Empanadas, the beloved tasty turnovers enjoyed across Latin American countries, are perfect for turning leftover carnitas into something extraordinary. If you made carnitas and find yourself with a lot of leftovers, you're in luck. Transforming already flavorful carnitas into delicious Carnitas Empanadas is easy to do.
In this post, we'll walk you through the steps to create homemade empanadas that with a golden-brown, flaky crust filled with tender carnitas meat and a fusion of flavors straight from Latin America. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned home chef, this easy empanada recipe will have you making these delicious hand-held treats in no time.
This recipe was inspired by my recipe for Chorizo Empanadas.
- Guajillo Salsa
- Dried guajillo chiles
- Dried chile de arbol chiles
- Garlic cloves
- Low sodium chicken stock
- Yellow onion
- Ground cumin
- Mexican oregano
- Bay leaves
- Empanada Dough
- Masa harina
- Kosher salt
- Baking powder
- Canola oil
- Leftover carnitas meat
- Fresh salsa
- Mexican crema or sour cream
- Green onions
See recipe card for quantities.
Sear the Carnitas Meat
The key to making great carnitas empanadas is to sear the carnitas meat before making the filling. There is just something special about the flavor of seared carnitas. The caramelized goodness that comes from searing enhances the flavor of the empanada filling.
Sear the carnitas meat in a skillet over medium heat.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a bit of olive oil and sear the carnitas meat.
Make the Salsa
Toast the chiles in a cast iron skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Flip the chiles over and toast the other side for another minute. Remove the chiles from the pan and cover with cold water. Let the chiles soak for 30 minutes.
Drain the chiles and add them to a blender along with the garlic, onion and chicken stock. Blend for 3 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture is too thick.
Strain into a small sauce pan. Add the cumin, oregano and bay leaf and simmer on low heat for 5 - 10 minutes. Add the warm salsa to the carnitas meat and stir.
Make the Dough
Homemade empanada dough is far better than any store-bought empanada dough. This homemade dough is very easy to make, but don't skip the lard. Lard is used frequently in dough recipes for empanadas and tamales. During the cooking process, the lard melts and escapes, leaving a wonderfully crunchy and tasty empanada.
Combine the dry ingredients by adding the masa harina, salt and baking powder to the bowl of a stand mixer and blending with a paddle attachment for one minute. The key is to make sure the baking powder is evenly distributed. Add the water and the lard and mix for two minutes on medium-low speed until the dough just comes together and stop. Avoid the temptation to overwork the dough. Knead the empanada dough on a lightly floured work surface until smooth.
Flatten ¼ cup of dough into a disc, no thinner than ⅛". I was able to do this with an old tortilla press with a large surface area by pressing down very lightly, then rotating the disc and doing it again. If you are unable to make the disc on a tortilla press because it's too thin, just use a rolling pin and cut out circles.
Assemble the Empanadas
Place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture in the bottom half of a flattened disc of dough, then fold it over and seal by gently pressing the edges together.
Then seal the seam with the tines of a fork. The dough will be soft and fragile. Be gentle with it. If the dough tears, patch the hole with another little piece of dough.
Fry the Empanadas
Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350°F. Place an empanada onto a spider and gently lower it into the hot oil. Let the spider stay submerged for a few seconds until the empanada floats and lifts off the spider.
Cook the empanadas in the hot oil for four minutes. Then, turn the empanadas over, using a wooden spoon or spider, and cook for another four minutes. The total cooking time for empanadas is exactly 8 minutes at 350°F. The golden brown color develops in the last 30 seconds.
Cook the empanada in hot oil for 4 minutes per side. Then remove and drain on paper towels for the best results.
Let the empanadas cool for a few minutes, then serve with a side of sour cream or your favorite salsa. Enjoy them while they're still warm.
The truly nice thing about making these at home is all the different empanada fillings that you can use. Seasoned ground meat like beef or chicken can be used a filling. Shredded beef and cheese empanadas are also quite good.
Good chili powder could be substituted for the dried chiles. If you like a little more kick in your empanadas, add a little cayenne pepper to the carnitas meat mixture.
A spider is a helpful tool whenever you are deep frying. It is basically a mesh strainer with a long handle. Empanada dough is delicate and a spider makes it easy to get the empanadas in and out of the hot oil without falling apart.
Store leftover empanadas, arranged in a single layer, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you're ready to enjoy them again, simply reheat them in the oven. Uncooked empanadas do not store well. The dough falls apart.
Don't skip the lard. Lard has its place in Mexican cuisine, particularly in empanadas and tamales. It makes a very light and flaky crust. Also, the temperature of the oil is critical. If the oil is too hot, the empanadas may burn. If the oil is not hot enough, they will take longer to cook and will be soggy. Heat the oil to 350°F and the empanadas will be just right.
Whether you're craving a delicious snack or a hearty meal, these empanadas are sure to satisfy. With leftover carnitas and this easy recipe, carnitas empanadas can be a part of your next family gathering. Experience the flavors of Latin American cuisine and enjoy these delicious tasty treats in your own home,.. Enjoy!
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
- Roasted Corn Enchiladas with Poblano Peppers and Salsa Verde
- Tex-Mex Comfort Food: Brisket-Stuffed Chile Rellenos
- Ultimate Queso Fundido with Chorizo: The Perfect Party Appetizer
- Irresistible Carnitas Nachos - A Tex-Mex Delight
- Spicy Chorizo Empanadas
- Texas Grilled Corn Ribs - With a Little Heat and a Lot of Flavor
- Best Beer-Braised Pork Carnitas Slow Cooked in a Dutch Oven
- Tex-Mex Charro Beans Made in a Smoker
Homemade Carnitas Empanadas Made with Leftover Carnitas
- 8 dried Guajillo chiles stemmed and seeded
- 10 dried Chile de Arbol stemmed and seeded
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup low sodium chicken stock
- ½ cup yellow onion chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups Masa Harina
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 tbs lard
- 4 cups canola oil
- ½ lb leftover carnitas meat
- ¼ cup fresh salsa
- ¼ Mexican crema or Sour Cream
- ¼ green onions sliced
- Preheat the canola oil for frying the empanadas in a deep sauce pan or Dutch oven to 350°F.
- Toast the chiles in a hot pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Flip the chiles over and toast the other side for another minute. Remove chiles from pan and cover with cold water. Let the chiles soak for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, breakup the carnitas meat and sear it in a pan over medium heat with a little olive oil. Cook for 3 - 4 minutes, flip the meat over and cook for another 3 - 4 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
- Drain the chiles and add them to a blender along with the garlic, onion and chicken stock. Blend for 3 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture is too thick. Strain into a small sauce pan. Add the cumin, oregano and bay leaf and simmer on low heat for 5 - 10 minutes. Add the warm salsa to the carnitas meat and stir.
- Add masa harina, salt and baking powder to the bowl of a stand mixer and blend with a paddle attachment for one minute. The key is to make sure the baking powder is evenly distributed. Add the water and lard and mix for two minutes on medium-low speed. Using a tortilla press, flatten ¼ cup of empanada dough to a thickness of ⅛", no thinner. Add a scant ¼ cup to the lower third of the dough. Gently fold the dough over the filling and press to seal. Press the tines of a fork along the edge of the seal.
- Carefully drop the empanada in the hot oil. Cook for 4 minutes. Turn the empanada over and cook for another 4 minutes. Drain and serve with salsa, Mexican cream and green onions.