You may be looking at these little treats and think, OH! Empanadas! but they are not empanadas they are pastelillos (pas-te-lee-joes). Take that confused look off your face and allow me to explain. In Puerto Rico what you may call empanadas we call empanadillas, because empanadas normally references something that is breaded and fried, think chicken fried steak. So, what is the difference between empanadillas and pastelillos? If you ever visit Puerto Rico and ask for a pastelillos you will get a small turnover made with a thin dough, crimped edge and fried. Empanadillas are a large turnover with a thicker dough, rolled edge and fried. Basically, a pastelillo is a snack, and an empanadilla is lunch.
When I was in college I road several pisicorre (passenger van buses) to get from my home in the country to my school in the city. It was a long voyage to get to and from school. Right next to the bus terminal was a little joint that sold pastelillos and cold malta. Every day, on my way back home I would buy myself one of each to eat on the walk home. Pastelillos and malta sustained me during most of years in high school and college.
Now that we have the difference between an empanadilla and pastelillos covered let’s have a chat about how to make these amazing little meat filled turnovers. The dough is very similar to a pasta dough. In fact, I use a KitchenAid pasta dough attachment to roll the dough for empanadillas. It works perfectly! And, if you can get your hands on an empanada press it’s even easier. If the idea of making dough is a little too daunting, you can use Goya discos found in the specialty or Latin food freezer section. Today the pastelillos you find at roadside kiosks are filled with a simple meat filling, but the benefit of making them at home is you can fill them with all kinds of goodies. The filling is made of ground beef, potatoes, olives, raisins and a savory sauce. It’s a very filling and satisfying filling.
One of the great things about partnering up with JCPenney has been having access to great high-quality kitchenware that makes my time in the kitchen easier. Let’s talk frying for example. I’ll be honest; Puerto Ricans want to fry all the foods, but frying can be a pain. Then I got my hands on a Waring Pro Professional Deep Fryer and now frying is a snap, which is dangerous… very dangerous! Fry all the foods!! JCPenney has a great collection of deep fryers for your choosing. Having a countertop deep fryer makes all the difference! I love this fryer because it self regulates the heat, has a built in timer and is big enough to fry generous batches without having to overcrowd the basket. If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can also use a dutch oven or large skillet. If you choose to use a skillet pick a skillet with a heavy bottom that evenly distributes heat. Nonstick skillets are great because they are easy to clean out and don’t form that sticky oil buildup. My favorite kind of skillet to use for frying is a cast iron skillet.
Pastelillos can be filled with all kinds of wonderful and delicious foods. The most-popular ones found around schools are pizza that is just cheese and tomato sauce. If you are traveling along the coast of Puerto Rico, you’ll find crab filled pastelillos, and they can even make a wonderful dessert when filled with guava and cream cheese. My friend Rebecca of Foodie with Family just make some guava and cream cheese handpies that look amazing!
What would you fill your pastelillo with? Let me know in the comments below to enter for a chance to win a $100 JCPenney Gift Card!
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