Many people around the world now this crispy dish by the popular name of Empanadas. I knew them as Empanadillas and at times even called them Pastelillos. Regardless of how anyone call them, Empanadas are delicious and very easy to prepare.
Today we will cover;
- What is an Empanada?
- Other Empanada Ingredients
- Which is the best, store-bought dough or homemade?
- Why buy premade?
- How to make Empanada dough
- Making the Empanadas
- Setting up to cook the empanadas
- Cooking the empanadas
- How to plan and execute your next Empanadas feast
- Two days before gathering
- One day before gathering
- Day of the gathering
- How to serve empanadas
What is an Empanada?
An Empanada is a deep-fried dough that has been filled with meats or cheeses. Essentially THE original Hot Pocket. With the exception that the dough is flakier. In Puerto Rico, traditional empanadas are filled with ground beef or PICADILLO (loose pronunciation; pee-kah-dee-yo, with a loose translation meaning, chopped).
Traditional picadillo consists of ground beef, onions, peppers, garlic, green pimento-stuffed olives, raisins, maybe some prunes, and hard-boiled eggs. You might find some ham in some picadillos as well. Most of the empanadas with picadillo will probably omit the raisins (and prunes for that matter), as well as the hard-boiled eggs. This is due to ingredients often getting forgotten or intentionally removed from recipes due to individual tastes. Also, it depends on the empanada's country of origin. A lot of Latin American countries still use some if not all of the ingredients listed above.
Other Empanada Ingredients
If you ever travel to Puerto Rico, which I more than invite you to go, you will find that roadside eateries are frequent. I do not think anyone can go hungry on the island. The amount of food you get for the price you pay at these roadside dives is unbelievable. Along with all the different types of foods you will find, you will also encounter empanadillas (again, empanadas or pastelillos). Depending on the area, be it coastal or mountain range, your empanadillas will also change accordingly. At the coast, you will find empanadillas de cangrejo or crab empanadas, as well as pulpo (octopus, don't knock them until you try them), fish, and Camarones (Shrimp). Of course the traditional picadillo or Carne (meat) empanadas and the cheese empanadas. Other flavors also include pork, chicken, pepperoni, and ham. I told you they were like Hot Pockets.
Empanadas are like pizza, the only limit is you imagination. These crunchy, craveable snacks (antojitos) can be filled with almost anything!
Which is the best, store-bought dough or homemade?
Whenever I am facing the question of whether to buy an already product or make my own, my answer is almost always homemade. I LOVE to make my own anything, except cooked tomatoes. I will buy canned tomatoes before I boil another tomato. At any rate, making this dough is super easy and it only takes a few minutes. Although it does not go without some planning for the dough does need to "rise" or rest for about 30 minutes before we properly handle it, and there is the clean-up issue. The dough needs to be kneaded and stretched on a floured surface, which will add to the cleanup, but you can control all the ingredients added to the dough like your flour and your fat.
Why buy premade?
There are some benefits to using the pre-made discs found in the freezer section in the supermarket. I have two varieties in my area, Goya and El Sembrador. Both are pretty good and yield a good product. Goya places plastic sheets in between the dough discs, and El Sembrador does not. Both require for the discs to be removed at least one hour ahead of production to allow them to defrost, so be prepared to make as many empanadas as the package offers that day. Because once defrosted, you cannot refreeze it. But clean-up is a lot easier. So, if I knew I had to make a lot of empanadas, then maybe I would buy the frozen dough. But, for the most part, I enjoy making my own dough since it is easy enough.
How to make Empanada dough
If you have a food processor with a dough hook, it is even easier! But you could use a pastry knife as well. Take 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder, sifted into a bowl or the bowl of the food processor. Add 6 tablespoons of chilled vegetable shortening. All I had was butter, and it worked just fine. Start the processor or cut shortening into the flour while adding ½ a cup of chilled water. Once the dough begins to pull apart from the bowl, remove the dough and place it on a floured surface to knead. Knead the dough for about a minute and then make it into a ball. Place the ball into a bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Making the Empanadas
While the dough rests, take the time to make your filling of choice and whip up an egg wash of one egg, water, and a pinch of salt. Set filling and egg wash aside. Once the dough has rested, remove it from the bowl and roll it into a log about 2 inches thick. Cut the dough into 1-inch discs.
With a floured rolling pin, roll the discs flat until about ¼-inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Brush the disc's edges with the egg wash, and fill the lower half of the disc with your filling of choice. Make sure to place enough filling to fill the dough's expansion at it cooks, but not so much that it will tear. Bring the disc's upper edge to meet the lower edge and crimp the edges to make a seal. Traditionally we use a fork to press down onto the edge, but you could also twist the edge to create a coiled look.
Setting up to cook the empanadas
I strongly suggest making all the empanadas before frying them, especially if you do not have a fryer—the reason is that frying could go relatively fast once it starts. Controlling the oil and monitoring the empanadas in the oil will require a lot of your attention. Make sure you make all the empanadas first; this way, all your hard work will not be wasted.
If you do not have a fryer; use the deepest pot you have. You will also need a pair of all-metal tongs or a spider strainer. You will need as much oil and space for the empanadas to swim in. I use peanut oil. It has a high smoke point, and it does not impart additional flavor onto the food. Bring the oil to 325ºF. Once the oil has reached 325ºF start dropping the empanadas into the oil, two or three at a time. We only drop a few at a time because we do not want to crowd the empanadas and create steam. Too many empanadas at once will create soggy empanadas. Take your time and drop a few at a time.
