Cuban Beef Empanadas

March  4, 2015
2 Ratings
Photo by Armando Rafael
  • Makes 10 empanadas
Author Notes

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!

Buen Provecho!
Sandra Gutierrez

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped white onion
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 sweet Caribbean peppers (ajicitos dulces or cachucha peppers), seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 store-bought empanada discs, thawed if frozen
  • 1 egg white
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. 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.
  2. In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried empanadas onto the prepared rack and allow to drain for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve warm.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kaite
  • Nicole Lyons
    Nicole Lyons
  • Sandra Gutierrez
    Sandra Gutierrez
  • Yoani Penalver-Colon
    Yoani Penalver-Colon

10 Reviews

iheartblueberries December 21, 2020
Hello! Less a review, more of a question... at what point can I freeze homemade empanadas? Egg wash, then freezer? Bake them 1/2 way, cool, then freeze? Bake at what temp/time for frozen, and for 1/2 baked —or for whichever way you suggest?! So pumped to make these now, and have some for later! Thank you!
Sandra G. December 21, 2020
Hi there, I freeze mine before baking. Put the egg wash right before you bake them. No need to thaw—just add 3-4 more minutes of baking time. Have fun and enjoy!
Gordon August 25, 2019
I also put raisins, capers and chopped hard boiled egg in mine. And sometimes I put a bay leaf in when cooking the filling. A friend from Cuba via Argentina taught me this.
CK November 6, 2017
Used the filling but made my own empanada dough from an epicuriois recipe. This filling is perfect and I can see it being used for other purposes, too (tacos, over rice, etc.). Thank you for a really delicious recipe. I'm going to look up your book now!
Kaite March 12, 2017
These were delicious! I doubled the recipe. The meat was super tasty and I could see myself eating it on rice. I used the larger empanadas discs and baked them instead. Frying them would be tastier but I hate frying stuff in the house. My Venezuelan husband said the empanadas remind him of his youth when he would get empanadas at school. That is proof of how tasty they were!
Deedledum November 15, 2016
I live in a small town, and empanada discs aren't available here either. The only way I've been able to get around that is to make them myself from masa, which I don't always have around. Does anyone else have any suggestions?
Sandra G. November 15, 2016
I have 10 different doughs you can make in my book Empanadas. However, use any pastry dough you like (pie dough is delicious). Hope this helps! Bake them instead of frying them.
Yoani P. October 11, 2020
You can make them with flour eggs pinch of salt. You tube have tons of videos how to make empana dough .
Nicole L. July 21, 2016
"Still Searching in Seattle"
The filling I made for this enticing recipe was doubled with hot iltalian sausage. I searched a range of 5 super markets and grocery storestore in search of the empanada discs! So instead made some of the best hard shell tacos with the filling.
Sandra G. November 15, 2016
That was a good idea. Next time, use pie pastry instead. Bake them instead; don't fry them.