recipe for good empanadas!
- Nitin Kibe
Recipe for the filling and the pastry.
Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2000 11:12:18 -0400
From: Nitin Kibe
Subject: Across Buenos Aires, a Tango With Empanadas: Food Section,
New York Times, April 12
By MIMI SHERATON
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- It is not that I didn't expect to try empanadas
during a visit to Buenos Aires, but rather that I
never guessed they would become an obsession. I had eaten empanadas, those
crisp, flaky half-moons of pastry
puffed with savory meat fillings, in other parts of Latin America and at home in
New York. I wondered how much better
they would be in the country that seems to have the grandest passion for them.
What surprised me were the intriguing regional variations, described by the
native aficionados I met at the beginning of
my two-week stay in November 1999. Some were devotees of the hotly spiced
Bolivian empanadas, in which a little meat
is stretched with potato, while others lauded the milder fillings favored in
Chile. All raved about the juicy specimens
of the Tucuman province in the northwest semidesert, which is said to have the
country's most refined regional cuisine.
And most knew the outposts for the variations of Salta and San Juan Provinces.
Thoroughly tempted, my husband and I embarked on an odyssey through this
graceful city, with its broad tree-lined
boulevards and 19th-century Beaux-Arts buildings that recall the elegant
sections of Paris.
Following the custom of the Portenos, the cosmopolitan inhabitants of Buenos
Aires, we relied on these hot, hand-held
pies for quick lunches, often downing four or five as a meal, or two or three as
Early on, we got some useful background information from Dereck Foster, the
longtime food critic of The Buenos Aires
Herald. An Argentine born to English parents, Foster is working on a book about
empanadas, and he generously parted
with details of a few of his favorite outposts, also pointing out that the word
empanada means "in dough."
Empanadas may be baked or fried, but each method requires a sugarless pie dough.
The trimly fit Portenos seem to prefer
empanadas "al horno," baked in the oven, although I agree with those who insist
that frying works best when the fillings
are made of meat. (Any New Yorker who doubts that fried empanadas can be
ethereally light and greaseless will be
reassured at the excellent little Chimichurri Grill on Ninth Avenue.)
In Argentina, empanadas are beautifully put together as appetizers in formal
restaurants. But they taste best in the small
bare-bones bakery shops where these pies are made, primarily for takeout. Most
provide narrow counter shelves where
diners stand or perch on high stools; very few shops have really comfortable
tables and chairs. Prices range from about $1
to $1.50 for a three-and-a-half-bite pie.
We began our search-and-devour mission at El Sanjuanino, in the high-fashion
Recoleta neighborhood. With snug booths,
dark wood paneling and bright tiles, this tavern-cafe provides an easy entrance
into the delights of the empanada, the
specialty here being those from San Juan Province with green olives, hard-cooked
eggs and, it is said, a touch of tomato,
although I detected none. Other standard fillings are pale pink ham with a rich,
melting white cheese and a hint of onion,
and choclo, combining the soft white corn stew humitas with some whole kernels
for texture. Here, as elsewhere, chicken
proved dry and banal. On a second visit, we discovered that Sanjuanino's
empanadas are freshest from 6 to 8 p.m.,
when habitues drop in for a few little pies and a glass of beer or local wine.
Tucuman called next, and we ventured to the business and shopping section of
Retiro, and to La Querencia, an inviting,
comfortable cafe stylishly done up in black and terra cotta. Beef for empanadas
in Tucuman is diced with a knife --
"picada a cuchillo" -- instead of being ground. That results in a more toothsome
filling. In fact, diners are advised to wrap
a napkin around their wrist to catch the drippings -- a precaution that proved
unnecessary. So was the warning about
hot spicing; the amount of chili is tempered to the gentle palates of the
Satisfied if not bowled over by that experience, we tried La Cupertina, our
other Tucuman outpost, in a far-flung corner
of the middle-to-lower-class residential section of Old Palermo. It was worth
the trip. The charming bakery-cafe, with its
blue and white decor, lively counter where food is displayed, and comfortable
tables, served one of the two best empanadas
that we found. The shop is run by Tucuman natives, Ramon Torres and his wife,
Cecilia Hermann, who is the very
Cupertina features the most mouthwatering, beefy baked empanadas, brightened
with minced scallion greens and heady
overtones of cumin and paprika. Other fillings were equally good, with the
zanahoria (carrot) being a local favorite.
