The Empanada: Argentina adventures

The empanada

The land of empanadas. I had to learn what these were all about. There were two main types, meat filled and veggie filled. I had them baked, fried, and grilled in the span of two months. And, to be honest, it was enough. They are delicious but they are a much heavier cousin than a traditional taco. They also fill you up when they are meant as an appetizer before a big Sunday Asado. You always fill up on empanadas and don’t have room for meat unless it does last the whole day. I guess as tourists they speed up these things.

The class we took on empanadas was a rainy day in Cordoba on a Tuesday night at 7:30pm. It was a typical Cordobese house with Gise and her boyfriend there to greet us. Her grandma was out of town for her son’s birthday. Her grandma was usually the one who would teach our groups. She was 95, and she still makes the filling because she loves to work, is how Gise liked to describe it.

There was about 14 of us learning how to fold empanadas. I think the best part was that she made a few beforehand so we could snack and drink beer and wine as we were folding. By the time the next batches came out our appetites increased and we were burning our tongues on hot empanada juices.

Gise was a great empanada teacher. She apologized frequently for her bad English but it made her more charming and endearing. The one term she kept using was “humide” when she meant to say “juicy”. She was explaining how back in the day, the best empanadas were the juiciest ones. The wives of Gauchos would make their husbands empanadas to take out into the field and at lunch time they would sit with their legs spread open as they ate them to avoid the juice dripping on their clothes. Everyone giggled at that point naturally. She continued to say, “that’s why they call them ‘open-legged’ empanadas.” In any case, the juicy factor of an empanada is super important, and the precise preparation is key to ensuring moistness.

Starting with the meat, a new technique is used to preserve its juiciness. It was the first time I heard it. Raw meat is put in a bowl and boiling water is poured over it. Then, it’s drained and repeated. They say that this ensures the meat stays moist during the cooking. Also, the filling must be cooled completely before filling the empanadas so the fat can congeal a bit.

The rest of the process made sense, to add chopped onion, spices, and chopped up hard boiled eggs. And, then to fold them nice and pretty. Baked, they are great, but fried and grilled over wood they are evenly more heavenly.

I think the best empanadas I had were out in the country when we went to play Polo, about an hour outside Buenos Aires. I asked them how they prepared it and they said they froze them and then placed them directly on the wood-fired grill from the freezer. Even though they were charred in certain places, the flavor was distinct and incredible. Everyone kept ouing and awing about them. Both of my North Face shoes are still stained with the juices of those empanadas.

If you want to learn how to make empanadas, check out the video I made in Argentina!

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