Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Heirloom Empanadas from Argentina
I have been looking for a recipe that would recreate the empanada that I ate at a birthday party of one of the Filipino kids who lived in my neighborhood when I was a child. The Filipino parents always threw very generous birthday parties where we'd get to take a swing at a brightly colored piñata and there were roasted piglets (lechon), puto bongbong and lots of other delicious food. And yet what has stuck in my mind through years was the delicious empanadas.
When I first arrived in Spain someone asked me if I'd ever had an empanada and I said: yes. Anyhow this guy went ahead and ordered some for me and I was in for the biggest disappointment of my life.
In my mind an empanada should look like this, but the empanadas here look like this.
A few years later, my life style had changed immensely and I was cooking everything from scratch at home and I had started food blogging - and I thought to myself: Why don't I look for a recipe that is similar to the empanadas I used to have at those wonderful birthday parties?
Easier said than done.
When I looked-up several empanada recipes, they just didn't seem quite right. You know when the ingredients just don't match the details in your memory?
Anyhow while I was still dragging my feet, unable to find the right recipe, Paul Paredes (yes - he's the guy picking the ingredients for Paper Chef in the video) said he'd give me his grandmother's secret recipe! So was I concerned whether this was the same empanadas I ate when I was a kid? No! I knew these were going to be delicious so I started making plans to make his grandmother's mouth watering empanadas right away....and here they are.
Paul has been gracious enough to give me permission to reprint his recipe here so I'll give you the original and will insert notes on what I actually did.
For the Filling
600 g Ground Beef
600 g Onions (peeled and chopped finely)
30 g Rendered Beef Fat
1 Tsp Dried Greek Oregano
1 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Spanish Sweet Paprika
Fresh Black Pepper
2 Hard Boiled Eggs (chopped)
A Handful of Green Olives (pitted and chopped)
600 g Flour
70 g Rendered Beef Fat*
2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
1 Tsp Sweet Spanish Paprika
500 ml Warm Water (I used only 3 dl water!)
100 g Unsalted Butter (melted)
Corn Starch (for dusting)
1 Egg (for glazing)
Step 1: Mix flour, paprika and salt and put the rendered beef fat or other animal fat on top. I used Manteca de Cerdo Iberico. Use your fingers to blend the animal fat into the dry ingredients.
Step 2: Once you've blended this nicely, add water. From my other experiences making wrappers (Beijing dumplings and Samosas) it's all too easy to end-up with a dough that's too wet and unless you have a Kitchen Aid to do the mixing for you it will be a nightmare! So add a little water at a time. I first poured in 2 dl water and then added another 1 dl - so a total of 3 dl. From my experience, I always end-up using a little less water than designated in the recipe so I'm guessing it could be something to do with some inaccuracy in my measurement devices or the quality of flour and their moisture content in Spain. If you've made other kinds of wrappers - use your common sense when adding water.
Step 3: Knead this to work with the gluten until you have a smooth pliant dough. Put it back inside a bowl and cover with a dampened fabric. According to Paul this needs to sit there for at least 1 hour. His grandmother used to leave it overnight by the way - so if you want to bake first thing in the morning, I'd prepare the dough last thing at night.
Step 4: While the dough is resting you'll want to make the filling or 'picadillo' as it's called in Spanish. Get yourself a nice big frying pan and melt the animal fat. Depending on the nature of your frying pan, the stove setting will differ because my Spanish pans heat-up to high temperatures really fast and are great for making Chinese stir fries whereas my pans from IKEA tend to never heat-up to very high temperatures no matter what your stove setting is. The idea is to slow cook your ingredients so make adjustments according to the characteristics of your frying pan.
Step 5: Add the chopped up onions and stir fry them for around 30 minutes. You do not want them to become very brown according to Paul and they should be soft and just beginning to color when they're done. I had a 'blond moment' and only chopped up 300 g of onions by the way. This was a mistake on my part and not intentional and because there was less onion, it took me about 15 minutes in an IKEA low temperature frying pan to reach this stage.
