As a rule, I don’t eat fried Mexican food. Empanadas are the exception to that rule. These savory pastries are like Mexican handpies… I think… I’ve never actually had a handpie so I can’t say for sure. A meat filling is wrapped in a modified tortilla dough and deep fried to create these pockets of goodness. The crust comes out crisp and flaky (not greasy!) and the inside stays flavorful and juicy. This delicious dish is definitely worth the indulgence (though if you’re frying at the proper temperature they shouldn’t absorb much oil). I just make sure I eat healthy for my next meal.
I first tried empanadas at Two Urban Licks in Atlanta. Theirs were filled with brisket and topped with aioli and feta – so good. We liked them so much we decided to try our own hand at empanadas when we returned from our trip. In fact, we bought an empanada press at a cooking store we visited later on the same trip in preparation. As it turns out, even if TSA hadn’t broken it in our luggage, we wouldn’t have used the press so I don’t recommend investing in one. When we got home and set out to make our own homemade empanadas, we turned to the trusty Rick Bayless. And he certainly delivered with this spiced ground pork filling with raisins and cashews!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6 empanadas (3 servings)
Canola or Vegetable Oil (for frying)
6 oz. Flour
1 1/2 tbsp. Lard or Shortening
3/8 c. Warm Water
3/8 tsp. Salt
10 oz. canned San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 tsp. Black Peppercorns
1/2 Cinnamon Stick
1 tbsp. Vegetable or Canola Oil
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
8 oz. Ground Pork
2 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tbsp. Golden Raisins
2 tbsp. Cashews
1/2 tsp. Salt
1. Mix, press, and roll out 6 pieces of empanada dough as described in our Homemade Flour Tortilla recipe. You’ll notice it’s almost exactly a half recipe, but there is slightly less lard/shortening than the typical tortilla recipe.
Tip: To save time, start by making your dough. Then while it’s resting get your filling started. You’ll have time to press the tortillas while the filling is simmering.
2. Puree the tomatoes with their juices in a blender. If you can’t find San Marzanos, use organic tomatoes. They taste better and are more nutritious than non-organic (more lycopene).
3. Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves to a fine powder.
4. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat then add the onion and cook until golden (about 5 minutes). Then add the garlic and cook another two minutes. Crumble the ground pork into the skillet and cook until lightly browned.
5. Add the tomato puree, ground spices, raisins, and vinegar to the pork mixture. Simmer over medium-low heat until reduced to a thick, mixture – think sloppy joes (about 30 minutes). You want the filling to be moist but not wet as this will cause issues sealing the empanadas later.
6. While the pork mixture is reducing, toast the cashews in a 325° oven for 10 minutes. Coarsely chop the cashews and stir into the pork mixture with the salt once the mixture has neared the desired consistency.
7. Add ~1/4 c. of filling to the center of each tortilla and brush the edges with water.
8. Fold the tortillas in half and press the dough down against the filling to expel any trapped air (which will result in big air bubbles that may tear the crust as its frying). Then press the edges together firmly to seal.
9. Pinch and fold the edges of the empanadas to make a scalloped edge, again pressing down firmly to seal. This step isn’t critical, but it certainly makes your empanadas prettier and easier to eat.
10. Fill a heavy-bottomed pan with oil to a depth of 2-3 inches. Obviously a deep frier would be ideal for this step, but dutch ovens and woks hold heat well which makes them good for frying.
Heat the oil to 375º F and fry the empanadas 2-3 minutes per side until lightly golden (usually you can get 2 into the pan at a time). Keep in mind that the empanadas will continue to cook and brown after they are out of the oil.
11. Transfer to a paper towel-lined tray in a warm oven and cook the remaining empanadas.
For other yummy variations on empanadas, try using our Chipotle Stout Braised Beef or Chicken Tinga as a filling. The first time we used the tinga the crisp edges of the shredded chicken tore holes in the empanada dough, so I recommend using ground chicken in place of chicken breast and starting at step 3 from the recipe. Both of these alternate fillings make wonderful empanadas – so yummy!