These Ham and Cheese Empanadas are a great way to use leftover holiday ham and are the perfect appetizer to bring to any holiday party!
When I was approached by Smithfield to start an ongoing relationship using their products in my recipe development, I jumped on the offer! Not only am I a huge pork fan, but hams to me are unknown territory to me, as a Latina. We grew up eating entire pigs roast on the spit, but never spiral hams. We ate potato salad during the holidays, not green bean casserole. So for this recipe, I wanted to use the ham in a classic Latin/Caribbean recipe: empanadas.
Empanadas can be found in almost every country of Latin America and the Caribbean, in all it’s varieties. It’s basically a quick dough that’s filled and folded with whatever stuffing is common. It can be either fried or baked. In Argentina, empanadas are stuffed with ground beef, potatoes, and hard boiled eggs & then baked; in Chile, empanadas are filled with fresh fish and baked; and in Puerto Rico they are stuffed with conch meat.
And just as empanadas can be found in almost any Spanish speaking country, Smithfield Hams can be found in almost every holiday table in the United States. The Luter family of Smithfield, Virginia, has been curing and selling hams since the turn of the century. Joseph W. Luter, Sr.’s first job was at a local meat packing plant. His young son, Joseph W. Luter, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps, learning every phase of the meat packing industry. And eventually persuading him start their own business – Smithfield Packing Company was chartered in 1936.
In 1962, with Smithfield already on its way to becoming the “Ham Capital of the World”, Joseph W. Luter III took the reigns. Expanding the plant’s facilities and product line became the key to a growth cycle that promoted Smithfield Packing Company from a family business into a large, investor-owned and publicly traded company. Today with Joseph W. Luter IV on board, the company retains its family heritage and has become a worldwide marketer of pork products and one of America’s largest meat companies – poised for significant growth and expansion.
These empanadas basically have just three components: dough, ham, and cheese. You can use whatever cheese you’d like, just make sure it’s got a good melting point. The ham in this recipe is chopped up Hickory Smoked Sliced Ham, which gave the empanadas great flavor. I’ve tested this dough in a variety of settings and it performs best when it’s rested for an hour in the refrigerator and then, once ready to fry, it’s fried at 325F. Be sure to use a candy thermometer to get a good read on your oil temperature.
Ham and Cheese Empanadas
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ stick unsalted butter cut into cubes
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 cup Smithfield Ham finely diced
- 1 cup Colby Jack Cheddar cheese grated
- 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water
- vegetable oil enough to deep fry empanadas (approx. 4 inches)
- To make the dough: in a food processor, mix flour, salt, and baking powder for 2 seconds. Add butter and pulse 4-6 times. Slowly drizzle in half cup of water and carefully check dough; what you’re looking for is a slightly sticky texture, not dry at all. If needed add two tablespoons water. Turn dough over into plastic wrap and sprinkle with flour. Wrap dough into disc and refrigerate for an hour before use.
- To make empanadas: preheat oil and monitor temperature (you want to fry empanadas at 325F). Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out.
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into 4 inch discs (using circle cookie cutter or a cup). To fill: place ham and cheese in center of disc, brush sides with egg wash and fold in half over the filling. Pinch sides to secure and refrigerate while working on the rest of the dough. Let empanadas rest for 15 minutes before frying. Fry until golden brown by flipping halfway through cooking (they take about 3-4 minutes to completely fry). Serve with ketchup while hot!
Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with my professional relationship with Smithfield Hams. Thank you for supporting brands that allow me to bring you exceptional content and recipes.