This was a rather spontaneous meal. I was wondering what to do with several things that were cluttering up my refrigerator: one quarter pound homemade pork sausage, one quarter pound of ground pork, a Russet potato—that I had peeled for another meal and ended up not using—half a red bell pepper (ditto), one small yellow onion. I could just chop it all up, throw it in a skillet, fry it up, and call it “hash,” but that would not be me. I am not the first person to face this dilemma, World Cuisine is full of solutions. Hash in a pocket bread is called an empanada.
Looking on-line, I took some ideas from a Handle the Heat recipe and the adapted the crust from an Epicurious recipe, but mostly this is just what I had on hand that I was trying to use up. Jan pointed out that this is probably the origin of the original recipe. “Not enough of anything to make a recipe? Throw it all together and wrap it in dough!”
After Dinner Note: This is the first time I have successfully made a light, crisp, flakey crust. The filling was well balanced and delicious. I think I have found a new “go to” recipe.
Karl’s Pork Sausage Empanadas
2 cups flour, AP
½ Tbs. Kosher salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1 stick (1/2 cup) frozen, unsalted butter
1 large egg
½ cup ice water
1 Tbs. distilled white vinegar
1 large Russet potato
¼ lb. pork sausage
¼ lb. ground pork
2 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 small yellow onion (about ¾ cup)
½ red bell pepper, diced (about ½ cup)
1 tsp. French thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1. Place several ice cubes into a cup of water.
2. Sift the flour, salt, and onion powder together several times in a large bowl to get a complete and even mixture.
3. Use a box grater to shred the butter into the flour.
Tip: As the butter shreds build up in the bowl, stir them into the flour to coat them.
4. Use a pastry cutter to chop the shreds into tiny pieces.
Tip: To get a flaky dough the butter must remain cold so that it does not bind with the flour. You want to handle the butter and dough as little as possible with your warm hands—why Jan has always been better at crusts than me.
5. Measure out one half cup of ice water and add the egg and vinegar. Whisk the mixture to blend.
Tip: The vinegar inhibits the proteins in the flour from forming gluten. There is not enough vinegar to make it taste “sour.”
6. Make a “well” in the flour and add the liquid.
7. Use a spatula to mix the flour into the dough until most of the dry flour has been incorporated.
8. Turn the dough out onto a clean smooth surface and knead the dough 3-5 times.
Tip: Not 3-5 minutes, only 3-5 kneads, the more you handle the dough the more the butter will melt and the more gluten will form, making your dough tough.
9. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to chill for one hour.
10. Shred the potato and sprinkle the salt over it.
11. Mix the salt into the potato and place them in a sieve over a bowl.
Tip: Potatoes can release a lot of liquid that would make your empanadas soggy. The salt both seasons the potatoes and dries them out a bit.
12. Form the meat into large “patties” and fry them in the olive oil, over medium high heat, until well browned on both sides. Remove the meat to a plate to cool.
Tip: An America’s Test Kitchen chef found the solution to the problem of tough meat vs well browned flavor. (i can’t seem to find the reference, so It must have been in one of the videos.) She found, that if you break up the meat and brown it, you end up with lots of flavor but tough, chewy bits of meat. If you simmer the pork in the sauce you may have tender pork, but very little flavor. The solution is to fry big patties of meat. The outside gets the flavorful browning, but the inside meat stays tender. Breaking up the patties and returning the meat to the pot give you the best of both worlds.
13. Add the onions and used the released moisture to free the pork fond stuck to the bottom of the pan. Sauté the onions for five minutes.
14. Add the bell pepper, thyme, and pepper Sauté the vegetables for five more minutes.
Note: My sister, Grace, sent me a bunch of spices for Christmas, one of which was French thyme from Penzeys. Although it is a dried herb, it is much more fragrantly “thyme-y” than even my fresh thyme in the garden. This is the same spice that makes my water crackers so good (soon to be posted).
15. Chop the pork patties into small bits and return them to the pan with the shredded potatoes.
16. Add the sherry and stir the ingredients to mix completely.
17. Cover the pan and simmer, over low heat, for two minutes.
18. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down undisturbed.
Note: You are not trying to cook the potatoes completely at this point. The empanadas will be baked and that will finish cooking the potatoes.
19. While the filling is cooling, divide the dough into 16 equal balls.
Tip: Divide the dough ball in half and roll the half into an inch thick “sausage.” Cut the sausage in half. Cut the halves in half again and finally cut the quarters in half, to produce 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place them on a plate. Return these to the refrigerator. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Note: You want to keep the dough as cold as possible at all times until you place them in the oven.
20. When the filling has cool, use a quarter cup to measure 16 equal portions onto a plate.
Tip: You do not have to do this, but I find it convenient not to have to struggle with measuring as I am rolling out the dough and filling the empanada. This also make sure that the last one does not get shorted on filling.
21. Take the dough balls 2-3 at a time and, on a well floured surface, roll them into five inch circles.
22. Place the filling in the center of the circle.
23. Dip your fingers in a bowl of water and wet half of the edge of the circle of crust.
Tip: You want a semicircle of damp around one edge of the dough.
24. Pull the dry edge of the dough over the filling and lay it against the damp edge.
25. Crimp the edges together and then use the tines of a fork to make the edge look decorative.
26. Use your hands to settle the meat inside the empanada to make a flat half moon.
27. Place the empanada on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Tip: If you have room in your refrigerator, it is best to keep the prepared empanada cool.
28. Preheat your oven to 400º F.
29. Continue rolling and filling the dough balls, until you run out of dough and filling.
Note: I was able to fit eight empanada on each baking sheet.
30. Bake the empanada for 20-22 minutes, until well browned on top.
31. Remove to a wire rack and cool to warm.
32. Serve warm.
Tip: Two to three empanada is a full meal for one person.