I’m so excited to share this Pork Picadillo Empanada post, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Pork Producers Association, with you! If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a minute, you know that I come from a family of pork lovers. If given the chance, we would eat pork seven days a week. It may have something to do with our cultures, or maybe we just love it for the taste. Regardless, this Pork Picadillo Empanada recipe is one that I’m anxious to share with you.
The debate amongst my Latin American friends has already begun, I just know it! It doesn’t matter whether you call them empanadas, pastelillos (which is clearly the correct word, duh!), empanadillas, or even beef patties. We’re going to make them, and they’re going to taste amazing.
Despite the silly rumors that may abound, pork is good for you. It’s an excellent source of protein and vitamin B6 (which many of us need) and a good source of potassium (hello, achy bones and muscles). So, in addition to being good for you (and good tasting) it’s also nutritious. Because I know you’re probably curious to find more ‘good for you’ reasons to eat pork, find out more about Pork Nutrition here.
I’m quite an advocate for pork producers. Farmers are truly the backbone of our nation. They dedicate their lives to raising healthy, happy pigs on the land that was often farmed by their ancestors. Farmers today practice their art in a deliberate way because they understand that raising healthy pigs while observing sound farming practices produces safe, high-quality pork products.
Don’t take my word for it, though! I was intrigued to learn more about pig farming on PorkCares.org. Pork eaters should know how and who is producing what they enjoy, so I highly encourage you to check it out.
What is Pork Picadillo?
The picadillo is a Spanish word meaning “minced” or “hash”. Our pork picadillo filling is made from ground (or minced) pork. Because picadillo is versatile, you’ll find that no two families have the same recipe. Some include raisins in their filling, I don’t. I don’t add raisins because that’s nasty.
The meat is seasoned with typical Hispanic favorites, such as oregano, Sazón, Ádobo, and black pepper. The pork picadillo’s amazing flavor is enhanced by an aromatic sofrito made from green bell pepper, onion, garlic, and a herbal paste called recao. Recao can be made at home or purchased in the jar. Guess which one I recommend?
The final ingredients used in this pork picadillo filling are olives, capers, tomato sauce, and yukon or russet potatoes.
Begin the Pork Picadillo Filling
Ground pork is what you’re going to use to make the picadillo filling. For larger crowds, feel free to double (or triple) the recipe. As written, this recipe will make 12-15 empanadas, depending how full you stuff them.
Traditionally, ground pork is what’s used to make pork picadillo, so, that’s what I recommend. Feel free to experiment with other cuts of pork, though. This handy-dandy chart will explain the different cuts of pork and how they’re best prepared. If I’m going a larger cut of meat, I prefer to use cuts from the loin (which has less marbling fat). Any cut that is recommended for sauteing on the linked chart is what you want to stick with.
In a skillet, use a spoon to break up your ground pork. Season with the spices while the pork is still raw. I like to season the meat prior to cooking so the spices are sealed into the pork. Brown the pork over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. You should always cook ground pork to 160°F. Because we’re going to continue cooking the ground pork, right now all we’re aiming for is color. Color equals flavor.
Add the aromatics and veggies
Once your pork is browned, add the aromatics (the green pepper, onion, and garlic) to the pan. Sauté the veggies for 3 minutes, or until they’re glossy. Add the diced potatoes to the pan and cook the pork picadillo mixture for another 4 to 5 minutes. The potatoes should be soft at this point.
Drain the picadillo in a colander to remove the excess fat.
Stir the recao flavoring base into the pork and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.
Finally, stir in the tomato sauce, chopped olives, and the capers. Once those ingredients have been incorporated, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and let the pork picadillo simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cool the Pork Picadillo
Once the pork filling has finished cooking, transfer it to a bowl (or leave it in the pan) and put it into the fridge to cool completely. Don’t use the hot filling to fill your empanada dough, or it’ll cause the dough to become gummy. The pork picadillo should be at room temperature (or colder) when you fill the pastry shells.
Now is a great time to make the empanada dough!
Make the Empanada Dough
These empanadas are what you’d find at a kiosk on the Puerto Rican roadside. Puerto Ricans don’t call these empanadas, actually. They call them pastelillos or empanadillas depending on where in the island you are. I’m just calling them empanadas because that’s what most of the world recognizes them as. That’s neither here nor there, though. In Puerto Rico, the thin, flaky pastry shell- known by its characteristic blisters- is deep fried instead of baked. Many South American countries bake their empanadas, but I find that only deep frying them creates that super flaky shell.