Cooking the empanadas
Watch the empanadas carefully. If they start turning golden too quickly the oil is too hot. Likewise, if you drop the empanadas and they sink and do nothing, the oil is too cold. But this should not be an issue if you are using the thermometer. When you see the golden color gently flip the empanadas so the lighter side can get cooked. Once the empanadas are cooked, remove them from the oil and let them rest on a plate with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
If frying is something you often do, consider purchasing a deep fryer to control the oil temperature for you. The other option is to invest in one of these deep-frying thermometers, which will help you regulate the oil temperature and keep you from burning the product and the oil.
How to plan and execute your next Empanadas feast
Wow, the title above sound just a bit daunting, but there is pleasure in planning ahead. Even though the dough is easy to make, if you choose to make it. And even if you choose to buy the frozen dough, both require time to thaw and rest. So, satisfying an empanada craving might be best by going to your local bodega. Now, if you want to make them for a family gathering as an appetizer or Antojito, then here are a few steps that will help you execute your empanadas like a Rock Star.
- Decide when you are going to serve these empanadas. For example, I have a family gathering coming on two weekends. I have the option to make all my empanadas a few days ahead, so all I have to do is fry them the day of. Or make most of them ahead and save the rest as a family bonding opportunity with the younger and older generations. I have decided to make them all ahead so that I can fry them just before guest arrival. This way, I can and enjoy my company.
- I decide what fillers I want in my empanadas. My family likes just about anything, so I can go crazy with experimenting on my fillers. I will have a few traditional picadillo and eggs. A few cheese ones for the picky eaters. Some Chicken and some crab meat, because I LOVE crab empanadillas.
- I look for the list of ingredients and steps needed to make the fillers. Almost all of my empanadas will have a bit of sofrito in them, so I will make sure I have plenty of sofrito. I personally do not bake a lot, so making sure there is enough baking powder and flour for the empanada dough if making fresh dough is an option.
Two days before gathering
- Two days before the event or gathering. Make your fillers and have them ready to go. This is a great time to troubleshoot any possible problems that may arise, like not enough cheese (if there is such a thing). If using store-bought empanada discs, remove them from the freezer and place them in the refrigerator. This gives them plenty of time to defrost before usage.
One day before gathering
- The day before the gathering. Take this day to make your empanadas. No distractions or appointments, just cooking. Complete cooking bliss! Why? Because once you start, you do not want to stop and start over. At this point, we will assemble the empanadas and set them aside for frying the next day.
- Note on making them ahead if you have space in the freezer. Keep a cookie sheet or a freezer-safe plate in the freezer with parchment paper. I would work 3 to 5 empanadas at a time and place them on the plate in the freezer. After you have a few made and are beginning to freeze, transfer those frozen to a ziplock bag.
- I tried a similar method but used the refrigerator, and the empanadas did not survive. The dough never hardened enough to handle the weight of the filling and the weight of the other empanadas.
Day of the gathering
- Day of the gathering. You do not want your beautiful work to be wasted. So, I would start frying my empanadas about 30 minutes before people are due to arrive. Set the oven to very low heat, like at 180ºF, and hold the ready empanadas. Hopefully, as your guests arrive, you are finishing frying. I find that having them see me fry these succulent treats makes them want them more.
How to serve empanadas
Empanadillas, pastelillos, or empanadas do not need a dipping sauce. They are delicious all on their own. Pile them high on a plate, and they will be gone before you know it. But if you MUST, here are a few suggestions.
- Mayo-Ketchup. I would say equal parts of mayonnaise and ketchup. Very big in Puerto Rican tables.
- Salsa. My new favorite? Ray Bayless' Frontera Double Roasted Tomato or even the Green Tomatillo with Cilantro and Serrano.
- Homemade guacamole (recipe coming soon!)
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Empanadas, Pastelillos, Or Empanadillas Dough
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon of table salt
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 6 tablespoons of vegetable shortening chilled
- ½ cup of chilled water
- For egg wash
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
To Fry Empanadas:
- Peanut Oil
- Take flour, salt, baking powder sifted into a bowl or the bowl of the food processor.
- Add chilled vegetable shortening. Start the processor or cut shortening into the flour while adding chilled water.
- Once the dough begins to pull apart from the bowl, remove the dough and place it on a floured surface to knead.
- Knead the dough for about a minute and then make it into a ball. If not using the same day, place the dough in a zip bag and into the refrigerator.
- Place the ball into a bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let it rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Roll the dough into a 2-inch log and then slice the dough into 1-inch discs.
- With a floured rolling pin, flatten the discs until they are thin but not see-through thin. Roughly, stretch it to a six-inch disc.
- Make egg wash. Brush egg wash on the edges of the disc.
- Place filler at the bottom half of the disc.
- Bring the top edge to meet the bottom edge. Creating a half-circle.
- Seal empanada by pressing a fork onto the edges, about ¼-inch deep.
- Make sure oil is at 325ºF.
- Dropping 2 to 3 empanadas at a time, begin to fry them. You are looking for a nice golden color on one side.
- Flip the empanadas to cook the other side.
- Once empanadas are nice and golden, remove them from oil and place them on a plate with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- If you have a food processor with a dough hook, it is even easier! But you could use a pastry knife as well.
- If you do not have vegetable lard, all I had was butter, and it worked just fine.
- I have never made the dough and not use it immediately of the next day, so I cannot give you more advice on this, but I will look more into this.