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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cheddar Carnitas Empanadas

Cheddar Carnitas Empanadas with purple potatoes, capers and olives, baked in a sourdough puff pastry crust.

Empanadas are a great way to combine savory ingredients in a handheld crescent.  I think that almost every culture has meat pies; it's a logical way to put together a meal, wrapped and then baked in a crust.  Workers can take them along for lunch, and usually they don't require reheating. 

With a solidly middle-American upbringing, my idea of a meat pie was a frozen pot pie in a a little aluminum foil pan.  Not very close to the real thing, but we loved them. When I moved to the East coast, I was amazed at the variety of meat pies out there: English pork pies, Spanish empanadas, Australian meat pies, Russian piroshky, Italian calzone, and even tantalizingly, Natchitoches Louisiana meat pies.  My recipe is actually closer to a Portuguese Pastelillo, because of the thin and extremely flaky crust.  However, my pies are baked, not fried, because I'm using Sourdough Puff Pastry rather than a flour disco.

I've loved Carnitas forever: I spent three years running around Mexico as a young woman, and I have vivid memories of roadside stands out in the middle of nowhere, with large pieces of slow-cooked pork hanging on hooks over a grill.  They would cut off a piece of pork, then cube it and fry in hot oil briefly; this was sprinkled with salt and served immediately on fresh, warm corn tortillas, sometimes alone, sometimes with a little guacamole or salsa.  This was of course indescribably delicious, and I've never found Carnitas like those in the states.  Perhaps that is even more unlikely in Vermont..and so I made Carnitas the centerpiece of these empanadas, accented by onion, purple potato from my garden, capers and olives. I put in some of my Cheddar, to add brightness and fluidity to the filling.

Cheddar Carnitas Empanadas


For the Sourdough Puff Pastry:
1 and 1/2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup  Thick Sourdough Starter
1/4 tsp salt
6 T milk
8 oz unsalted butter (2 sticks)

For the Filling:
1 1/2 lb thick pork chops
1 large Spanish (common yellow) onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely choppped
1/2 lb purple potatoes, (or other small potatoes), sliced
3 cloves pickled garlic, (or 2 cloves fresh garlic)
1/4 tsp  ancho chili powder
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped green olives with pimientos
2 T capers
salt, pepper


  1. Carnitas:  In a nonreactive lidded frying pan, put the pork chops and enough water to cover by about 1/2 inch.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and put on the lid.  Boil on medium for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until water is gone and the pork has started to brown in its own rendered fat.  (While the Carnitas are boiling, you can make the Sourdough Puff Pastry) .
    When the water is gone,
    turn the chops and brown on both sides.  At this point the pork should be fork-tender.  Allow to cool to room temp, or make these ahead and refrigerate. When cool, trim off fat and chop into 1/2-inch cubes.

    When ready to use,
    fry the Carnitas in 1/2" of hot cooking oil for about 4 minutes or until golden on the outside.  Do not overcook and dry them out. Drain and set aside.

  2. Sourdough Puff Pastry:
    Put the flour in a circle on a clean countertop and make a well in the center.
    Place the thick sourdough starter, salt and milk in the center of the circle.

    Using a plastic spatula, quickly fold the flour up and into the starter, until a soft dough is formed.

    Roll the dough on the floured counter, to a 12-inch square.  Grate the butter in food processor or by hand, and make a butter diamond in the center of the square. 

    Fold the corners of dough to the center, enclosing the butter.  Seal the edges together.

    Pat, then roll gently to a rectangle.  Fold like a letter:  right side folds to a point 2/3 up the length.  Then the left side folds over the right, to the edge, forming 3 equal layers. Folding the dough in this way is called a Turn.

    The next turn: Roll to a rectangle again, and fold like a letter again. Refrigerate 20 minutes to allow the dough and butter to cool and reach an equal temperature.

    Remove from refrigerator, and give the dough another turn.  Refrigerate 20 minutes, and repeat for the final turn (4 in all).  The pastry is ready to use; roll to a 10-inch square, and refrigerate on a floured plate until ready to use

  3. Filling:
    Add 2 T oil to a saute pan, add the onions and carrots.  Cook on high heat 3 minutes, then add the sliced potatoes and chopped garlic.
    Continue saute until vegetables are tender.  Add the chili powder, olives and capers, adjusting flavor with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.
    When cool, mix in the shredded cheddar cheese.

  4. Assembly:
    On a floured countertop, roll out the chilled pastry to a sheet 20" x 12".  Cut a circle with a large cutter, then roll out to 6" diameter.  Fill with a spoonful of vegetable filling, topped with several Carnitas (you may break these apart if necessary).

    Fold over and crimp the edge either with a fork, or by folding the bottom edge over the top.  Transfer to a baking sheet.

  5. Bake at 400F for 25 minutes or until crisp, risen and golden.  Serve hot.




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