These Cuban-style beef empanadas are filled with a flavorful picadillo. They’re great for breakfast, brunch or as a mid-day snack. Pair an empanada with a shot of Cuban coffee for an authentic Miami style pick me up.
Empanadas are easy to make and there’s no special equipment required. These are fried empanadas, but you can bake them too; try these baked beef empanadas. For more empanada recipes try these chicken empanadas that are filled with shredded chicken in a savory tomato sauce and these ground turkey empanadas.
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- Meat – Use lean ground beef, the leaner the better to avoid too much oil at the end (see recipe tips to deal with this if it happens). We use ground sirloin.
- Oil – For the beef filling we use olive oil but you can use your favorite, as long as it’s suitable for sauteing. To fry the empanadas use a neutral (flavorless) oil with a high smoke point (we use canola oil).
- Vegetables – Onions, carrots, celery, and garlic flavor the picadillo.
- Liquid – Tomato sauce adds color and flavor, a little beef broth and white wine add a special touch to the filling.
- Herbs and spices – Dried oregano, cumin, salt and black pepper are seasonings used in a traditional Cuban sofrito.
- Olives – we use pitted Spanish olives and cut them in half
- Large Empanada Disks – These are round, thin dough discs that come frozen, usually ten to a pack. In Spanish they are called discos para empanadas or masa para empanadas.
- Egg – Will act as a glue to seal the empanadas
Frequently asked questions
Empanadas are stuffed pastries that are baked or fried. They can be stuffed with savory minced meat like chicken, beef and chorizo, or with something sweet.
Freeze the empanadas by placing them on a parchment paper lined sheet pan leaving space between them. Freeze until they are frozen through. Then you can store them in a freezer bag or an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Depending on where you live you may be able to find them in the freezer section of larger food chains or Latin markets. Defrost the discs according to package directions prior to using.
- Allow the filling to cool completely, refrigerator chilled is better. If the filling is too warm the empanada dough will tear.
- It is best to work with the discs when they are cold. They will be difficult to work with if they warm up. Pop them in the refrigerator or freezer for a couple of minutes if they do get too warm (soft).
- Cover the empanadas and unused dough with a damp (not wet) kitchen or paper towel to prevent them from drying out and cracking.
- We recommend using lean ground beef for this recipe. That said, fat content in ground beef can be unpredictable and you may end up with too much oil.
- To remove excess oil after browning (or at the end) pile the ground beef to one side of the skillet and tip it slightly so the oil pools opposite the meat. Use a large spoon to scoop most (or all) of it out. Then level the skillet, place it back over the heat and continue with the recipe.
We use a (mostly) traditional Cuban picadillo for the empanada filling. We do a couple of things differently. One, we don’t add the fried potatoes and two, we don’t leave it quite as saucy.
Gently sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.
Raise the heat, add the beef and spices and cook until browned.
Next, add the tomato sauce, beef broth, and olives.
Cook the picadillo gently until it is saucy, not soupy.
Taste the picadillo and add salt, if needed. As a reference we added ¼ teaspoon to ours.
Take the skillet off the heat and allow the beef to cool completely. Speed this up by giving it a good stir occasionally, to let the steam escape. Then, transfer the meat to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled through.
Prepare a station to build the empanadas while the filling cools.
- Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper to place the empanadas.
- If you need to stack the empanadas, use a piece of parchment paper in between so they don’t stick and break.
- Prepare a small bowl with the beaten egg.
- Work with one empanada disk at a time.
Add about 2 heaping tablespoons of the picadillo in the middle.
Use a brush to moisten around the edges of the dough with the egg.
Fold the round in half, press the edges together gently.
Use a fork to press the edges and create a seal.
Set the empanada on the lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Fry the empanadas
Heat the oil over medium high heat, we need the oil at about 325°F to 350°F. Add 1-2 empanadas, depending on the size of the pan. Fry them for 1-2 minutes until golden.
Carefully flip, and fry for another 1-2 minutes until golden on both sides.
It may be necessary to lower the heat a bit for the second, third, (etc.) batch. If the oil is too hot the empanadas may brown too much and too quickly.
Make ahead, storing and reheating
- Make the filling 1-2 days ahead and store it in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.
- You can make the empanadas a 2-3 hours ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap before frying.
- I don’t recommend storing them for longer because the empanada dough can get too moist. Let them sit out of the fridge for 15-20 minutes before frying.
- The fried empanadas will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days in an airtight container.
- Reheat them by popping them in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until heated through. Or heat them in a preheated oven (300 °F) for 10-15 minutes or until heated through).
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 Small Onion finely diced
- 1 Carrot finely diced
- 1 Celery Rib finely diced
- 2-3 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon Salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon Cumin
- ¼ teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 pound Lean Ground Beef we use ground sirloin
- ¼ cup White Wine
- 8 ounce can Tomato Sauce
- 2 tablespoon Beef Broth
- ½ cup Pitted Spanish Olives halved or chopped
- 10 Large Empanada Discs
- 1 Egg beaten
- Oil for frying enough to cover the bottom of a large, deep skillet by 1 inch – use a neutral (flavorless) oil with a high smoke point (we use canola oil)
Make the empanada filling
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook about 5 minutes until the onions are translucent, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, add the ground beef, salt, pepper, cumin and oregano to the skillet. Stir to combine the ingredients well, breaking up any large pieces with a wooden spoon or a spatula.
- Arrange the ground beef in one layer and cook for 3 minutes undisturbed. Stir well, arrange in one layer again and cook 3 minutes or until browned. Stir and break up any remaining large pieces.
- Add the wine to the skillet; cook about 1-2 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates, stir frequently.
- Lower the heat to medium. Add the tomato sauce, beef broth and the olives, stir to combine.
- Lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook the picadillo for approximately 15-20 minutes until most of the liquid cooks away. Stir occasionally. Keep it at a simmer, if the sauce is boiling too vigorously, lower the heat a bit.
- If the picadillo is still too saucy after the cooking time, then uncover the skillet and let it simmer for a few minutes.
- Taste the picadillo and add salt, if needed. As a reference we added ¼ teaspoon to ours.
- Take the skillet off the heat and allow it to cool. Then, transfer the meat to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled through.
While the picadillo cools, prepare a station to build the empanadas
- Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper to place the empanadas.
- Prepare a small bowl with the beaten egg.
- Working with one empanada disk at a time, add 2 heaping tablespoons of the picadillo in the middle.
- Moisten around the edges of the dough with the egg using a pastry brush.
- Fold the round in half, press the edges together gently.
- Use a fork to press the edges together and ensure the seal.
- Set the empanada on the lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the ingredients.
Fry the empanadas
- Heat the oil over medium high heat. We need the oil at about 325°F to 350°F add 1-2 empanadas, depending on the size of the pan. Fry them for 1-2 minutes until golden.
- Carefully flip and fry for another 1-2 minutes until golden on both sides.
- Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon or spatula and set on a baking sheet lined with a cooling rack or on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with the remaining empanadas.
- It may be necessary to lower the heat a bit for the second, third (etc.) batch. If the oil is too hot the empanadas may brown too much and too quickly.