On to El Horno, and Bolivia, we thought, wending our way toward this small,
barren shop in a part of Palermo bustling
with bookstores and schools. The shop's focal point is the igloo-shaped clay and
brick oven that is native to Bolivia. It turns
out plump, lightly spiced empanadas that tied Cupertina's for first place.
Two kinds of meat fillings are offered: picante, the spiciest and juiciest we
encountered, and suave, which is more gently
seasoned. Potato and egg pleasantly fleshed out both versions. Even better were
the round turnovers called pukakapas,
which combined onions, soft cheese and fiery red chilies, and the pascualina, or
Easter empanada, stuffed with Swiss
chard and chopped egg bound with a light bechamel sauce.
In the midtown Capital District, we tried our luck at tiny El Ladrillo, meaning
"the brick" and referring to the walls and
oven here. The specialty is a house creation: souffleed empanadas, each a
miniature semicircular balloon, with good
versions of standard fillings, most especially one of beef, raisins and olives.
So much for the good news. Not all our searches proved as rewarding. Empanadas
from Salta (at La Justina) and Chile
(at Los Chilenos) were disappointing. La Justina's were bland and tasted of
overheated grease; at Los Chilenos, they
were sherbet cold at the center.
Although we had many delicious and even wonderful empanadas, we were a little
disappointed that the regional
differences were not as marked as we had been lead to expect. A flaw, Foster
told us, brought on by attempts at
seasoning to please the common taste.
Adapted from La Cupertina, Buenos Aires
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 24 to 48 hours' marinating time
- 1 pound filet mignon, fat trimmed
- 1 cup finely diced and loosely packed beef suet (5 to 6 ounces) or very white,
firm beef fat, or 3/4 cup sunflower or corn oil,
or a half-and-half combination of beef fat and oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon hot red chili powder (cayenne or crushed dried red pepper flakes
with seeds), or to taste
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon powdered cumin
- 1 cup finely chopped scallions, green and white portions
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- Empanada pastry (see recipe).
1. Dice beef into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces. Place in bowl and cover with 3 cups
boiling water. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes,
or until meat loses its raw, red look. Pour off water and drain meat thoroughly.
2. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, slowly cook suet or beef fat until it
melts, or heat oil. If using suet or fat, leave in
the browned bits that remain after fat is rendered. Add remaining ingredients
for filling, except scallions, sugar and meat;
stir. Reduce heat and saute, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until onion softens.
3. Add meat and scallions and stir. Cover and simmer over low heat for 2 or 3
minutes, stirring frequently. Add one cup
boiling water, cover loosely and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring
frequently and adding water if needed to
prevent scorching. Cook until beef is tender and water has evaporated, leaving
an oily red liquid that should remain.
4. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding sugar only to offset excessive bitterness.
If more spices are added, simmer
gently another minute or two. Remove from heat, and when filling is cool, cover
and place in refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours
so flavor develops and liquids are absorbed by meat. Remove from refrigerator
30 minutes to 1 hour before filling pastry.
Stir to redistribute spices.
5. Make empanada pastry. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set out two shallow pans,
preferably jellyroll pans with rims, large
enough to hold 10 to 12 five-inch-long empanadas with an inch of space between
6. Place a rounded tablespoonful of filling in center of each round. Moisten
edges of round with cold water and fold dough
in half, making sure filling does not spread to edges. Press edges with fork to
seal, or pinch into tiny tucks. (Filled,
unbaked empanadas can be frozen for up to two weeks; thaw for two hours before
7. Arrange empanadas on pans. Bake in upper third of oven for 10 to 15 minutes,
until pale brown. Cool for 3 to 5 minutes,
Yield: 20 to 24 empanadas.
Time: about 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes' resting time
1. Dissolve salt in 3/4 cup warm water. Sift 4 1/2 cups flour into bowl or food
processor. Divide vegetable shortening
into small clumps, or cut suet, beef fat or margarine into small pieces; add to
flour. Blend fat and flour until you have a
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
- 3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, or 6 ounces beef suet, margarine or firm
white beef fat.
2. Add salted water until mixture forms a ball. If dough is very sticky, work in
flour a tablespoon at a time.
3. Shape dough into a ball and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead
vigorously for 10 minutes, or until it is very
smooth and elastic. Reshape into ball, place in a bowl and cover with towel.
Let rest for 30 minutes.
4. With lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness on lightly
floured surface. Cut into rounds with 5-inch
cookie cutter; stack rounds. Cover with towel to prevent drying. Yield: 20 to 24
top of page
top of page
top of page
top of page