A brilliant Cuban sandwich is humbling. Without subtlety or pretense, it reminds us who's boss, what it truly means to cook with integrity, and, for most of us, the shortcomings of vivacity in daily living. I won't even claim to know how to boil water when in the presence of such sagacity, and I make no attempt at finding room for myself or my empanadas in their company.
Although, I do confidently make room for these empanadas in the realm of "really fantastic food that balances contrasting flavors and multiple textures while still being easy enough for any home cook to knock out of the park." They also make clever use of leftovers. Flavors of buttery pastry, rich pork, spicy mustard, tangy pickles, and sharp Swiss cheese. Textures of flaky shatters of crust, tender pork roast, pops of pickles, and melty cheese.
In a slow cooker
Roughly 2 pounds of (1350g) pork butt, some fat trimmed
1/4 cup (70g) orange juice
1/4 cup (70g) lime juice
2 teaspoons of orange zest
2 teaspoons of lime zest
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
8 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
1 medium onion, quartered
1 jalapeño, halved and seeds removed
A good sprinkle of salt and cracked pepper
3 1/2 ounces lard
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (150g) hot water
On the sidelines
1/2 cup pickles, chopped
1 1/2 cups swiss cheese, chopped
4 teaspoons yellow mustard
3 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
Start by making the Mojo pulled pork. Combine all the ingredients in a large slow cooker and cook on low for about 7-8 hours.
Transfer the meat to a plate and pour the cooking liquid into a medium-sized pot when the pork is done cooking. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Make a small slurry to help thicken the cooking liquid by mixing a teaspoon of cornstarch with a teaspoon of water. Pour the slurry into the simmering pot and whisk. Let the cooking liquid simmer for a few minutes until it thickens like gravy. Turn the heat to low and taste-test the sauce for additional salt or pepper.
Shred the pork and discard some of the larger pieces of fat. Dump the pork into the pot of gravy and stir to coat evenly. Turn off the heat and let the pork sit in the gravy for a few minutes before moving it to a Tupperware or bowl covered with plastic wrap. Park it in the fridge for at least a few hours for the flavors to settle and get to know one another. This is a great recipe to make a day, or a few days, ahead of time or with leftovers from another night.
Make the empanada dough. Melt the lard in a small pot over medium-low heat. When the lard is melted, add the water and cook for another minute.
Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Pour the hot lard and water mixture over the flour and pulse just until the dough comes together. Making the dough in a food processor can be tricky because, despite its simplicity, it's easy to overdo it, and that's no bueno. It results in overworked gluten from the flour that won't yield the flaky, tender crust we're going for.
Once the dough comes together, dump it onto a large piece of plastic wrap and shape it into a disc. Wrap it well and place it in the fridge to chill for at least one hour.
When you're ready to assemble the empanadas, prep the filling by mixing 1 1/2 cups of the pulled pork with the pickles, mustard, and swiss cheese in a large bowl.
Remove the empanada dough from the fridge and lightly dust your countertop with flour. Roll the dough out about 1/4 inch thick. If you have an empanada or dumpling mold, use it to cut out circles, fill, and crimp them. If you don't have an empanada or dumpling mold, no worries. Use a large cup or mug to cut out circles of dough. In the middle of the dough circles, place a teaspoon or so of the filling, lightly wet the edges, fold one side of the circle to the other side, and use a fork to crimp and seal the edges.
Once the empanadas are assembled, place them on a plate and give them a good chill in the freezer. If you stack the empanadas on top of each other, placing a piece of parchment paper in between the layers is helpful. Freezing the empanadas, even for 30 minutes, helps them keep their shape when frying. And the perfect solution for a mid-week dinner when you're exhausted and trying to talk yourself down from the ledge of ordering takeout yet again? Frozen empanadas. Once the empanadas are completely frozen, throw them in a Ziploc freezer bag, and they'll last for many months.
Fill a large pot with a few inches of vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Make sure the pot is large enough, so the oil has some room to pop and splatter. Bring the oil to between 365 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fry the empanadas in batches because if you throw them all in there at once, you'll: 1) quickly lower the temperature of the oil to a temperature that isn't good for frying, 2) get unevenly cooked empanadas with some well down and some raw, and 3) get a lot of pops and splatters that will likely burn you, make you mad, and then you'll vow to never cook again. The empanadas will be properly cooked when golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.
Move the empanadas to a paper towel-lined plate or a cooling rack set over paper towels to rest for a few minutes before serving.