I really can’t decide which I like better — baked or fried empanadas. The part of me that hates frying because of the inevitable oil splatters and the clean-up that follows says baked empanadas are better. But there’s also that part of me that adores the puffy, flaky, ultra crisp crust that is only possible with deep frying.
So, having baked empanadas many times before, I decided to make the fried version for a change. Just look at that crust! Can anything baked top that? I doubt it.
Here are some of the things I learned.
Start with a good pie crust recipe. Some cooks say there is a different formula for crust dough meant for frying but I don’t buy that. Baked or fried, I use the same pie crust recipe with very satisfactory results.
So, roll out the crust dough to about an eighth of an inch and cut out circles. To avoid deforming the perfectly cut circles, lift out the excess, not the circles.
Stuff the circles with your filling of choice then DOUBLE SEAL them. To double seal, first pinch together the edges, then crimp. Why the two-step sealing process? When you bake empanadas, the empanadas just lie there immobile on the baking tray. When frying them, they move around a lot in the hot oil. In fact, for best results, you need to flip them over. All that action can make the edges come undone unless you take extra precaution. Ergo, double seal the crusts.
Because the fat in the dough will likely soften with the rolling, filling, pinching and crimping, chill the prepared empanadas for about 20 minutes prior to frying. They are easier to handle when firm.
Heat the cooking oil. You’ll need a lot. This is deep frying and the empanadas need to be totally submerged in oil.
What is the best temperature? I go with medium heat. Hot enough to create that puffy crisp golden texture but not hot enough to brown the surface too much yet leave the inside still undercooked. What’s that in terms of degrees? I don’t know — I’ve never used a thermometer to measure oil temperature. You can test the oil though. Drop a small piece of pie crust, if it floats after about six to eight seconds without looking burnt, the temperature should be fine. Six to eight seconds? Isn’t that too long? This is dense uncooked pie crust dough, not a piece of already cooked bread.
Once the oil is hot enough, cook the empanadas IN BATCHES. Never overcrowd the pan. Too many empanadas in the pan at the same time and the oil temperature will drop. The trick to deep frying empanadas (or deep frying ANYTHING, for that matter) is to make sure the oil is hot enough to immediately seal the surface of the food so that it doesn’t soak up so much oil. So, cook in batches. Flip the empanadas over for even cooking. The frying should take no more than three to four minutes, if the thickness of the crust is correct.
Scoop out the empanadas with a kitchen spider and allow any excess oil to drip back into the pan.
If you’re frying A LOT of empanadas, place the already cooked ones side by side on a rack while you fry the rest. DO NOT stack them one on top of the other to avoid steam buildup which will make the crusts soggy.
And this is how a perfectly fried empanada looks.