lot faster. You want it at room temperature for filling).

For the dough:

4 cups (600 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup (200 grams) vegetable shortening, chilled

2 egg yolks, chilled

1 cup ice water mixed with 1 teaspoon salt (you might not need all of it)

My grandpa mixed his dough by hand placing the flour in the middle, creating a well in the center and adding the shortening and yolks inside, slowing incorporating each ingredient little by little. I’ve found that by using the stand mixer the ingredients incorporate better, cleaner, and quicker. But, if you prefer to do things by hand, my grandpa’s process yields great results too.

Making the dough by hand:

Using a fine mesh strainer, sift the flour into the center of your working area. Create a well in the middle. Sift the baking powder over the flour. Add the egg yolks and shortening to the well. Slowly start incorporating the ingredients together with your hands, adding salted water as you go to begin forming the dough. When the dough starts coming together, knead for about 5-7 minutes until smooth and supple.

Making the dough with a stand mixer:

Assemble your mixer by adding the paddle attachment. Using a fine mesh strainer, sift the flour and baking powder together. Set aside. Drop the shortening and egg yolks into the mixing bowl and cream together on medium speed until the mixture has softened and turned a pale yellow, a couple minutes. Switch out the paddle attachment with the hook attachment. Start adding the flour, in batches, alternating with the salted water to begin forming the dough. You may not use all 1 cup of ice water but add just enough that the dough starts to come together, dribbling in a tablespoon at a time. Once the dough has taken shape, dump it out onto the counter and knead for a couple minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball and cut it into 4 equal portions. Wrap each in plastic and let chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set the oven rack in the middle. Grab 2 baking sheets and set them within reach.

Clean off your working surface a bit so you have room to roll, stuff, and form the empanadas. Set out the bowls of chicken mixture, hard-boiled egg slices, and egg wash and put them beside you. Lightly flour the working surface and grab 1 portion of the dough from the fridge; cold dough is easier to roll out so make sure to only take out the dough you need at a time. Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick. Grab a 6″ dough cutter and cut out 3 circles. Each ball of dough should yield 3 circles, making a total of 12 in all. If you don’t have a 6″ dough cutter, look around your house for something that is as close to it in size as possible. In the beginning, I was using a round grating attachment from my food processor, but I just recently purchased this, which makes things a lot easier.

Use an ice cream scoop to spoon the chicken mixture onto each circle and place it on the upper half of the dough. Add 1 slice of egg on top of the chicken mixture. Use a pastry brush and lightly brush egg wash along the top edges. Then, fold the dough over carefully, away from you, pressing down firmly over the filling and seal the edges, either with a fork or your fingers. Place the empanada onto a baking sheet and continue on with the rest. Once a baking sheet has 6 empanadas, brush egg wash over the empanadas and stick in the oven to bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the top is slightly golden, rotating the baking sheet once in between. When the first batch of empanadas come out of the oven immediately brush them with another helping of egg wash (this gives them that shine). Stick the other baking sheet of empanadas into the oven to bake for another 25-30 minutes, brushing with egg wash when they’re finished as well.

Let them cool slightly before digging in. We just eat them with limes and they’re delicious as is.




A few words I shared at my grandpa’s memorial:

Today, we celebrate the life of Orlando Lau, my grandpa. How does one begin to express all the love and memories we have shared with him on this single afternoon when he has given us so much to last a lifetime? I know that he has touched each of our lives in some way or another. It is written in our smiles, our kind words, our union as a family; they are all testimony to the immense love we have for him. The power of love is an amazing thing — I’ve always believed this. It has never been more evident to me than now. Because, despite the fact that he no longer stands next to me in his physical form, his presence sits firmly inside of me, in my heart, in my hands, in my being. His spirit has enveloped us all.

Words cannot convey the gratitude we feel to have had him in our lives. He has left an imprint on each of us – each one special, each one unique. For me, it was his inspired guidance in the kitchen that helped shape my love for cooking. For you, it may have been a few kind words of advice and encouragement that helped you find your way. For others, it might have been a simple smile, a funny joke, or one of his delicious homemade pastries that really brightened up their day. Because let’s face it: the man could cook. I would be remiss by saying that his creations in the kitchen – empanadas, corbatitas, pastel de acelga, just to name a few – are anything short of legendary.

He was a master in the culinary arts. Yet, his expertise did not end there. He was also a carpenter, an illustrator, a piñata-maker, a mambo dancer, a peace-keeper, a mayor, and a confidante. He was a husband, a father, a brother, a grandfather, an uncle. He was a best friend.

We cannot doubt the immense impact we all felt from having him in our lives. What an incredible man he truly was.

So, on this day of remembrance, let us not grieve for his loss but instead revel in the love and joy he embraced us with.

Grandpa, I know you are with us. I feel your love every day and am thankful for every moment shared with you. Until we meet again. I love you and miss you very much.

Te quiero abuelito. Nos vemos pronto. XO

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  • Fresh and FoodieNovember 10, 2011 - 11:11 am

    I’m sorry for your loss, Steph. Your words about him were beautiful.

    My grandpa was a great cook, too. He particularly liked making breakfast for us when we’d come to visit. He hasn’t been with us for a while, but I remember standing over the stove making french toast with him like it was yesterday.

    These empanadas look awesome. Believe it or not, I actually have a shaker of MSG in my kitchen. I’ve never used it, but I bought it because I saw it at an Asian market and thought it was hilarious. (It does taste good, though.)

    Thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 10, 2011 - 11:22 am

      Thanks Bobbi. Your condolences mean a lot. 🙂 What a great memory you’ve shared about your grandpa. I bet the french toasts always tasted amazing with his special touch. It’s true, the little red and white containers of MSG at the Asian markets are cute and funny. I don’t think I have mine anymore. LOL. Maybe I should buy a new one just for decoration. ReplyCancel

  • JessicaNovember 10, 2011 - 12:20 pm

    Steph, I am sorry to hear about your grandpa. From that beautiful photo alone, I can see that your grandpa lived a happy life. I remember your old post of cooking with him. I am sure he wants to keep on seeing you do the things you love most! Like that amazing and delicious looking empanada! I never tried making it, but I think it’s time to conquer fear and give it a shot!!ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 10, 2011 - 12:48 pm

      Thanks Jess. 🙂 Yeah, you know, making empanadas is actually quite simple but it is a bit time consuming. It’s all worth it in the end though. They’re so good. ReplyCancel

  • Jun BelenNovember 11, 2011 - 9:31 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather.  And what a delicious tribute, too.  Even though he has passed away, you will always have these empanadas to remember him by. That’s the beauty of food and memories!ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 14, 2011 - 8:43 am

      Thanks Jun. And it’s true — I’ll always think of him whenever I make empanadas. I bet he’s smiling down now. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • NicoleDNovember 11, 2011 - 1:27 pm

    Very sorry for your loss, Stephanie. He sounds like a wonderful man and your words and recipe are a heartfelt tribute.ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 14, 2011 - 8:45 am

      Nicole, thanks so much. My grandpa really was one of a kind. I miss him so much but am happy to think of him during moments like these, where I’m in the kitchen making all his favorite things. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Sid MaruNovember 13, 2011 - 6:13 pm

    I’m terribly sorry for your loss. I’ve been silently following your cooking for a few weeks now and I’d be honored to try my hand at making your tribute to your grandfather. I’m glad you got to spend time with him before he passed.ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 14, 2011 - 8:49 am

      Hi Sid! It’s so nice to meet you; welcome to my lair. 🙂 Thanks so much for your well wishes. Let me know how the empanadas turn out for you. I just made another batch and have been nibbling on them over the last couple days. Provecho!ReplyCancel

  • Island VittlesNovember 14, 2011 - 3:32 pm

    A really beautiful post and testament to your grandad, Steph.  He sounds like a wonderful man whose spirit will be with you forever.  As for the empanadas, they look like they might stick around for a max of 2 minutes!  Theresa ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 16, 2011 - 8:40 am

      Thanks Theresa. 🙂 It’s true — these empanadas only survive a short while. Even when we made the entire batch of 36 we were able to finish them off within a day. ReplyCancel

  • FatpiginthemarketNovember 14, 2011 - 4:48 pm

    Hi. I’m happy to know your Grandfather’s presence that is in your writing and recipes and soulful approach to food. ReplyCancel

    • AnonymousNovember 16, 2011 - 8:41 am

      Hi Jorie. 🙂 I owe a ton to my grandpa. He was always so at home in the kitchen. ReplyCancel

  • MarkoNovember 24, 2012 - 1:47 pm

    What a great way to keep the legacy alive. We tried your recipe around this Thanksgiving weekend and they turned out amazing an authentic, just like the kind i would buy on the streets of Lima when i was younger. I replaced the chicken with beef and added raisins….in case someone is interested in a variation. Thank you very much for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • StephanieNovember 24, 2012 - 1:55 pm


      Oh, I am so happy to hear that you and your family enjoyed them as much as I do. You know, I haven’t tried making the beef and raisin variety yet but it sounds absolutely wonderful! I hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving!ReplyCancel

  • KLRFebruary 13, 2013 - 3:32 am

    I just wanted to let you know that I made this recipe for a friend’s birthday luncheon (she is from Peru), and they turned out wonderfully!!! Thank you for the great recipe 🙂ReplyCancel

    • StephanieFebruary 13, 2013 - 7:06 am

      Hey KLR, I’m so glad to hear they turned out wonderfully! I’ve been meaning to make more– have a serious craving. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by!ReplyCancel

  • AnahiAugust 13, 2013 - 11:59 am

    I’m fry sorry for your loss. God bless you and your family always. Thanks for sharing this recipe with us.ReplyCancel

    • StephanieOctober 25, 2013 - 7:25 am

      Hi Anahi,

      Well thank you very much. That means a lot. We miss our grandpa every day but it’s very comforting to know we can always memorialize him by making the foods he used to make for us.ReplyCancel

  • KyraMay 22, 2017 - 7:17 pm

    Hey Steph, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandpa, he seems so joyful! Also these empanadas look so good I was thinking about using them for a spanish project, would you be able to tell me what region this style originated in or the region in Peru your grandpa lived?ReplyCancel

    • StephanieMay 22, 2017 - 9:40 pm

      Hi Kyra! Nice to meet you! My grandpa grew up in Pueblo Nuevo. This empanada was his creation. All love and deliciousness!ReplyCancel

  • Martha Rios-MooresMay 31, 2018 - 5:31 pm

    Very true, we shall see each other again! Los abuelitos mean so much to a family
    But I’m glad he did not suffer and left peacefully.
    I have made pastel de acelgas, my husband loved it!!!
    I will try the chicken empanadas… sound delicious

    Me despise con el consuelo, que nos volveremos a ver!!!

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