Empanadas de Pollo con Salsa Verde

Inspired by Mely Martinez

Empanadas know many variations; they're found throughout Latin America, southern Europe, and the Philippines. This version features the traditions and flavors of Mexico and was inspired by the talented blogger behind Mexico in My Kitchen, Mely Martinez. Her fried empanadas with corn dough (made from 100% masa harina) kick-started our experiments with all kinds of fillings, including this combination of tender chicken and creamy melted cheese in a zippy salsa verde. Enjoy this recipe, then use it as a jumping-off point for your own creative fillings.

1 hr
1 hr 30 mins
one dozen 4 1/2” to 5” empanadas
Empanadas de Pollo con Salsa Verde (Chicken in Green Sauce Corn Empanadas)


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  1. To make the filling: Place the tomatillos, garlic cloves, and jalapeño(s) in a pot and cover with cold water. Cover the pot, place it over high heat, and bring the water to a boil. Bring the water down to a simmer and cook until the tomatillos are tender, soft, and pale green, about 10 minutes.

  2. Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeño(s) to a blender or food processor, along with 2 tablespoons (28g) of the cooking liquid, the onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Blend the ingredients until nearly smooth, adding more water a teaspoon or two at a time if necessary to facilitate blending.

  3. Pour the salsa into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the salsa for 6 to 8 minutes, until it’s reduced and thickened slightly and has turned a deeper shade of green.

  4. Remove the salsa from the heat and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

  5. Pour about 1 cup (236g) of salsa into a large bowl, and stir in the shredded chicken and cheese. Set aside the filling while you prepare the dough. You’ll serve the remaining salsa alongside the empanadas.

  6. To make the dough: Weigh your masa harina; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the masa harina and salt. Gradually add the warm water, stirring with your hands to make a cohesive dough.

  7. Using your hands, mix and knead the dough in the bowl for a minute or so, until it’s smooth and somewhat firm; it should feel like Play-Doh.  If the dough sticks to your hands and feels wet, add more masa harina a teaspoon to a tablespoon at a time. If you roll a piece into a ball and squeeze it and the edges crack, add more water a teaspoon to a tablespoon at a time.

  8. To shape and fill the empanadas: Cut two round or square pieces of food-safe plastic — from a plastic produce or zip-top bag — to a size about 1/2" larger than the diameter of your tortilla press. Set aside.

  9. Divide the dough into 12 pieces (45g to 50g each) and roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls on a clean work surface and cover them with plastic or a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist.

  10. Working with one ball of dough at a time, sandwich it in the center of the two pieces of plastic. Place the plastic-enclosed dough on the bottom plate of a tortilla press. Gently squeeze the handle of the press until the dough is about 1/8” thick and 4 1/2” to 5” in diameter. To achieve a nicely rounded tortilla, jiggle the handle of your press just as you near the bottom. You may need to press it a couple of times to reach the desired thinness.

  11. Remove the dough circle from the press and peel off the top piece of plastic. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling onto the center of the dough, then use the bottom piece of plastic to help fold the dough in half to form a semicircle. Pinch the edges with your fingers to seal the filling inside.

  12. Place the empanada on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet, cover with plastic or a damp kitchen towel, and set aside while you form the remaining empanadas.

  13. To fry the empanadas: Pour the vegetable oil into a heavy-bottomed skillet or pot; you’ll need enough oil to fill the bottom 1” of your vessel. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 375°F on a digital or frying thermometer.

  14. Carefully place as many empanadas into the hot oil as will fit without overcrowding.

  15. Fry the empanadas until crispy and golden, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove the empanadas from the oil and place them on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain away any excess oil. Put the pan in a low (200°F) oven to keep the empanadas warm.

  16. Repeat with the remaining empanadas.

  17. Serve empanadas warm with the extra salsa verde, sour cream, and/or any other garnishes you desire.

  18. Storage information: Store leftover empanadas, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for several days; reheat in a hot pan or low oven to serve.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Masa harina (translation: dough flour) is flour made from corn that’s been soaked in a solution of slaked lime (nixtamalized) to loosen its hull and soften it, which improves its texture and helps release its nutrients. The soaked corn is ground into a paste (masa), dried, and then ground again, this time into a fine flour. Due to the corn’s special treatment, neither cornmeal nor corn flour are good substitutes for masa harina.

  • Because the dough is somewhat delicate, large pieces or cubes of chicken or cheese can cause the empanadas to tear or break as you’re shaping them. Shredded chicken and cheese will make the shaping process much easier.

  • If you have any leftover rotisserie chicken, this recipe is the perfect place to use it.