After concocting a batch of duck adobo confit a few weeks back, I've had quite the surplus of duck fat sitting idly in my fridge. In addition to the tub of duck fat that was still protecting my last two legs of confit from the harsh elements of the outside world, I had another tub of duckboob grease at my disposal as well.
As I mentioned in my confit post, I've used some of that fat to fry some garlic-fried rice. But for the last few weeks I've also used duck fat for sauteeing veggies, whipping up vinaigrettes, browning chicken, rubbin' on my elbows (I get ashy), and silencing squeaky door hinges (it's the WD-40 of the kitchen). It's been an absolute cluster-duck for me these past few weeks.
In fact, duck hasn't been this prevalent in my life since Webby Vanderquack and Doofus Drake chilled with me on weekday afternoons.
Ah, DuckTales. It's a classic.
Anyhoo, I decided to put a stop to all this here-and-there use of duck fat and put the magic grease to the test on a larger scale--I broke out the cast iron pan and was ready for some fryin'! Oooh-whoooo-hoooo!
Of course, the first thing that may come to mind when mentioning frying and duck fat is perhaps potatoes--as I'm sure duck fat fries are quite tasty.
But I had something else in mind--especially after doing some reconnaissance on Ilocano Empanadas during my recent trip to the Philippines.
Empanada vendor in Batac Ilocos Norte, Philippines.
For those of you just tuning in, Spain and Mexico both have had quite the influence on Filipino cuisine (via colonialism, the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, etc.), and empanadas happen to be a tasty result of Spanish/Mexican influence. Empanadas come in all shapes and sizes in the Philippines. Some empanadas are baked, some are fried, some empanadas have pastry crusts adorned with ornate ridges, and some are simple half-moons of dough.
The empanadas I sampled in Batac featured mongo beans, green papaya, local longanisa sausage, and a raw egg stuffed into rounds of achuete orange-tinted dough. The dough packet of goodies was then plunged into a wok-full of hot grease and deep-fried until the egg inside was cooked just so and the rice flour shell became taco-crisp.
After watching the empanada vendors roll, stuff, and fry the empanada dough--all in a matter of seconds, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult a task for me to duplicate at home. For my own version, I would keep the shell the same, but stuff my empanada with shredded duck confit, and a slice of salted duck egg, and then fry the whole shebang in duck fat!
Duck, Duck, Dough
Ah yes! That would be how I would use my last two legs of duck adobo confit and my copious amounts of duck fat. Duck Adobo Confit Empanadas deep-fried in duck fat.
As I would soon find out though, the dough of the Ilocano Empanada is shrouded in mystery (or maybe I'm just an idiot). According to a vendor I asked in Batac, all the dough consists of is rice flour and water that is colored with achuete seeds. I figured I'd change that slightly and soak achuete seeds in beer, and then add the colored beer to the rice flour.
The resultant beer-rice flour dough seemed promising at first, but it turned out to be quite flimsy and was very easily torn, ripped, and punctured after barely handling the rolled out dough. I then consulted my Filipino cookbooks for help, but all of the empanadas in these cookbooks consisted of flaky AP flour doughs that were baked. But I wanted an Ilocos-style rice flour shell, and I wanted to fry! So baking was not an option for me.
I then consulted the All-Knowing Goog, but many results for Ilocos empanadas turned up the same vague recipe of "rice flour and water"--no measurements, no additions, no nothing.
I then messed around on my own, and added an egg to a new batch of beer-rice flour dough. With the addition of the egg, the dough became more pliable, but still not strong enough--every time I tried to fold the dough over, a shard of duck meat would poke through the still-fragile pastry.
I then remembered at this point that rice flour has no gluten in it, yet gluten is needed to provide strength in pastry doughs (I'm blinding you with Science!!!). So I relented a bit and added some all purpose flour to the mix but still kept a majority of rice flour in the dough. Eureka! This final mix of beer, rice flour (two boxes of Mochiko later), egg, and all purpose flour did the trick! The dough was both pliable and strong. Woohoo!
I also learned to handle the dough as little as possible by watching the empanada vendors in Batac. Some of them rolled the dough out on banana leafs, and others on plastic sheets. Either way though, the leaf and/or plastic, rather than just the vendors' hands, was used to fold the dough (sounds confusing, but I'll explain more down below).
Instead of using a banana leaf, I used a gallon-sized ziptop bag that I cut open along the sides.
I then sandwiched some dough between the two panels of plastic and rolled the dough out with a rolling pin. Using the plastic bag prevents the dough from sticking to your board or your rolling pin (I learned this neat little trick from watching Alton Brown).
After flattening my achuete-tinted dough (the dough doesn't look too orange in my pictures, but they are definitely golden-orange after frying) I placed some duck adobo confit and a slice of salted duck egg in the middle. Salted duck eggs are hard-boiled duck eggs that have been pickled in a salt brine. They are usually dyed red for easy identification and can be found at Asian markets. Foie gras would probably be a good addition too, but I didn't want to buy a whole lobe of duck liver.
Another thing I learned from the empanada vendors in Batac was that they cut off excess dough and crimped the empanadas closed using only the edge of a plate--no fancy crimp jobs with forks:
Finally, after I had rolled out my dough, stuffed and folded it, I dropped my empanadas into a pan of hot duck fat. After a couple of minutes, this happens:
Golden orange and delicious
Lovely, no? My empanadas, while not as bright orange (or as Ginormous) as their Ilocos counterparts, were just as crisp and tasty. I was very happy with how the crust turned out, even though I had to cheat a little bit with the egg and the all purpose flour (I still don't know how in the heck Ilocanos make a usable dough with JUST water and rice flour!).
A spoonful of dark Ilocos vinegar (which I was also happy to find at the Asian market) cuts nicely through the saltiness of the duck egg. I also heated up some of the "confit jelly" (you remember my confit jelly don't you?) that was in my freezer and used that as an adobo-flavored sauce for these ducky empanadas.
I'm sure that all my words and pictures were still not a sufficient enough explanation, so check my more detailed vid out:
And yes, I do believe that frying in duck fat provides another level of flavor and texture, but any oil of your choice will do. The recipe I provide below is for the empanada dough only, so feel free to stuff it with whatever you like.
"Ilocano-Style" Empanada Dough
Makes about 10-12 empanadas
3/4 cup light beer (I used San Mig Light)
1/4 cup achuete seeds
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
In a microwave-safe container, combine the beer and achuete seeds and microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and allow beer to steep at room temperature for 1 hour. After the beer has cooled, strain out and discard the achuete seeds while reserving the beer. The beer should be orange-red in color at this point.
In a large bowl, combine the rice flour and all purpose flour. Add the egg to the flour and mix by hand until the egg is incorporated and the flour mixture consists of pea-sized granules. Slowly add the beer to the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, and continue to mix with your hands. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball. You may not need to use all of the beer, only add enough beer until the dough comes together. The dough should be sticky, but not overly wet.
Cover the dough with a wet paper towel and place in the refrigerator. Allow dough to rest for 30 minutes before rolling out and stuffing. Use a plastic bag as shown above and handle the dough as little as possible with your hands.