Smoked Beef Empanadas
The cut of beef I smoke more often than not is brisket, and a chunk of meat that size means I'm almost certain to be rewarded with leftovers. This has lead a lot of recipes in recent years to center smoked brisket, and I keep a running list of ideas of how to use those remains in creative ways. One of those was for smoked beef empanadas, but the day I smoked the brisket that was going to be used in that recipe was also the day I was breaking in my new 22-inch Weber Bullet, and I had something I wasn't used to on my 18-inch model—excess space. So while out shopping, I decided to also pick up a beef cheek that I smoked alongside the brisket, and it's that beef that ended up being the base of the filling for these amazing spicy empanadas.
Since the recipe was originally designed to make use of leftover brisket, you can certainly skip the special smoking of beef cheek to make these empanadas—whether you already have leftovers or just want to pick up some brisket at your local barbecue joint, there's so much else going on in this filling that you're pretty assured to come out on the other side with almost identical results. Since I did decide to do a purpose smoked piece of beef though, I used that opportunity to make a rub that would compliment the final flavor profile of the filling. This entire recipe is loosely Argentinian-influenced, so the rub used common ingredients found in that cuisine like paprika, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper.
I had smoked beef cheeks for the first time last summer, so I had some frame of reference for how long this would take to cook at 225°F and timed it so the beef would go in before I went to sleep, and would be close to ready by the time I arose. This is pretty much exactly what happened with the cheek hitting the 203°F internal temperature mark I was shooting for around 9:00am. I held the wrapped cheek in the Cambro for a bit before placing it in the fridge because I wasn't going to be making the rest of the filling for a couple days.
When I say you can probably use any smoked beef and have this recipe turn out similar, that's because I built a ton of flavor into the filling which started with sautéing onions until softened, then adding in a lot of spices, tomato paste, and jalapeños. Next I added cubed Yukon Golds and chicken stock and let those simmer until the spuds were soft, but not falling apart.
Since the meat was already cooked and only needed to be warmed, I added the chopped cheek in next to last and just let it simmer until it warmed through and the sauce thickened up, which only took about five minutes. Finally, scallions and cilantro added the fresh notes and the thick filling was done and tasting great. I had to let it chill in the fridge though before I could assemble it into empanadas.
Because I was going with a loose Argentinian theme here, I researched Argentinian empanada dough recipes and diverted from recipe I've been using for years. The main differences were that the butter gets melted in water before being introduced to the flour, and then the dough gets kneaded to develop more gluten than my other dough had—the empanada dough I've been making before this was more akin to a pastry dough.
That extra gluten is what I think made this dough easier to roll out thinner than I was used it. Before adding the filling, I cut circles with my largest biscuit cutter, and then was still able to roll the dough even thinner to make a larger circle that could hold more of the beef mixture.
This recipe ended up making three dozen empanadas, which gave me a lot of practice in assembly—I've been trying to get my hand crimping technique down. I find this method of pinching and folding the dough multiple times easier than crimping with the tines of the fork, but the ratio of "good" to "bad" looking ones tends to go in favor of the later, although this time around I think I started to finally get the hang of it.
I had made these empanada a few days after Carne-val, but they were going to be served until almost a month later at Meatabolic System, so I froze them all for later usage. On Meatwave day, I set the frozen empanadas on a parchment-lined baking sheet, gave them a brushing of an egg wash, and then baked them in a 400°F oven until golden brown.
When I tasted the filling during cooking, I knew these empanadas were going to be something special, but they were even more so than I even imagined. That filling was intense—it was strongly smoky, beef, spicy, earthy, and incredibly hearty. I almost thought it may have been a tad too much, but when encased in dough, there was something to balance out the intensity and make it taste even better. I served the empanadas with chimichurri, and while I marked that as optional in the recipe, I think that the freshness and strong acidity of that sauce really sealed the deal because it helped cut through the heaviness while adding flavors that paired well too. I had cooked up a sheet of these for my somewhat sparse crowd for the day and thought that was going to all I needed, but when the first batch went quickly, I baked a second, and those too disappeared, so I knew it was not just me who found these smoked beef empanadas something worth eating over and over again.
Smoked Beef Empanadas
- Yield 3 dozen
- Prep 2 Hours
- Inactive 3 Hours
- Cook 5 Hours 25 Minutes
- Total 10 Hours 25 Minutes
- For the Beef
- 1 beef cheek (about 2 lbs)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- For the Filling
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 cups finely diced yellow onion (about 1 large)
- 3 tablespoons finely diced jalapeño (about 2 medium)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 5 teaspoon finely minced garlic (about 5 medium cloves)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups beef or chicken stock
- 3/4 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1/2 cup finely sliced scallions
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Dough
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 750 grams all-purpose flour (about 6 cups)
- 1 cup chimichurri (optional)
- To make the beef: Trim beef cheek of excess fat and connective tissue. If necessary, tie beef cheek closed with butcher twine. In a small bowl combine paprika, black pepper, salt, cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper to make the rub. Season beef cheek all over liberally with the rub.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place beef cheeks in the smoker or grill, and smoke until an instant read thermometer registers 203°F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat, between 5 and 7 hours. Wrap beef cheek in butcher paper and place in a cooler and let rest for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Alternatively, wrap beef cheek in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the filling: Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet set over medium heat until foaming subsides. Add in onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Stir in jalapeño, tomato paste, paprika, garlic, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add in chicken stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover.
- While potatoes cook, unwrap beef and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. When potatoes have softened, about 15 minutes, add in beef and continue to cook, uncovered, until beef is warmed and liquid has thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in scallions and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer filling mixture to a large bowl, cover, and place in refrigerator until completely chilled.
- To make the dough: Place water and butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is completely melted, remove from heat.
- Place flour and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add in water and butter mixture. Using a rubber spatula, wooden spoon, or hands, mix until a shaggy ball forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes. Divide dough in half and gently press each piece into a disc. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Remove dough from the refrigerator. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface until about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out rounds and remove excess dough, saving for later. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of each dough round. Seal dough around filling and crimp shut with fingers or the tines of a fork. Transfer empanadas to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat process with second disc of dough and then again with reserved excess dough.
- Brush empanadas with beaten egg. Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake until empanadas are golden brown, about 25 minutes, switching and rotating the trays halfway through the baking time. Remove baking sheets from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a serving platter and serve with chimichurri, if desired.