Empanada de Atún

tuna empanada

Empanadas are pies that come from Galicia in the North West of Spain. The name comes from the Spanish verb empanar, which means to wrap in bread. These pies come quite large, baked in a dish, or small and half moon shaped, sometimes baked and sometimes fried. Empanadas have become so popular that they can be found throughout the Spanish speaking world and Portugal, which is just below Galicia. Large baked tuna empanadas are very popular in Galicia, but there are many variations, such as; cheese, clams, spicy beef or chicken with chilli, chorizo, eel, ham, lamprey, sardines and many types of fruit or other sweet fillings for dessert.


I’ve tried a few different pastry recipes for empanadas, particularly for the small half moon shaped  ones above, filled with a beef chilli mixture. Lard mixed 50/50 with plain flour and cornmeal  (sometimes referred to as corn flour) is good for a flexible dough with an excellent crunch and the Mexican masa harina (not the same as regular cornmeal) produces a light, delicate pastry. For my tuna empanada I used Claudia Roden’s recipe which produces an elastic dough with a crispy biscuit like flavour.

Empanada Pastry recipe:

2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
125ml olive oil
125ml dry white wine or dry cider (I used a crisp dry Muscadet, with a similar sharpness to Albariño Galician white wine, which is hard to find here)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
375g plain flour

In a large bowl, beat an egg and the baking powder with a fork. When this is mixed together add the olive oil, wine and salt, before slowly working in the flour to make a dough. Knead the dough with both hands in/over the bowl. Sprinkle on a little more flour if it is too wet (it should be slightly tacky from the olive oil). Let the dough rest at room temperature in the bowl (covered in cling film) for one hour. This pastry is easy to make and stays elastic – I’m certain it would work well with a food processor or mixer with dough hook.

Tuna Empanada filling recipe:

1 large onion (chopped)
1 pimiento (charred, peeled and chopped) if in doubt use a chopped red pepper
3 large tomatoes (grated) or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 hard boiled eggs (chopped)
20 good quality large pitted black olives (chopped)
250g (drained weight) tinned tuna in olive oil – Ortiz is probably the best
A squirt of anchovy paste
A splash of red wine vinegar
A splash of olive oil
Cracked black pepper (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon sweet pimentón de la vera

pepper burning

Since the tuna comes in olive oil, I recommend pouring it off and using it in the pastry or in cooking the empanada filling (I used a bit in both). In Spain, sweet red peppers (pimientos) are commonly charred siting on a gas ring, grilled (broiled) or barbecued to blacken them. When placed warm in a plastic or paper bag the blackened skin sticks to the bag and comes off easily. This gives them a lovely smokey flavour. These peeled and sliced red peppers can be bought in jars from shops and markets (for those who don’t want the hassle of charring and peeling).

onion pepper garlic

Fry the onion slowly in olive oil until it is soft. Sprinkle on the sweet pimentón de la vera before mixing in the garlic, pimiento and grated tomatoes. Allow the vegetables to cook in for 5 minutes before squirting in a little anchovy paste, a few turns of cracked black pepper and a splash of red wine vinegar. After another 5 minutes turn the heat off add the boiled eggs, olives and crumble in the tuna. Mix this all well and taste to see if it seems salty enough. Make sure that the saltiness of the olives is taken into account. When you are happy with the seasoning, leave the filling to cool for half an hour or so.

In the meantime, divide the pastry into two pieces, one a bit larger than the other. Both round and rectangular pie dishes are commonly used in Galicia – I used a rectangular enameled dish measuring 11 X 9 inches (28 X 23 cm) to its edges, which is perfect for the above recipe. Roll out the larger ball of dough, so that it’s slightly bigger than the pie dish. You don’t need extra flour for the rolling, as the pastry shouldn’t stick. Grease the dish with a little olive oil and gently fit the pastry inside, rolling it over with the rolling pin helps. Trim the edges and prick the base of the pastry a few times with a fork. Divide the leftover pastry egg into 2 dishes, yolk in one and white in the other. Beat the white and brush the dough base with it. Bake the base blind in the middle of a preheated oven at 200ºC for 10 minutes (no baking beans needed). When done remove from the oven and allow the pastry to cool.

pie filling

When cold, fill the baked pastry base with the tuna mixture. Roll out the remaining dough to a shape slightly bigger than the top of the baking dish and again use the rolling pin to ease it onto the filling, then trim.

egg wash

Go round the edges with a fork to crimp them down and poke a few fork holes into the top to allow hot air to escape. Beat the egg yolk with a teaspoon or two of cold water and brush over the top of the empanada.

empanada de atún

Bake the empanada in a preheated oven at 200ºC for about 45 minutes until golden brown. When cooked, allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

empanada cross section

Cut the pie into 6 portions and serve with salad and a glass of dry white wine or cider. If you have any left the next day, cold empananda makes an excellent lunch.

