Empanadillas, meaning little empanadas (see pronunciation here), are hand pies stuffed with various fillings that are most often fried, but that can be baked as well for a lighter tapa. Like so many other tapas, empanadillas are so popular all over Spain that they can’t be traced to a definite place of origin.
Empanadillas have almost always a half-moon shape that’s made out of a circle of dough folded by half. Although you can stuff this type of dough with almost anything at hand, the most common filling carries tuna canned in oil, pitted olives and hard-boiled egg; these ingredients are all bound by some tomato sauce.
These little morsels of goodness can be prepared in miniature size too for a delightful tapa to be equally loved by adults and children. The recipe that ensues is a true traditional formula that yields around 20-22 empanadillas exactly like my grandmother used to make.
- 110 g (1/2 cup) water, milk or white wine (or a mixture to your taste)
- 90 g (2/5 cup) olive oil
- 340-350 g (2¾ cup) AP flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 180 g (6-7 oz) canned tuna in oil, drained from the oil
- A large handful of pitted green olives
- Tomato sauce to bind everything
- At least 0.5 L (2 cups) olive oil
- Drain the canned tuna from its oil on a colander. Set aside.
- Boil the 2 eggs until hard. Cool in cold water. Peel and mince them in a bowl.
- Add the drained tuna and flake it with a fork, while mixing with the egg.
- Add the sliced olives and the tomato sauce till the filling has the right consistency to be used for the empanadillas, solid but spreadable so to say. Cover and keep in the fridge.
- Mix the salt into the olive oil and add the wine. Mix.
- Add the flour and blend thoroughly, either with a stand mixer, a food processor or by hand, until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. It must be soft but not sticky.
- Wrap it in plastic and let it rest for at least an hour for the gluten to relax, better in a cool spot (it doesn't need to be the fridge, but it doesn't harm either).
- Take half the dough and roll it on a floured surface with a rolling pin, up to a thickness of 2 mm (1/12 inch). Be careful no to pierce the dough.
- Using a cookie cutter or a plating ring 8 cm (around 3") wide cut circles of dough. Reroll the trimmings and cover in plastic foil.
- Place a heaped teaspoon of the tuna filling on each dough circle, moisten the edge with some water, fold the dough over the filling and seal the edge with a fork (see the step-by-step photos below).
- Transfer the finished empanadillas to a platter, cover with a kitchen towel for them not to dry and proceed in the same manner with the second half of the dough and the filling.
- When all the empanadillas are done, pour the olive oil in a small sauce pan or skillet so that the depth of the oil is around 5 cm (2").
- Heat to medium (the oil mustn't give up any smoke) and fry the empanadillas in small batches till golden. Use a slotted spoon to transfer each empanadilla to a dish lined with kitchen paper in order to absorb some of the fat.
- And enjoy freshly made and hot...
Tips for perfect empanadillas de atún, hand pies stuffed with tuna
- The main tip for making the best empanadillas is to prepare the wrappers dough exactly as instructed and deep fry the empanadillas in abundant hot olive oil. There’s no way around it.
- Of course, if you don’t like deep-frying or prefer to reduce the fat content, empanadillas can always be baked in the oven around 30 minutes at 180ºC (356ºF), previously brushed with some beaten egg. The result is different, but equally delicious.
- For the daring cooks out there, clean pork lard is often used in making the dough instead of olive oil. The result is a flakier fried dough that are favored by many. But we are aware that not many cooks outside of Spain favor the use of lard. Well, you should try it at least once in your life because you don’t know what you’re missing.
- In Spain canned tuna comes preserved in oil but also pickled and even in its own cooking juices; some people prefer the tangier flavor of pickled tuna but as we can’t be sure of the variety of tuna to be found everywhere else in the world just experiment with what you can find.
- Making empanadillas including the homemade dough is no doubt a bit time-consuming, but think that the prepared hand pies can be individually frozen, tightly wrapped in plastic or in zip bags, and fried later. So prepare a large batch and you won’t regret it.
- In Spain you can find off-the-shelf empanadillas wrappers at any supermarket so not many people prepare their own empanadilla dough. If you’re wondering if you can substitute for won-ton wrappers, for example, you can do it although they aren’t exactly the same.
- If you’re not a fan of tuna or you live in a place where you can’t find it easily, use minced/ground meat instead, previously cooked with some chopped onion for example. Or even roast leftovers. Get creative.
Empanadillas de atún, hand pies stuffed with tuna are best enjoyed on a sunny noon as the very customary Saturday or Sunday aperitivo, a light snack that’s an excuse to go out and have your favorite tapas at your favorite joint, usually between 1 and 2 PM (remember most Spaniards don’t have lunch before 3 PM). The aperitivo is normally accompanied by a wine, a beer or a vermouth… Fancy some?