This is probably one of the easiest dishes one can make. It doesn’t take much ingredients to make.. The best part is, you can make them out of virtually any filling you can possibly think of. I am going to provide you guys with yet another recipe from my dear old mother. All that I have learned has come from my mom. Remembering the earlier days when I’d be standing in the kitchen watching her cook…Eventually she taught me how to cook but that is another story for another time. Pastelillos are also very easy to transport since all you do is fry them, let them cool down and pack them into either an aluminum tray or plastic container with top. I always have gone with the aluminum tray because sometimes they will end up soggy inside the plastic container. If you have gone to Hispanic house parties and important life events, you will know that this is one of the quintessential appetizers for the event ranging from bite size to full size….meat to meatless by using cheese..etcetera..
Lets start with the direct definition…Pastelillos (pas-te-lee-joes) de carne directly translates to meat turnovers. They aren’t empanadas like most people try to interchange. Empanadas usually reference something that has been breaded and fried like a piece of boneless chicken breast in our culture. The huge difference between a Pastelillo and an Empanada is the dough used. Empanadas are large turnovers with a much thicker dough with a rolled edge and sometimes baked rather than fried. A Pastelillo is a turnover made with a thinner dough, crimped edge(usually done with a fork) and fried to perfection. Bonus points if it has those bubbles on the outside(when I make mine, you will see what I am talking about). Both types are made with various types of fillings.
Fillings…..are super easy and have come a long way from when I was a child.. You can use your imagination. Ours has always been ground meat with diced potatoes that stay well hidden in the background. As I got older, I developed a more sensitive stomach and couldn’t exactly enjoy ground beef as much so we switched over to ground turkey. Then several other meats like shrimp, shredded chicken, pork chunks, cheese, and veggie. The base is easy. Back when my mother made it, she only used sazon, adobo, sofrito, and that was it. Over the years, we evolved and started adding our own spin on it. So I use similar ingredients as well as my own: Sofrito, Garlic, Onion, Tomato Sauce, Sazon, Peppers, and Potato.
On a brief side note, A lot of you may be asking what is Sofrito? Sofrito is an essential seasoning in Cuban, Dominican Republican, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Spanish Cuisines. Sofrito is a blend of herbs and spices that is typically used to flavor beans, meats, rice, and various stews. Base sofrito seasonings are usually made of garlic, onions, green, orange, and red bell peppers, tomatoes, annatto seeds (also called achiote seeds), cilantro, Mexican Oregano or parsley. Puerto Rican Sofrito or Recaito as we know it, is made with cilantro root, recao leaves, aji dulce, garlic cloves, onions, green peppers, and thrown into a blender until completely blended. It is put into several jars since you do get a big serving depending on how much you made. These can be frozen just make sure to not put them in any glass.
The dough can either be made or bought at the supermarket under the name discos (turnover discs). They can be found at any supermarket in the freezer section. You will see them in plain white or yellow. The yellow just has an ingredient to add color to it. It doesn’t really taste that much different. Now they also have discos de yucca which means turnover dough made with yucca. What is the major difference with these? They don’t soak up as much grease as the other ones. In fact, they stay fairly dry but still maintain the crunchy exterior one would get from the others. Which do I go with? Whichever ones I can get my hands on.
Once they are all thawed out and the filling has been made, you can finally put these bad boys together. I fill mine generously because anyone who knows me knows how much I hate a skimpy pastelillo that is all fried dough and just a sprinkle of meat. Like no….that is totally unacceptable. I have been raised to eat this things filled from end to end. I recently got one from outside and was floored when I was charged $4 for a cheese pastelillo that didn’t even have it filled through out or was located in Manhattan. The cheese kind of just moved to one side and that was it. Another occasion, I paid $2 for a meat pastelillo that literally had a sprinkle of meat while the rest of it was dough. It is not expensive to produce these things even if you have a business. So lets stop the skimp!!
