Quintana Roo Style Empanadas

There is an ongoing debate in Mexico about whether a folded patty may be called quesadilla even if it has no cheese (queso) inside.  Mexico City dwellers say “yes”, while pretty much the rest of the country says “no”.  In Southern Mexico, patties are called empanadas, which means “with bread”, and this recipe from the state of Quintana Roo really fits the bill, since wheat flour and baking powder are added to masa (corn dough) for a softer, fluffier, more “bread-like” patty.  Other unique features are the filling, traditionally seasoned shark meat called cazónand the condiment, consisting of marinated onions and Habanero peppers, instead of bottled salsa.

I am starting with nixtamalized corn flour (masa harina) since already-prepared masa is not available in my region in Canada, and instead of shark, I am using cod filets from frozen (see sustainability facts at the end of this post).

Quintana Roo Style Empanadas –

Empanadas estilo Quintana Roo

Printable recipe:  Quintana Roo Style Empanadas

Ingredients (for 16 patties)

1 lb (454g) cazón (shark), or other white flesh, firm fish, such as cod or haddock
2 tomatoes; washed, stem spots removed, and chopped
2 tbsp oil, such as olive or safflower
2 sprigs epazote; washed, stems discarded, and leaves chopped; if not available, use parsley and a pinch of thyme
½ white onion; peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups nixtamalized corn flour (masa harina, such as Maseca™ or Bob’s Red Mill™)
¼ cup all-purpose wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 ½ to 3 cups warm water, as needed
Oil, for frying, such as safflower 
1 red onion; peeled and halved, and sliced finely
Habanero peppers, to taste; washed, stem and seed removed, sliced
¼ cup lime juice, preferably freshly squeezed (approximately 2 limes)
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Mix corn flour, wheat flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl (photo below, left); add two and a half cups of warm water, and mix (photo below, centre).  Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, as needed, to form a soft dough.  Cover and allow to rest while preparing topping and filling (photo below, right):

For the condiment, mix sliced habanero peppers and red onion with lime juice and salt in a non-reactive container:

Reserve until serving time.

For the filling, place fish in a pot and add water, to cover; if using shark, add a quarter of a cup of vinegar to the water, to help remove ammonia smell.  Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to medium; cook just until the fish becomes opaque and starts to flake (photo below, left).  In my case, I used thawed boneless cod filets, so I did not add vinegar, and it only took five minutes, but for shark, especially if in large pieces and with bone, it might take much longer.  Transfer fish to a colander to drain liquid (photo below, right):

Allow fish to cool down, then remove bones and skin (if any) and shred meat into small pieces.  Reserve.

Warm up two tablespoons of oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add chopped onions, and sauté until translucent, then add tomatoes (photo below, left).  Reduce heat to a simmer, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to fall apart, approximately ten minutes.  Add reserved fish (photo below, right): 

Stir to incorporate, seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.  Add chopped herbs, and mix in (photo below, left); continue cooking for another two minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool down for a few minutes (photo below, right):

To assemble the patties, divide dough into sixteen portions, forming balls (approximately 3 oz – 75g, each.)  Working with one ball at a time, pat between hands to form a thick disc; place on a sheet of plastic (such as a food storage bag, cut open) on a flat surface or a tortilla press (photo below, left).  Fold plastic to cover dough, then close the press (or use a board or flat pan on top) and flatten into a thinner disc, about six inches (15 cm) in diameter; it should be slightly thicker than a tortilla. Place some filling on one half of the dough disc, making sure to leave a rim around the edge (photo below, right):  

Fold plastic over to close dough over filling, and press down with fingers along the rim to seal into a patty (photo below, left).  Remove patty from plastic, set aside and continue forming patties with more dough balls (photo below, right: 

Pour oil for frying in a pot, to at least half an inch deep (I used a pot just wide enough for one patty, to use less oil).  Place pot on the stove at high heat; once the oil is hot but not smoking, reduce heat to medium-high, and fry patties in small batches without crowding (one patty at a time in my case).  When placing patties in the oil, it should start foaming and the patty browning quickly (photo below, left), so do not leave unattended.  Flip after a few seconds and continue cooking until golden brown on both sides.  Transfer to a colander propped on a bowl, to remove excess oil, and continue frying more patties (photo below, right):

After draining, I transferred the patties to a plate lined with paper towels, and they did not have that much oil left, as seen below:

Serve hot, with prepared onion and pepper mix, either on the side, or as a topping, as shown at the top of this post, and below:

A close up of a cross section shows a rich empanadas crust, crispy outside, and a tasty fish filling that complements perfectly both with the pastry, and the tangy topping:

The strategic placing of the colander on a bowl right next to the oily pot was very helpful to avoid a snafu on the stove.  Controlling the temperature of the oil (around 375 and 400ºF – 190 and 230ºC), or simply monitoring so there is no smoking, will allow the oil in the pot to remain clear and if that is the case, it is possible to save it once cooled down, and use for sauteing or shallow frying (if the oil has become even slightly darker, do not reuse, just discard as required by municipal guidelines.)


Cazón is the Spanish name for a number of edible small species of shark.  In Spain, it usually refers to school shark (Galeorhinus galeus), a staple in Andalucian cuisine, while in Mexico, edible shark species belong to the family Squalidae, commonly known as dog shark. 

Shark meat is very popular around the world.  According to Wikipedia, school shark meat is sometimes used for fish and chips in the United Kingdom, instead of cod or haddock (and I substituted the other way around in my recipe, lol); other European countries, such as Greece, also consume school shark, while Germany, France, Iceland and Italy trade and consume other species of small shark.  Australian smooth hound shark and school shark are two of the most important fisheries in that continent, where shark meat is called “flake”.  In Africa, shark meat is obtained along the eastern coast and islands, and it is well known that several Asian countries treasure and consume large amounts of shark meat, including China, Japan, and Korea.

Is shark a sustainable fishery?  It can go either way, depending on the region of the world where it is performed.  For example, in the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared that “U.S. shark fisheries are some of the most sustainable in the world.”  In Canada, there are only two directed shark fisheries, in the Atlantic coast; one is the covetous recreational fishery for blue shark, highly regulated, and the other, is a commercial fishery, aimed at the spiny dogfish, but currently inactive.   Blue sharks, porbeagles and shortfin mako are caught incidentally through other Canadian commercial fisheries, but in very small quantities.  In other countries, though, overfishing or indiscriminate fishing have caused conservation authorities to encourage consumers to move away from shark meat.  In Australia, there is no legal obligation to specify what kind of shark is being used for consumption, so endangered species might be caught.   Mexico has the same problem, and it has been found that endangered species such as hammerhead shark, are often served as cazón in the Yucatan peninsula.  Oceana, an international non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the oceans, tested batches of Mexican cod and marlin, and in many cases, it turned out to be some endangered species of sharkOceana Mexico is working along the Comisión Nacional de Acuacultura y Pesca (National Aquaculture and Fisheries Committee) to improve tracing of origin and identification of species, to protect species of endangered shark, and establish sustainable fisheries of non-endangered ones.   

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I am bringing my recipe to Full Plate Thursday #609 with Miz Helen @ Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.

I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #561, with Bev @ Eclectic Red BarnPam @ An Artful MomKatherine @ Katherine’s CornerAmber @ Follow the Yellow Brick HomeTheresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.

I am joining Fiesta Friday # 453 with Angie @ Fiesta Friday.

I am also sharing my recipe at What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up #388 with Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.   

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