- all purpose flour
- lard (or vegetable shortening)
- ice water
- an egg
- baking powder
Prepare the Empanada Dough
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the lard to the flour mixture and use either your hand or a pastry cutter to pinch the fat into the flour.
You need to create small pieces of fat at this point- the final mix should look like a very coarse cornmeal.
In a separate bowl, combine a lightly beaten egg with ice water. Pour this into the center of the flour mixture and mix the two together until they form a stiff dough.
This is what the mixed dough will look like.
Now, weigh out, or just eyeball, 2 ounce pieces of dough. Form the dough into balls. Put the balls of dough back into the bowl you used to mix them and cover them with plastic wrap. The plastic will keep the dough from drying out.
Roll out the Empanada Dough
The dough rolls out without the need for any additional flour to keep it from sticking to the counter. If your dough does stick, you probably added too much water (or it’s really humid where you are). That’s fixable, no worries! Sprinkle a little bit of flour onto the rolling surface to keep the dough from sticking. Use your rolling pin to roll the balls of dough into round discs that are 8″ in diameter.
Keep the discs of dough from sticking to each other by placing a sheet of parchment paper between each as you roll them out. Once all rolled, you should have 13 pieces of dough. If you eyeballed the dough earlier, you may have more or less. Aim for at least a dozen, though.
Fill the Empanada Shells
Grab a small bowl of water. You’re going to use a little water to seal the folded empanada.
Drop a 1/4 cup of the pork picadillo filling onto one half of the disc after all of your balls have been rolled into pretty little circles.
Use your fingers to brush a light layer of water onto the outer rim of half the empanada disc.
Fold over the piece of the dough that doesn’t have the picadillo filling covering it. You’re going to form a half-moon shape. Press the edges of the dough together to seal them. Use your fingers to flute the edges of the dough. If you don’t feel proficient at this, just crimp the edges with the tines of a fork- like a pie crust.
This is what your filled and crimped pork empanada should look like. Continue filling and crimping the empanadas until you run out of dough and/or filling. When holding the empanadas, separate them with a piece of parchment again (I just recycle the parchment I used between the discs). The pork empanadas are now ready to fry.
If you opt to store these, I recommend laying them out in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and freezing until solid. Once they’re rock hard, pop them into a plastic freezer storage bag. Store the frozen empanadas for 6 months. When you’re ready to fry them, don’t thaw them, just make sure there’s no ice crystals on the surface. Brush any away if there are ice crystals. Add 5 minutes to the frying time when frying frozen empanadas.
The refrigerator isn’t the best place to hold the filled empanadas. The humidity causes the pastry dough to become wet and gummy, which makes frying them a nightmare.
Fry the Empanadas
After you’ve assembled all of the empanadas, bring 4 qts of lard (I mean, let’s go pork all the way, am I right?) or vegetable oil to 350°-375°F. I prefer to use a deep dutch oven so I don’t have to worry about oil popping on me. A deep fat fryer thermometer is going to be your friend today.
Fry your empanadas in batches. Crowding your pot will cause the temperature of the oil to drop, which in turn, will boil your empanadas. That will result in soggy, oily empanadas.
Drop two or three empanadas into the hot oil; as soon as they pop back to the surface of the oil, flip them over and begin your frying timer. This technique is important because the empanadas like to bubble up. A large enough bubble will prevent you from being able to flip the empanadas without having to hold it in place with the tongs. If a big bubble forms, do your best to flip the empanada and hold it in place with the tongs for a minute. This usually levels things out.
Fry the empanadas for 3 minutes after flipping them, then use your tongs to flip them over and fry another 3 minutes.
The empanadas are ready when they look this amazing! If your empanadas are browning too fast, turn the heat on the stove down and give the oil a chance to cool down before frying more.
Drain and Enjoy!
Transfer your fried empanadas to a dish lined with paper towels (or a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan) to give the oil a chance to drain. I don’t bother with keeping them warm. My family is usually mobbing me as soon I pull them out of the oil, so I don’t have to bother. You can keep them in a warm oven while you cook the rest.
