Salteñas de carne are the iconic empanadas of Bolivia. They are named after the Argentinian city of Salta and were invented by Salta-born Argentine Juana Manuela Gorriti.
Gorriti, a feminist and journalist, is credited with originating the recipe in the early 1800s while exiled to Bolivia by the Argentine dictator. Stripped of their name and wealth, the family slipped into poverty. In order to make a living, she created and sold these delicious soupy empanadas daily. It is said that parents in the region would tell their kids: “Ve y recoge una emanada de la saltena” (“go and pick up an empanada from the woman from Salta”). They became so popular that they are considered by many to be the national dish of Bolivia. So popular, in fact, that she eventually married the President of the country!
Countless variations of the empanada, a savory stuffed bread pastry, can be found across the world, but perhaps no region has the diversity of Latin America. A remnant of Spanish colonization (and derivative of the Indian samosa, which came to Spain via the Moors), practically every Latin American country has its own take on this pocket pastry. While the character of the dough and contents may vary, basic empanada anatomy remains the same: delicious filling enrobed in bread—the Spanish word empanar literally means, “to wrap in bread.”
Salteñas have three main features that differentiate them from most empanadas. First, the “braided” seam that seals the empanada closed, is placed on top. Second, these empanadas are baked in an upright position, rather than on their side. Third, their filling is more of a wet stew, like the Chinese xiao long bao (soup dumpling) than traditional Empanada fillings.
- Large Dutch oven with cover or large heavy pot, skillet
- 2 Baking trays, 1 small.
- Food processor (if making homemade dough)
- Large bowl
- 6 cups Chicken bone broth
- 3 .25 oz packet unflavored gelatin powder
- 1 ½ Medium onion. ½ chunked, 1 chopped into ¼ inch dice.
- 4 Garlic cloves. 2 smashed, 2 minced.
- 1 medium Red bell pepper, roughly chopped.
- 2 tbsp Vegetable oil
- 4 Chicken thighs
- 1 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp Ground cumin
- ½ tsp Paprika
- ¼ tsp Black pepper
- 1 tbsp Dried oregano
- 5 oz Russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
- ½ cup Golden raisins
- ½ cup Frozen baby peas
- 2.25 oz Can of Black olive slices
- 3 Hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
- 2 Eggs beaten with 2 tsp water and 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 8 oz. packages Pillsbury Crescent roll dough, or 10 Goya or La Salteña frozen empanada dough for baking ("al horno"), or homemade dough (recipe below)
- 8 oz Unsalted butter
- 4 cups All-purpose Flour
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- 6 tbsp Sugar
- 1 cup Hot water
- Prepare Broth – Simmer bone broth, ½ chopped onion, 2 smashed garlic cloves, and red bell pepper for 30 minutes. Strain, return to pot and reduce by 20% or-so.
- Prepare Filling Ingredients – In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Season skin-side of chicken with salt and add to pot skin-side down. Salt the other side in pan. Sear chicken until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a plate and drain excess fat from skillet. Return skillet to stove and lower heat to medium. Add diced onion and minced garlic and cook about 5 minutes, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Stir in cayenne, cumin, oregano, and black pepper. Cook 1 minute more. Turn heat to high and add chicken broth, diced potato, raisins, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil then add chicken and its juices into the skillet. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 1 hour.
- Make Filling – Remove chicken thighs from cooled broth. Discard skin and bones. Shred chicken meat with your hands. Stir gelatin powder into pot and then return shredded chicken and peas. Pour into a large bowl and refrigerate to solidify a minimum of 4 hours, preferably overnight and up to 3 days.
- Assemble Salteñas – Using refrigerated crescent roll dough, Goya or La Salteña frozen empanada dough for baking ("al horno") or homemade dough (see below), roll 1 disk at a time into a ⅛ inch thick by 8 inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Keep remaining disks covered. Remove chicken filling from refrigerator and scoop 1 cup filling onto center of disk. Top it with some diced egg and a few olive slices. Brush the egg wash (2 eggs and 2 tsp water whisked together) around inside edges. Fold 2 sides up over the filling. Seal by crimping or scallop. To scallop, start at one edge of the half circle and fold a small piece of dough (fingernail size) over the seam and press gently. Fold another small piece of dough over the seam so that it overlaps the previous one. Continue until full semi-circle is sealed. It should look like a rope across the top of a football. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet small enough to fit in the freezer. Repeat with remaining 9 disks. Freeze for at least an hour and up to 3 months (see Notes) before Baking.
- Bake and Serve – Preheat oven to 500° if salteñas have been frozen for less than 4 hours or 450° if frozen longer. Line a separate rimmed baking sheet with parchment and spray lightly with cooking spray. Move frozen salteñas to this pan. Add paprika to remaining egg wash and brush over salteñas. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until crust is golden brown and seam slightly blackened. Serve on a tray alone or with Llajua, Bolivian hot sauce.
Homemade Saltena Dough
- Melt 8 ounces unsalted butter. In a food processor, mix 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp Kosher salt, and 6 tbsp sugar. Add melted butter and process. It should be sandy. Add 1 cup hot water and process until dough comes together into a smooth ball. Divide dough into 10 equal pieces and compress into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap.