So, here’s the deal. I have fresh ground masa and I have a batch of pork lengua in green chili. Empanadas seem like a good way to use these things together. A frying pan with hot oil will marry them together in a tasty luscious way, at least in theory. I have made empanadas numerous times and even once or twice made my own dough. On the other hand, the right brand of wrappers acquired at my local Hispanic market are cheap, easy, and consistent. I will take the easy way, at least on occasion, but not today. Lengua Empanadas it is.
I looked online, Google knows all, for a recipe for fresh Masa empanadas. Although I found listings for various recipes for Corn Masa Dough empanadas, all but one used Masa Harina or corn flour. I am not working with corn flour, I have the real fresh masa ground from the corn. Why use a dried product if I don’t have to. I was able to find a site with the header hunter·angler·gardener·cook by Hank Shaw. His recipe as the others calls for using masa harina but he then goes on to say that for himself, he buys Mexican corn, nixtamalizes it himself, and grinds his own fresh masa. I like this guy. I am sure with a further search I could find others who use the fresh stuff, but after looking at quite a number of sites, his was the first that had the information I was looking for. It was something I knew was being done, but I wanted to see if there were any tricks or techniques I was not aware of. I found none.
Back to the kitchen to get this done. First, I had to heat the stew to thin the sauce and drain the meat, onions, and corn kernels. Cold had made the product was pretty gelatinous. That done, I reserved the juice for a dipping sauce and removed the meat to the cutting board for a fairly fine chop. Any larger pieces would certainly poke through the very delicate dough. A quick mix with the rest of the solids required just a little bit of reserved sauce for the moisture needed.
Next, in small separate bowls went finely chopped cabbage and queso fresco. On to the tortilla. I made 4 small balls of dough and put them in yet another bowl covered to keep them moist. Next, I put some oil in 9 inch SS pan to heat on the stove, only enough to come halfway up the empanada. Back to my prep station with a clean dry board and the parchment paper from yesterday’s taco making. Putting one of the balls of dough on the paper and folding it to make a packet, I used a 3.5 quart saucepan to press the disc flat. A tortilla press is great, but I have little room for one task equipment. Typical emapanadas are approximately 3 inches so that is the size I was going for. Gently removing the flat disc from the paper, I cradled it in my left palm and spooned in first the meat mixture, added a bit of chopped cabbage, and then just a crumble of the cheese. This one was overstuffed and getting the edges to seal was a challenge. I gently flattened the crescent to let it cook more evenly. Various holes appeared and all I could do was try to seal them and hope it would not break up in the hot oil.
Gently, ever so gently, into the now hot oil it went. I let it fry for several minutes and with a spatula tipped it up to see a nice brown crust. Pushing it to the side of the pan, I used the vertical surface to tip it over and fried the other side. Lots of splatter as some of the liquid inside found it’s way into the oil and the screen did little to help. Unusually, I had donned an apron just for this eventuality.
It did not take long for the 2nd side to crisp up and onto a paper towel in a pie pan to drain. Spooning a bit of the reserved sauce onto a serving plate was followed by the crisp brown treat. It was hard to wait the few minutes to avoid burning my tongue but I managed. The empanada was crisp on the outside and juicy inside. Just the right mix of filling. The taste of the fresh corn masa was apparent and added to the taste profile nicely.
By the 4th empanada, I was able to coral my tendency to overfill and actually got a decent crimp. I was tired of trying to get a photo of everything so there is no evidence that my techniques had evolved. You will have to take my word for it.
I was able to share my experiment and they did go over pretty well. That said, it is not likely the dish will make it into my regular rotation, just too much work and very finicky at that. Of course, if I am looking to impress you, fresh masa empanadas may make another appearance.
After writing the above, I found out that if using fresh masa, the resulting dish is actually called Quesadilla Frita or fried quesadilla. It eats like an empanada anyway.