Enjoy your Pork Picadillo Empanadas fresh from the fryer. Reheat any leftovers in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, or until the shell begins to sizzle.
A nice splash of homemade hot sauce is all I like to add to my empanadas. My children sometimes like to eat theirs with ketchup, but don’t judge them too harshly. We judge them enough as it is.
Be sure to pin this recipe for easy finding and don’t forget to visit my friends at the Wisconsin Pork Producers Association for more great pork recipes and tips.
Pork Picadillo Empanadas
- rolling pin
- 6qt dutch oven
- 1 pound ground fresh pork
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Ádobo seasoning blend
- 1 envelope Sazón seasoning mix
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon granulated onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper (from 1/2 large bell pepper)
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (from 1/2 large onion)
- 2 small Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup recao herb paste
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 6 manzanilla olives, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon capers
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 1/2 tablespoons lard (or vegetable shortening)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup ice water, plus more as needed
- 1 gallon lard or vegetable oil, for frying
Make the Pork Picadillo
- Over medium-high heat season the ground pork in a large skillet with the Ádobo, Sazón, granulated garlic, onion powder, oregano, and black pepper. Brown the pork over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes.
- Add the green pepper, onion, and garlic to the pan. Sauté the veggies for 3 minutes, or until they're glossy. Then add the diced potatoes to the pan and cook the pork picadillo mixture for another 4 or 5 minutes. The potatoes should be soft at this point.
- Drain the picadillo in a colander to remove the excess fat, then return the meat to the pan. Stir the recao flavoring base into the pork and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Finally, stir in the tomato sauce, olives, and capers. Once those ingredients have been incorporated, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and let the pork picadillo simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook ground pork picadillo to 160° F.
- Once the pork filling has finished cooking, allow it to cool completely in the refrigerator.
Make the Empanada Dough
- While you're waiting for your picadillo meat to cool down, prepare the empanada dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the lard to the flour mixture and pinch the fat into the flour using your hand or a pastry cutter. The final mix should resemble a very coarse cornmeal.
- In a separate bowl, combine the lightly beaten egg with ice water. Pour this into the center of the flour mixture and mix the two together until they form a stiff dough.
- Weigh out, or guesstimate, 2 ounce portions of empanada dough. Form the portioned dough into balls. Put the dough balls back into the bowl you used to mix the dough and cover them with plastic wrap. Rest the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. The plastic will keep the dough from drying out.
Roll Out and Fill the Empanada Dough
- Use your rolling pin to roll the balls of dough into round discs that are 8" in diameter. If your dough stick, sprinkle a little bit of flour onto the rolling surface to keep the dough from sticking.Keep the discs of dough from sticking to each other by placing a sheet of parchment paper between each as you roll them out.
- Fill a small bowl with water to use when sealing the filled empanada. Spoon a 1/4 cup of the pork picadillo filling onto one half of the empanada disc. Use your fingers to brush a light layer of water onto the outer rim of half the empanada disc.
- Fold over the piece of the dough that doesn't have the picadillo filling on it to create a half moon shape. Press the edges of the dough together to seal them. Use your fingers to flute the edges of the dough or crimp the edges with the tines of a fork- like a pie crust. Repeat this process until all of the dough and/or filling is used up.
- When holding the empanadas, separate them with a piece of parchment again (I just recycle the parchment I used between the discs). The pork empanadas are now ready to fry (see note).
Fry the Empanadas
- Bring the frying oil to 350°-375°F in a 6qt dutch oven or similar heavy-bottomed pot.
- Gently place two or three empanadas into the hot oil. When the empanadas pop back to the surface of the oil, flip them over and begin your frying timer.
- Fry the empanadas for 3 minutes after you've flipped them. Use your tongs to flip them over and fry another 3 minutes or until they are golden brown.
- Transfer the fried empanadas to a dish lined with paper towels (or a cooling rack placed over a sheet pan) and allow them to drain while you fry the remaining empanadas. If you'd like, you can keep them in a warm oven while you cook the rest.
- Enjoy your Pork Picadillo Empanadas fresh from the fryer, be careful! The filling will be hot. Reheat any leftovers in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, or until the shell begins to sizzle.
- Once all rolled, you should have 13 pieces of dough. If you eyeballed the dough earlier, you may have more or less. Aim for at least a dozen, though.
- Reheat any leftovers in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, or until the shell begins to sizzle.