Pastelillos de Carne (Puerto Rican Meat Turnovers)

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.
Let’s talk frying for a minute. 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!! 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!

Pastelillos de Carne (Puerto Rican Meat Turnovers)
Serves: 12 - 18
  • Filling
  • 1 lbs beef tips, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup recaito
  • 1 envelope of Sazon sin achiote
  • 10 pimiento stuffed olives, cut in half
  • olive oil
  • Adobo (a staple in every Latin home, it's magic seasoning)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup water

  • Dough
  • 3½ cups of flour
  • 2½ tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 3½ Tbs of vegetable oil, cold
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • ¾ cup of water
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Filling
  2. Heat skillet at med-high, drizzle with olive oil. Saute onions, garlic and recaito until onions are translucent.

  3. Drizzle beef with olive oil and season with Adobo. (I never measure this but I am pretty generous with it) Add beef, potatoes, olives, bay leaves, Sazon and water to skillet, stir and cover. Simmer on a low heat for about 45 mins, or until meat is tender.

  4. Dough

  5. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

  6. Cut in vegetable oil into the flour mixture. ( cut in: When a fat such as butter or oil is mixed with a dry ingredient like flour until they form into small particles.) I would use a food processor fitted with a metal blade and just pulse it. You can also use your trusty fingers to do the job.

  7. Place mixture in large bowl, add the egg and mix using a fork.

  8. Add the water a little at a time, mixing with a fork. When done mixing the dough brittle, or in pieces.

  9. Dust a workspace with flour, collect all of your dough. Knead the dough using your palm, as if you were washing clothes on an old washboard. Knead until the dough is soft and smooth. Form into a ball, cover with a cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes.

  10. Roll dough out into a rope about 15 inches long. (I roll, pull and squeeze) Once rolled out cut off disks about ¾ of an inch think. Dust your rolling pin and workspace and roll out into a thin paper circle.

  11. If you like you can cut and press them out, separate with wax paper and freeze for later use.

  12. Assemble

  13. Make sure you get the oil is nice and hot, you need the oil to be a least 1½ inch deep. Take your disk of rolled out dough, and fill with 1 spoonful of filling.

  14. Wet the edges of the dough with water or oil. Fold over to make a half moon, Trim the edges if you need to make them even. Pinch the dough together using your fingers, then go over it, pressing it with the teeth of a fork. You now have a pastelillo.

  15. Take your pastelillo and carfully drop into the oil. You should almost immediatly begin to puff and float, cook on each side about 2 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.

  16. Drain on a plate with paper towel, let cool and enjoy.


  1. Betty C says

    I would use my leftover pot roast shredded and add cheese, onions, and taco or enchilada seasonings.

  2. Arleen says

    Thx for explaining the difference between pastellios and empanadas. I grew up eating pastellios and my son-in-law and his family always request I make empanadas for all the special occasions. Now I understand the different nomenclature. So to please a large crowd of mixed ethicity I make mine with the small size Goya discos and picadillo without raisens. I use Sazon packets, both Goya Reccaito and Sofrito, and tomato sauce instead of paste. Some include olives others don’t by request.

  3. says

    I am Puerto Rican and these are making me nostalgic as they are not the same here unless my mom makes them for me! :-)

    I like to experiment with mine, and I like using Carne de Jueyes, Langosta y Camarones to make mine! (Delish but too pricey to do it that way often!) :-)

  4. Susan P. says

    Here we have pastelitos de guayaba y queso which are the Cuban pastries with cheese and guava. I would fill the pastelillos with sweet cheese and a fruit filling, raspberry or apricot.

  5. Gina M says

    I would fill with ground beef, onions, and mexican cheese!

    Thanks for the chance to win!
    wildorchid985 at gmail dot com

  6. Cheryl says

    I’d love to try just plain, traditional taco filling. Also, making little pepperoni pizza ones.

  7. Denise L says

    I love them made with the filling in your recipe, but I’ve dying to make cinnamon apple ones.

  8. Mary V says

    My husband and I love the pizza and picadillo-stuffed pastelillos or empanadillas – those are hard to beat. I had a pastelillo once with a filling made of shredded seasoned chicken and a thinly sliced hard-boiled egg that was different, but delicious!

  9. Alex says

    I would fill my Pastelillos with your recipe plus fresh cilantro. Might also be fun to add little cubes of fried plantain (since the deep fryer is out and all… ) instead of potato!

    I studied at the Univ. of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras as part of a National Student Exchange. This post brought back great memories of stopping at those roadside kiosks for “chuchifritos”! :)

  10. Jessie C. says

    I would fill with chopped fresh cilantro and ground turkey.
    tcarolinep at gmail dot com

  11. Kimmy Ripley says

    I would make a meatless version and use diced up portabello mushrooms instead of beef.

  12. says

    I’m so afraid to procure a deep fryer because I know how much I would use it. I would definitely fill my pastelillos with picadillo or any leftovers that I could morph into a quick hash before stuffing the dough. Mmmmm!

  13. Dawn Monroe says

    I’ve never made them so I would try something simple. Id try beef, onion and cheese or chicken, onions and green pepper. They look amazing!

  14. says

    Dominicans want to fry all the things too! ALL.THE.THINGS! I can never turn down pastelillos de carne. My mom usually makes them, freezes them, and drops them off in small batches. She knows… I will fry them all and hide in a corner, eating till they’re gone.

  15. courtney b says

    i would fill it with cheese! we are big cheese fans in this house! maybe some bacon too!

    thank you!


  16. says

    This is why I don’t have a deep fryer – I’d see a recipe as yummy looking as this and then want to eat it for weeks! Looks great!

  17. Ginger F says

    I like sweet potatoes in turnovers, so I’d include that (and maybe kale or a protein).

    Could you bake these in the oven instead of deep frying them?

  18. says

    There is a puerto rican restaurant I frequent since it is near my job. I always get beef pastelillos so when I saw this post I was so happy!!! They have the best rice and beans as well and I can’t find a recipe that replicates it at all! :( I am super excited to try these… truly! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Nicole Dz says

    I would fill my pastelillo with some raspberries and cream cheese for a yummy dessert.

  20. heather says

    I would fill my pastelillos with beef, cheese, bell pepper, red onion and a little garlic.

  21. Corrine Cocco says

    I would fill it with the Picadillo reciepe above with Maduros or ham with swiss and Maduros.

  22. Evelyn Rivera says

    I make Pastellios all the time! My fav way to make them is with a shrimp filling. YUM ok I have to make some NOW!!