Step 6: Paul suggests adding spoonfuls of water should your onions get too dry. Spanish onions are very wet and hence I didn't have to add any water. Again this will depend on your onions.
Step 7: Turn up the heat a bit, add the ground beef and stir frequently to make sure you don't end-up with mini-hamburgers rolling inside your pan. The meat should stay in the same size it was when it was ground. Do not brown the meat or you'll end-up with a very dry filling. Try to picture a nice juicy moist filling and remember that that's where you want to go! Add the oregano, spices and salt during this stage.
Step 8: Finish this off with a couple of tablespoons of water at the very end unless your filling is already swimming in liquids although this shouldn't be the case if you've managed to get it right so far. The filling needs to be cooled before it is put into the wrappers so imagine what it might look like after the animal fat has congealed.
Step 9: I left out the olives and eggs completely because I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of boiled eggs and olives in my empanadas. The traditional way is to put a slice of boiled egg and a slice of green olive with pimiento stuffing on top of this when you wrap the empanadas. Paul said he chopped up both the eggs and olives and mixed them into the beef. It's your choice. Do what you think is best!
Step 10: Once your dough has rested for at least 1 hour, you can start preparing the wrappers. The first thing you'll want to do is divide the dough into 2 and then make sure the other half is covered with a damp cloth immediately so that it doesn't dry out. For those of you with small counters, I suggest you divide the dough into 3 or 4 balls to make rolling them out easier. I think Paul mentioned that Mike used a pasta roller for this, but the traditional way is to use a rolling pin to roll them out. Do it whichever way you wish. I don't have a pasta roller so I used a rolling pin!
Step 11: Flour your surface with corn flour first, then roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 mm, then brush it all over with melted butter, then fold it. Rotate it 90 degrees then roll it out again to 1 mm then brush it with butter again, etc. Roll at least 3 layers of butter into the dough in this manner. Corn starch really makes handling the dough easier so I recommend this.
Step 12: Preheat the oven to 220 C. Roll out the dough to 1 mm again and use a cookie cutter or whatever you have that's around 12 cm in diameter to cut circles out of the dough. My choices were either 10 cm or 13 cm and I went with the 13 cm so my empanadas were pretty big manly looking ones. Paul has told me that he and his grandmother use espresso saucers to do this. I used an inverted little bowl (about the size of a rice bowl) from IKEA.
Step 13: Moisten the edges of the wrapper, put the filling in the center and then fold them over in a half circle and seal the edges meticulously. Then, fold the edge over and seal the whole thing in tightly with a fork. Paul used a daintier technique of creating these lovely wavy patterns but I took the easier way out. The method I used is easier for people who don't have a lot of experience wrapping up empanadas or Chinese dumplings because it allows for a much bigger margin of error during the folding process. The fork marks will cover-up any messy folds so you can fold them over casually instead of being worried about creating a work of art.
Step 14: Brush these with the beaten egg and then bake them in the preheated oven on oven paper for 15 minutes or so. Some of mine ended-up in there for nearly 20 minutes but some were ready to go at 15 minutes exactly. Just make sure they are nice and brown on the surface.
*Paul mentions oiled and lined trays. I forgot to oil mine.
So were these empanadas similar to the ones I remember? No. But they were delicious and a great starting point for me to start exploring empanada recipes, and one day I hope I'll figure out what exactly were in those empanadas I had when I was a kid.
The most interesting thing about Paul's grandmother's recipe is undoubtedly her method for making puff pastry. Kneading paprika into the dough is a great idea and gave the flour a lovely warm color and her method of making puff pastry was quick and easy.
I'd like to extend my thanks to Paul Paredes again for his generosity in sharing this heirlooom recipe with me. It has been a real privilege getting to make his grandmother's secret recipe!
Empanadas Mendocinas : The author gives step by step directions with photographs on how to go about making empanadas.