Eatymology & Spanish Food 101 – Empanada de Bacalao

One of my favorite memories of spending so much time in Spain was waking up in the morning to run my errands.  Unlike the supermarkets and convenience stores that we have in the States, stores in Spain specialize in the type of goods offered or sold.  (Sadly, this is starting to change – I saw many more hypermarkets creeping up on my last visit to Spain.  Also, El Corte Ingles now has a supermarket section in many of its stores, further forcing small businesses and mom and pop shops out of business.  Hey Walmart, sounds familiar, right?)  Most of us love the idea of convenience and one-stop shopping.  I, however, love to interact with each of the shopkeepers as I buy my fruit, fish, and ibuprofin (each of which requires a visit to a separate shop).

Running Errands at a NYC Pace

One of my favorite stops in the morning: the panaderia.  It is not only the smell of baking bread wafting into the street that draws me in.  One of my favorite snacks in the world, the empanada, can be purchased at a panaderia.  I know what you’re probably thinking.  “Dana, that’s really weird, empanadas at a bakery?”  Allow me to give you a little background on empanadas and then share a simple recipe with you.

Many Latin American cultures have empanadas, which you may or may not be familiar with.  The Colombian or Argentinean empanadas are most similar to empanadillas, which originated in Galicia.  These are small, have a flaky, yet slightly crisp pastry exterior and can be filled with pretty much anything.  In Galicia, bacalao and tuna (atun) are most common, but I’ve also seen cerdo (pork), anguila (eel), and mejillones (mussels) on my outings. The hardest part?  Deciding which to buy!

Now onto the larger empanadas, also known as an empanada gallega.  It very much resembles a pie, can be filled with a multitude of different things, and can be served hot or cold; it allows for a little artistic license, always very important when cooking!  Apparently, the empanadas became popular in the 7th century because many travelers were making the pilgrimage to Santiago, and wanted something portable and that would not pick up dust from the road.  Here we are, in the 21st century, and pilgrims still travel in droves to Santiago (for the El Camino de Santiago or, in 2010, the Xacobeo) and still eat empanadas.



This looks easy, right?  Just dice up some fish, put it in a pastry crust, and put it in the oven?  Not exactly.

First and foremost, we have to rinse to remove the salt and soak the bacalao in cold water.  The bacalao must be soaked for 48 hours and the cold water must be changed every 8 hours.  And make sure it’s refrigerated the entire time!  Also: the skin should be face up while soaking!

Now that you’ve waited two days, it’s time to get to work on the filling.  In addition to the bacalao (400g, or approximately 1 pound), you’ll need 2 onions and some raisins.  Peel the onions and cut them into thin slices.  Fry them in oil with a little pepper, until they are soft.  Now, add the raisins and the bacalao (I also add two finely chopped chili peppers for a little kick, but that’s entirely up to you.)

It’s really important just to swirl the bacalao in the pan for a minute or two, otherwise you’ll have dried out fish when it’s time to bake the entire pie later on.


This is our filling

The filling for our empanada

I use a colander to remove the excess oil and liquid.  I actually reserve the liquid and use it as part of the water/wine mixture I use for the dough, as it gives everything a nice flavor.

Put your bacalao mixture in the fridge overnight – it’s best to work with the filling when it is cold.

So now it’s Day 3, and if you’re anything like me, you’re getting anxious and really just want to make, and ultimately consume, this empanada.  Fear not, we are now going to work on the dough.  (I have so kindly converted the following measurements from the metric system, so sorry if they seem odd.)

2.5 cups bread flour

1 packet of baker’s yeast or live yeast cultures (I prefer the live stuff to the freeze-dried kind)

2/3 cup water – make sure this isn’t too cold or else your yeast won’t be active!

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 – 2/3 cup oil (make up for the difference with the oil mixture you reserved the night before.  And yes, the quality of the olive oil makes all of a world of difference in the taste of your empanada.  Never, EVER, use olive oil that comes from a clear container – chances are that the light has caused it to go rancid.)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the ingredients, except the yeast and the flour.  Mix this at low speed until everything is blended and then let it sit for 2 minutes.

Add the yeast and flour to the mixture.  Mix for 20 seconds at a very high speed, then bring the speed down a few notches for 3 minutes.

Cover the bowl and allow the dough to sit until it has roughly doubled in size.  (This will take approximately xxx minutes.)

Get your pan ready and flour it!  As soon as the dough is ready, you’ll want to divide it into two parts, one slightly bigger than the other.

Roll the larger of the pieces out to form the base and add your filling.

Roll the remaining piece of dough, which will form the top of the empanada and place it on top.  Remove any excess and crimp the sides of the empanada (or use your artistic ability to do some cool lattice work or designs on top).  I also add a few small holes with a fork to the top of the empanada to allow everything to vent and cook properly.


Empanada Ready for the Oven

No nautical stars today...

Brush the top of the empanada with a beaten egg yolk (add some paprika – it gives everything a really nice color!) and if you used any of the excess dough to make decorations for the top (I’ve made stars and hearts in the past), you’ll want to glaze those and place them on top.

The finished product...

The finished product.

Home stretch now!  Preheat your oven to 390 degrees Farenheit, baking for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Allow your empanada to cool and you are ready to savor your creation (don’t worry, there’s plenty to share).

Looks good!

What are your favorite fillings for empanadas?  Do you have the patience to try this at home?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

2 thoughts on “Eatymology & Spanish Food 101 – Empanada de Bacalao

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