The hardest thing in this entire dish is the frying and that is because it can be dangerous. The idea is to make sure the grease is hot enough to fry up your pastelillo without having sit in the pan soaking up the grease while it heats up. One trick I learned to test out whether or not the grease is ready for frying is to sprinkle a little bit of flour into the grease. If it bubbles and starts cooking, then your grease is ready to fry. Ideally, you fry the pastelillos until they are golden brown. I would say cool them down enough so you can eat them without getting 3rd degree burns in your mouth…but I have to tell you guys that it is a lot easier said than done trying to let these things cool down and then eat them.
You can serve them up any way you want. We have made meals out of them. Usually if we do that, we will serve it with some Rice and Beans on the side or some Arroz Con Pollo (Rice with Chicken).
Mami’s Pastelillo Recipe:
Goya Pastelillo Dough, store bought or you can make your own, thawed
Recipe for making your own pastelillo dough can be found here.
1 lb. ground beef or meat of choice
1 potato, peeled and finely diced (They have to be small diced potatoes otherwise, it won’t fit in the pastelillo and it will take forever to cook)
3 tablespoons of sofrito(homemade or store bought)
1/2 green pepper, finely diced
1/2 onion, finely diced
1/2 cup of Goya Canned tomato sauce
3 cloves of garlic
1 small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
3 envelopes of Goya Sazon
4 tbsp Badia Sazon Tropical
1/2 cup of water
1. Warm up a skillet pan and add ground beef. I like to add a tablespoon of sazon tropical to the meat while it is cooking. This way the flavor isn’t just in the sauce you get for the filling.
2. Cook the beef until completely browned. DRAIN THE GREASE left behind (Otherwise you will end up with super greasy pastelillos)
3. Move meat to a medium saucepan and start adding the ingredients. I usually start with the sofrito. Then I add the garlic, onions, peppers, tomato sauce, sazon, sazon tropical, and cilantro. You want to let that cook for about 5 minutes. Then you can add your water and potatoes. The idea is to make sure that the potatoes are cooked and the liquid is reduced enough that it is more like a gravy. If you end up with too much liquid, take a tablespoon of flour and mix it with water in a small bowl. Then add this to your meat and give it time to cook. This will thicken your filling.
4. Now that you have made your filling, take the thawed flour discs, and place them on a floured counter. I usually make this like a conveyor belt…my station would consist of the discs, the meat, a place to seal it, and a floured plate to rest them on when they are done.
5. Take the flour disc, place it on to floured surface. Add 1 tablespoon of filling and place into center of disc. Now you are going to fold it over and use a fork to press the edges shut. Repeat the process until all the meat is gone. (In my house there is never left overs because usually my dad will take bowl of the remaining meat and eat it just like that…lol..sorry dad:-) )
6. In a skillet pan filled with the oil of your choice, heat it up on a medium to high flame. Remember the trick I mentioned earlier? Now would be the time to test it out. Sprinkle less than a teaspoon of flour to your grease. If it bubbles and starts cooking, you are ready to fry. If it doesn’t, let it warm up just a little bit longer.
7. Now that it is ready to go, carefully place your pastelillos in the pan. I don’t really have a set time frame for how long they should be in there. The way I have done it, is I let each side get bubbly and golden brown on the outside. Once both sides are looking the same, I take them out and set them on a paper towel to absorb any extra grease.
8. This is the hardest part…..WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE FULLY COOLED DOWN BEFORE YOU TRY TO EAT IT! Trust me, you will end up burning the roof of your mouth, tip of your tongue, and in rare instances, your lip. I speak from experience but it doesn’t ever stop me. Enjoy!!!
I hope you guys enjoyed my quick and easy pastelillo recipe. This is coming directly from my mother and her mother. This particular meat recipe can be easily changed with any other meat you would like to use. Also, you can completely skip the meat and just put cheese in the flour disc and fry that way. My cheeses of choice are usually Queso Tropical De Freir (Frying Cheese) or Mozzarella. As for my veggie ones, I will post another blog for that. I have 2 veggie pastelillos that I am sure you guys would love.
Feel free to comment down below and share some of your experience making this with me. Also, feel free to share some photos too.
Thanks for watching. Enjoy!
Written By: Tashalee C.
Recipe By: Yolanda PL., Sara PL. and Tashalee C.