Empanadas are hand-held pies that have been popular in Latin America for centuries. Every country has their own renditions and fillings that span the range from savory, to spicy, to sweet. These are classic Cuban empanadas, filled with a minced meat filling called “picadillo.” There are as many picadillo recipes as there are home cooks, but this is my rendition. The result is flaky pastries filled to the rim with spicy beef. I don’t know anyone who can eat only one!
A few pointers for you as you set out to make these: Make the filling at least 2 hours ahead of time so that the juices have time to congeal (they will melt back as they fry, yielding a juicy filling). If you don’t have a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil, try inserting the back of a wooden spoon into the hot oil—if it sizzles on contact, it’s ready to fry. I find it easier to turn the empanadas as they fry with two forks. Never use tongs to turn them over or you’ll risk breaking them. Set them over the prepared pans to drain—do not skip this step as it prevents soggy pastry. Line a baking pan with parchment paper to set the filled empanadas so they don't stick; you can refrigerate these for up to 3 hours before frying. Fit another large baking pan with a metal cooling rack; use this pan to set the fried empanadas to drain.
You’ll find prepackaged empanada discs in the freezer section of most grocery stores (popular brands are GOYA® and La FE®)
If you enjoy making these, you may also have fun cooking from my new cookbook, Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America, which will hit bookstores on April 21, 2015!
- Makes 10 empanadas
roughly chopped white onion
roughly chopped green bell pepper
large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
sweet Caribbean peppers (ajicitos dulces or cachucha peppers), seeded and roughly chopped
extra-virgin olive oil
lean ground beef
ground dried oregano
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
store-bought empanada discs, thawed if frozen
Vegetable oil, for frying
- In a large food processor, add the onions, pepper, and garlic and process until finely chopped, about 15 one-second intervals, stopping to scrape the sides of the processor, as needed.
- In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Add the beef and cook, breaking it down with the back of a spoon until it's no longer pink, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds. Lower the heat to low and, stirring continuously, cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool completely, and transfer to a small bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
- Working with one empanada disc at a time, place 2 tablespoons of the meat filling in the bottom half of each disc, leaving about 1/4-inch of the rim without filling.
- Brush the inside of the rims with egg white, then fold the dough over the filling to make a half-moon and press the edges together with your fingers. Use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges of each empanada shut and set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet or plate. Set aside. Place paper towels over a baking sheet, then cover with a wire baking rack to create a landing place for the empanadas once they've been fried.
- In a large skillet with high sides, heat 1 to 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil to 360º F (or use a deep-fryer according to the manufacturer’s directions). Working in batches, carefully slide the empanadas into the oil. Fry them until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes, turning them over halfway through. If the oil gets too hot as you fry and the empanadas are browning too quickly, lower the heat and cool the oil slightly before frying any more.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried empanadas onto the prepared rack and allow to drain for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve warm.