One is a “pastel”. Two or more are “pasteis”. Portuguese lesson done.
It is an amazing, deep fried, stuffed, flaky pastry filled with anything you can imagine. It is considered a fast food in Brazil. Something you order as a snack in a restaurant with street-side seating, in the middle of the afternoon, made from fresh ingredients and cooked to order on the spot. Great with a beer or a coke.
Or you go to a pastelaria. They have entire establishments in Brazil devoted to making dozens of varieties of pasteis. They make both savory and sweet versions, in a huge assortment of options. Because the canvas of possibilities for fillings are endless, I am focusing on only two today: meat and mafioso pasteis.
As I said before, we are making meat stuffed and mafioso (think Italian) pasteis. So these are the ingredients you will need.
I used to make my dough from scratch. It was a somewhat painful process, and required working with a dough that is not exactly friendly. It is tough, inelastic, needs to be spread very thinly, and is ornery enough to split when you get it thin enough.
Then one day my brother Mike told me he used frozen, raw empanada dough to make his. I’ve had empanadas and the texture of the dough did not seem similar. But in frustration with the amount of effort required without the specialized equipment they have in pastelarias, I gave in and tried the frozen empanada dough. Hello! Tasted exactly like the one I was making from scratch while sweating and making several not-so-nice comments along the way. Thank you, Mike!
HERE ARE SOME KEY TIPS
Let’s start with the meat pasteis.
Prepare the meat filling first to give it time to cool before assembling the pasteis.
First, brown the ground beef, then add the onion, garlic and olives. I recommend you wait until you have fully incorporated the additional ingredients to the meat before salting. Olives have a lot of salt so once it is fully incorporated, you might add less salt than you would have otherwise.
Cook only long enough to make the chopped onions a little translucent. If you are using low fat ground beef, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to the meat mixture while warm and stir in thoroughly. Just a couple of tablespoons. When you deep fry these little gems, the filling should be juicy when you bite into it. Adding fat in the form of EVOO is probably better for you than the fat from a less lean ground beef mixture, but for some meat-a-sauruses, there is no substitute.
Remove the meat mixture from the hot pan to a bowl and cool to room temperature.
I get the frozen empanada dough from the local Asian market. But I’m pretty sure Wal-Mart carries them, at least in some parts of the country. And the Hispanic markets carry them as well. I usually buy several packages and keep them in my freezer for when I’m in the mood to cook up a batch. Be sure to defrost the dough fully before handling.
I learned, once I switched from my homemade dough, that the frozen empanada dough needed to be thinner. I use the lasagna noodle attachment on my standing mixer to achieve the degree of thinness I need. I set the tool to its thinnest setting.
Separating the empanada dough layers from each other can be very frustrating. Depending on the amount of moisture (or lack thereof) present in the storage bag, the layers of dough may stick to each other or get mushy if too moist. Be patient and separate them slowly.
I find that putting all of them through the lasagna noodle press at one time makes assembling the pasteis more efficient. Once thinned, I store them in my tortilla warmer, covered loosely with plastic wrap to keep them moist.
How about putting these guys together, huh?
Select one of the thinned sections of dough, place 2 to 3 teaspoons of meat filling in the center…
…dip your finger in a container of reserved water to trace a wet coat around the edge of the dough. This will help ensure a more impenetrable seal for your pastry. Believe me, having one of these come apart in a deep fryer is totally demoralizing. It makes you want to weep. Don’t skip the “dampening the edge with water” step.
Then fold the dough over, and don’t be afraid to use your thumb and fingers to tuck the filling into the middle while you do it. There should be no filing around the moistened edges because you don’t want solid matter to compromise the integrity of your seal. Again, think stuff coming apart in the fryer.
Lightly press around the edges with your fingers to ensure a debris-free edge.
Then use a fork to press the moistened edges together on both sides. That’s right, press the edges on one side, flip the pastel over and press it on the other side.
Have I mentioned the frustration of a pastel coming apart in the fryer? It’s not an abstract fear. It is a reality to be avoided at all costs.
The good news is that if you adhere to these steps, you should be able to fry your entire batch with no casualties.
Let’s talk about making the mafiosos.
Here’s what you need to make the second version; the mafioso pastel.
Keep in mind that a pastel, made with fresh ingredients and fried to order, will be so delicious that making a small batch is totally counter-productive. I never make less than 20, and have been known to make 40 or more. Today I made 10 meat and 10 mafioso. Leftovers stored in the fridge and reheated for future consumption are so good you will need to make extras because everyone will go back again and again until they are all gone.
Because these jewels are deep fried you don’t want too much water building up in the inside. For that reason, before chopping your tomatoes into small pieces, be sure to remove the center seeds and connective tissue. A teaspoon works very well for this.