When it comes to half moon shaped empanadas, I’ve often wondered about a connection with the Cornish Pasty. Galicia is a Celtic region sitting directly opposite Cornwall, across the Bay of Biscay. While I can find no documented food connection, I have read that the Celts arrived in South West Britain from Iberia around 5000BC…

About Mad Dog

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29 Responses to Empanada de Atún

  1. I love empanadas but can never get the pastry right.. I look forward to trying this recipe – maybe yours will be the one! I will try it. I find empanadas are a great easy meal. c

    • Mad Dog says:

      Hi Cecilia, yes you are right, this is very easy to prepare and you can use all sorts of fillings. The good thing about this kind of pastry is its flexibility. When you use olive oil, it doesn’t crack or break when you are putting it in the dish, or on top of the filling. I’m sure this is easily whipped up in a food processor too, if you don’t have time for kneading, plus, any burnt edges still taste delicious!

  2. Eha says:

    Am smiling and mean to copy your tuna one exactly at the earliest opportunity: a little different to the ones I make and thus fascinating! Methinks these ‘handpies’ are made throughout Europe in ‘variations on the theme’. Remember having ‘fierce fights’ with housekeepers both from Cornwall and Yorkshire who insisted what I was doing was just a copy of THEIR pasty 🙂 !! Well, for what it is worth, those Estonian are smallish and half-moon and either baked or fried in bacon fat but usually on a thin, thin, thin yeast pastry, and even for a health-freak like me, are they yummy!!!! [Lovely to see Miss C well even ere she posts herself!!]

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha. Apparently the word pasty comes from Medieval French – paste and that comes from the Latin pasta for pie. Regardless, they all taste great!

  3. Nadia says:

    Did not know you could get large ones like pies. I love small ones and make them often. Love the recipe for the pastry, this i am going to try tonight with a shrimp filling in small sizes for apero. Thanks.

  4. I’ve never seen a large emanada pie like this, wonderful idea!

  5. Sue Aron says:

    I was wondering if you blind baked the bottom of the pie….to avoid soggy bottom!

  6. Conor Bofin says:

    Excellent stuff MD. The smaller ones remind me of the Cornish pasty, a pretty senseless thing to prepare, given the lack of flavour in the ‘authentic’ ingredients. You certainly don’t lack flavour in these. Lovely job, as ever.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Conor. I’d have to disagree with you on the Cornish pasty – I can name a few places in Cornwall which make excellent and very tasty pasties with traditional ingredients. I can’t say that all pasties made in Cornwall are good, I’ve had some bad ones and I don’t think I’ve tasted a good one outside of the county, except for one I had in Michigan – in the Upper Peninsula, where many of the people are descended from Cornish miners who arrived in the 1800s.

      • Conor Bofin says:

        I will have to get over to Cornwall and try them. The versions I have had elsewhere have all been pretty dull affairs. Though, a trip to Michigan would be a bit more fun….

        • Mad Dog says:

          I think the mass produced variety have given them bad name, but a good one can be excellent. You can tell which Cornish bakers make a good pasty by the queues of locals outside at lunchtime 🙂

  7. Oh man this is beautiful. It’s like an enpanada casserole. I love Claudia Roden and am constantly inspired by her books. She is one of the reasons I started my blog. I like that you used olive oil instead of lard for the pastry dough. And I am partial to tuna. So good!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Amanda – I’m sure this pastry would adapt well to using a gluten free flour and the olive oil makes it wonderfully flexible for smaller half moon empanadas 🙂

  8. OK, confession time. When in Spain I buy the little packs of prerolled and cut empanada pastry! Otherwise Big Man’s eldest daughter makes us a giant empanada for our trip back to the UK (she knows I’m a big fan!). But now I have a trustworthy recipe to follow, so I’ll be using yours 😀 Love empanadas and another pastry we really enjoyed in Galicia was “Bollos preñaos”, slang for “pregnant rolls”…like a soft white bread dough stuffed with similar fillings to those used in empanadas…delicious and very handy for a picnic!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Amazingly, I think a lot of people buy the pastry. I looked at loads of online recipes and almost all of them use ready made. It’s quite a traditional recipe, I could only find minor variations in ingredients for a tuna empanada and chose the things I liked most. The pastry, however, can be made with butter or butter and olive oil mixed. I’m sure that butter is often used due to the number of cows in Galicia, whereas lard and olive oil would feature in other regions where milk cows are lacking. I’m sure you will enjoy the pastry, it’s easy to make and will be delicious with your olive oil. I must search out the pregnant rolls – I’m going back to Spain in a couple of weeks time 🙂

  9. Michelle says:

    Here you go, killing me again with the empanadas… I like your theory about the pasty/empanada connection. (You know they do pasties in northern Michigan, too? I guess they probably had Cornish immigrants.) I have a theory though that almost every culture does dumplings of some sort, baked and/or steamed or boiled and/or fried. Just because they’re so f’ing delicious. 🙂

    • Mad Dog says:

      Ha ha yes! My ex girlfriend’s dad had property in North Michigan and took us up there to eat something special. Apparently there’s also a little bit of Cornwall in Pachuca (Mexico), where they do a whole range of pasties, from tradicionales to mole and chilli. They say you’ll find a Cornishman everywhere there’s a hole in the ground, but I like to think of Cornish and Galician fishermen swapping pasties for empanadas in the Bay of Biscay 😉

  10. Karen says:

    Years ago we lived in Miami which had a large amount of spanish restaurants and empanadas were one of my favorite starters. Having said that I never have seen ones with seafood and I’m sure this version is very flavorful.

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