Hand-Cut Beef, Egg, and Green Onion Empanadas (Empanadas Tucumanas)

June 19, 2017 (Last Updated: December 30, 2019)
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When flavorful fillings are wrapped in dough, my heart bursts with joy! This describes so many of my favorites foods, including but not limited to dumplings, ravioli, manti, borek, and of course empanadas.

Today we’ll be taking a look at some traditional Argentinian empanadas from Tucuman province. A crispy bread dough encases tender hand-cut beef (called carne a cuchillo) sauteed with onions and spices, and combined with chopped hard-boiled eggs and scallions. Cooks in this region consider it sacrilegious to use ground beef.

You’ll need to start your filling at least a day ahead of time. Flank steak is simmered with aromatics until fork tender, and then chopped by hand. The cooking liquid is used later when sauteing the filling, which begins with onions, paprika, cumin, chile flakes, and seasoning. This results in a super flavorful and juicy filling of melt-in-your-mouth beef. This mixture is refrigerated for at least 3 hours or overnight before adding the hard-boiled eggs and scallions.

After adding the hard-boiled eggs and scallions

The dough is easy to make, especially if you have a tortilla press to stamp out the rounds. The dough is soft, very pliable, and stretchy, making it a dream to work with. Traditionally, Argentinians use melted lard, but I used Spectrum non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, and it still turned out excellent.

My only issue with the original recipe is regarding the yield. The bread dough portion of the recipe is supposed to yield 28 empanada rounds, but realistically yielded 32 at approximately 55 g each. That’s not a horrible miscalculation, however the beef mixture generously filled only 22 of my 32 empanada discs.

I filled the last 10 dough rounds with grated cheese, and was thoroughly pleased by this folly, but would perhaps plan to increase the amount of filling in the future, or decrease the amount of dough since the filling was really only enough for about two-thirds of the number of empanada discs I had made. I could have certainly filled each dough round with less filling, but honestly, it would have felt very sparse for the size of the dough.

All in all, these empanadas are absolutely glorious! The filling is so tasty with just a hint of spice. The dough is exquisite, and not only easy and fun to work with, but creates a wonderful texture after baking. I’m so in love with it, that I would happily create my own fillings in the future to go with this dough (like the quick shredded cheese solution for the excess dough rounds).

Hand-Cut Beef, Egg, and Green Onion Empanadas (Empanadas Tucumanas)
Makes 28 empanadas (I yielded enough dough for 32 empanadas of this size, and enough filling for 22 empanadas–I would adjust the amount of filling/dough in the future to compensate)
(From Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America)

Cooked Flank Steak:
1 to 1 1/4 pounds (455 to 570 g) flank steak
1/2 small white onion, halved
1 celery stalk (with leaves, preferred) (I didn’t have celery so I used a carrot instead)
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme (I used a huge pinch of dried thyme)
1 large garlic clove
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used about half that)
2 cups finely chopped white onions
2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups beef broth (or cooking liquid from the flank)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (white and light green parts)

Bread Dough:
8 1/2 cups (1.1 kg) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3/4 cup melted pork or beef lard, or vegetable shortening
2 1/2 cups hot water (140°F)
Parchment paper cut into 28 (5-by-5-inch) squares
Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water (optional)

Place the flank steak in a large pot. Pour in enough water to cover the steak by about 1 1/2 inches. Add the onion, celery, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring the pot to a boil; cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is easily shredded with a fork.

Remove the steak from the pot, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid; set the broth aside. When the beef is cool enough to handle, remove any fat or sinew and slice it crosswise into thirds. Chop it into a fine dice; chill, covered until ready to use. If refrigerated, the steak will last, covered for up to 2 days. To freeze it, cover shredded or chopped beef with the cooking liquid just until submerged. Free it in containers for up to 3 months.

Make the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Add the white onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the paprika, salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and black pepper, stirring well to combine. Add the beef and broth, stirring to combine. Bring them to a boil; lower the heat to medium and continue cooking, uncovered, until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes (the beef mixture should be moist). Remove the filling from the heat and stir in the vinegar; cover and chill the filling completely, at least 3 hours (preferably overnight).

Make the bread dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the lard and 2 cups of the water. Stir well with a spatula, until the dough starts coming together. Switch to your hands and add the remaining 1/2 cup water, kneading until the dough comes together (it will be soft and sticky). Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 to 2 minutes (adding more flour as needed), until the dough holds together in a ball and no longer sticks to your fingers. Return the dough to the bowl; cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 28 equal pieces (about 2 ounces/55 g each). Roll each piece into a ball, folding the bottom of the dough onto itself so that the ends are at the bottom and the tops are smooth (the way you’d shape rolls). Place them on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover them with a clean towel; let them rest for 10 minutes. On a well-floured surface, press each ball into a slightly flat disc. Line a tortilla press with a zip-top freezer bag that has been cut open on three sides so that it opens like a book. Place a disc in the middle of the tortilla press and flatten it into a 5-inch round, 1/8-inch thick (or roll it out with a rolling pin). Stack the discs with parchment paper in between to avoid sticking.

Assemble the empanadas: Stir the eggs and green onions into the filling. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling in the center of each empanada. Fold the bottom of the dough to meet the top of the disc, encasing the filling and forming a half-moon, and press the edges together well. Make 1/2-inch edges by pressing the rims between your fingers to create a rope along the edges. The empanadas can sit uncovered at room temperature for 20 minutes before baking or can be refrigerated for up to 1 hour before baking.

Bake the empanadas and serve: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the empanadas on the prepared pans and brush them with the egg wash, if using. Bake them for 28 to 30 minutes, until their bottoms are golden (rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking, back to front and top to bottom, to ensure that all of the empanadas bake evenly). Transfer the empanadas to a cooling rack; let them cool for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.

Note: To freeze these empanadas, cool them to room temperature; set them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them until solid. When solid, transfer them to zip-top bags or freezer boxes and freeze them for up to 4 months. Reheat them in a 350°F oven until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.

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