To fill the mafioso pasteis, add the shredded mozzarella, a few tomatoes, a light sprinkle of dried oregano, and a couple of drops of EVOO. You can add a bit of salt, if you like. But I find that mozzarella cheese in the US has enough salt for my taste.
Moisten the edges, fold, and seal just like the meat-filled ones.
Since it takes a bit of time to assemble these guys, I usually try to do it well in advance of serving them. Until it is time to fry them, I store them in the refrigerator in a large Rubbermaid container with a lid. I have learned that it is a good idea to use plastic wrap under the first layer in the container, between layers, and over the top layer. This keeps the raw pasteis from sticking to each other. I’ve torn them apart in the past trying to separate stuck ones. So the plastic wrap is good insurance against having all your efforts go to waste.
Even though they are covered in plastic wrap, also use the lid for the container. The cold air in the refrigerator will dry out the dough and make it tough.
I fried pasteis in a pan for years. They work just fine, so there is no need for specialized equipment. Just make sure it is a heavy, deep pan. You need to use enough oil to immerse the pastry, so you want something that won’t be easily jostled off the stove.
I like the fryer because it minimizes grease splatters on my stove and the temperature gauge is very helpful. I use the highest setting, which on my fryer if 374° F.
An authentic pastel has a beautifully blistered crust. Those blisters are supposed to crumble in your mouth when you bite into one. They should also develop a pocket of air around the filling while frying.
To ensure you achieve that lovely blistering and air pocket, use a large metal slotted spoon and gently lap hot oil over the side that is up, in a continuous motion. Start doing this immediately after dropping the raw pastry into the fryer. Then flip the pastel and to the same to the side that was down in the oil. You will want to flip them over back and forth, lapping the oil over the exposed side until the pastry is golden and ready to come out.
They actually fry up pretty fast. The bulk of the time is definitely spent is the prep work.
I like to use brown paper lunch bags to drain the oil. I find that paper towels retain too much of the moisture and that tends to take away from the flakiness of the fried dough. They will keep in a warmed oven (120° F or so) for a while. But they are the bestest served very shortly after frying. The longer you wait, the less flaky it will be. Plus, you want to bite into a nice, warm filling.
Of the 20 made for this post, only five were left the next morning. It will be a while and several gym visits before I make these again. But I miss them already!
- MEAT PASTEL
- 1 to 1⅓ pounds of ground beef
- 1 cup onion, chopped small
- 2 large garlic cloves, diced or pressed
- ½ cup chopped green olives
- 10 frozen raw empanada dough discs, thawed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- MAFIOSO (CHEESE) PASTEL
- 2 firm roma tomatoes, cored and diced
- 1½ to 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 10 frozen raw empanada dough discs, thawed
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dry oregano
- Salt (optional)
- Canola or vegetable oil for deep frying
- MEAT PASTEL
- Brown the hamburger, making sure to break into very small crumbles.
- Add the onion, garlic and olives, stirring well to evenly distribute.
- Add salt to taste at this stage, taking into account that the olives contribute a fair amount of salt already.
- Cook until the onions are slightly translucent.
- If using very lean ground beef, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and mix in well.
- Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and allow the mixture to come to room temperature before filling the pasteis.
- Using a rolling pin or a lasagna press, stretch each empanada disc to make approximately ⅓ bigger.
- Prep time will be more efficient if you stretch all 20 discs at once. Store in a container loosely covered in plastic wrap to keep the discs from drying out.
- Fill 10 of the discs with the cooled meat mixture, approximately 2-3 teaspoons in each.
- Dip your finger in some reserved water and trace a damp ring around the inside edge of the dough.
- Fold the dough over to make a semi-circle, covering the filling. Be sure to avoid filling along the edge.
- Press down with your fingers along the edges to bond the dough.
- Use the tines of a fork to press the edges down all along the seam, on both sides of the pastel.
- Place in a plastic wrap lined container with a lid for storage in the refrigerator until ready to fry.
- Use plastic wrap between layers of pasteis and cover the top layer with plastic wrap as well.
- CHEESE PASTEL
- Fill the remaining 10 discs with 2-3 teaspoons of shredded mozzarella, about a half dozen cubes of diced tomatoes, a light sprinkle of oregano, and a drop or two of olive oil.
- Salt is optional.
- Seal using the same technique as the meat pastel.
- Store in the refrigerator until ready to fry using the same method described for the meat pasteis.
- Remove the pasteis from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before frying to allow them to come closer to room temperature.
- Heat to 375° enough oil in a pan or deep fryer to cover the pasteis.
- Fry a single pastel or in pairs until golden brown, using a slotted metal spoon to roll the pastel over and repeatedly lapping up oil over the exposed side. This is important to ensure that an air cavity builds inside the dough, and to produce a flaky, "blistered" crust.
- Transfer to a paper-lined tray for draining.
- Keep warm in an oven until ready to serve.
- Serve shortly after frying.