What the Duck?!!


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.

  • Mila July 31, 2008, 11:59 pm

    Holy Donald Duck, triple duck flavor, from egg, to meat, to fat!
    Funny how dough can be so tricky. It took me over a year to tinker with the recipe I was given for handmade chinese dumpling dough. One of those just add cold water to rice flour thingies that didn’t work!!!

  • Beth August 1, 2008, 12:45 am

    Looks yummy! You’re crust reminds me of McDonald’s fried apple pies.

  • Fran Magbual August 1, 2008, 1:24 am

    Your empanadas look great! In Guam they do a similar fried empanada, but the dough is made with masa harina and the filling is ground rice (or cream of rice cereal) and chicken (or other meat). They look exactly like yours on the outside though. Oh yeah, one other difference, in Guam the filling is super spicy!! Of course everyone has their own variation. Here’s a basic recipe for Guamanian Empanadas: http://is.gd/1bpu

  • Beth August 1, 2008, 2:48 am

    I read somewhere that glutinous rice flour is used for the dough. Perhaps that’s what’s used instead of regular rice flour. hmm….

  • dhanggit August 1, 2008, 4:23 am

    this is awesome marvin!! i would love to try this with my duck confit sitting in the fridge :-) my only problem is finding a salted egg :-)

  • Fearless Kitchen August 1, 2008, 5:34 am

    This looks really interesting. I’m really curious about the beer in the dough.

  • Erin August 1, 2008, 7:43 am

    That was the best instructional video EVER! The empanadas look perfect.

  • TeddyKim August 1, 2008, 8:02 am

    Aside from getting the Ducktales theme song stuck in my head, this was probably one of my favorite posts of yours. OK, maybe I like the theme song stuck in my head. Great video too, very helpful.
    I’m still in awe that you fried empanadas in duck fat! It’s a simple enough idea, but I’ve never seen that before.

  • manggy August 1, 2008, 8:07 am

    Looks good, Marvin! You’re certainly very persistent! I would have thrown my hands up in the air after try number two. Now that you mention it, it is kind of a mystery how they develop those shells. Too bad my grandma who’s from Ilocos doesn’t really cook much! Grr! But I’ll still try to keep looking for the answer. It looks like you may have cracked it, though :)

  • Oggi August 1, 2008, 1:32 pm

    You have inspired me to make orange colored empanadas! It looks very yummy with the triple duck flavor.

  • Burnt Lumpia August 1, 2008, 3:40 pm

    Dough is definitely tricky stuff, Mila. I could barely handle this dough, but I can’t imagine having to finesse some handmade dumplings!
    Thanks Beth! I’ll take the comparison to McD’s as a compliment;P
    Thanks for that recipe, Fran! I bet masa harina would make the crust even crispier!
    Ahh, you might be on to something Beth! I didn’t know there were different types of rice flour. I will have to search out the glutinous kind.
    Hi dhanggit! Instead of the duck egg, try using some foie gras!
    Hi Fearless Kitchen. Even though I microwaved the beer for a little bit, it still had a bit of fizz to it afterwards. I think the fizz contributes to a crisper crust–I could be wrong though.
    Thanks Erin!
    I still can’t get that song outta my head, TK! But it does put me in a better mood though!
    If you find the answer manggy, please do let me know!
    Thanks oggi! Achuete seeds are the key;)

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js August 1, 2008, 4:04 pm

    Oh, I’m having a want-attack right now. I want this, I want this, I want this. An “ethnic” empanada and a tripleduckfest to boot!
    I can’t believe how persistent you are with the dough: I probably would have just eaten the duck and the egg after one try.

  • Jude August 1, 2008, 7:37 pm

    Looks great. The shaping pictures and description were really well done. Didn’t even have to look at the video.

  • Katrina August 2, 2008, 1:34 am

    IWANTIWANTIWANTIWANTIWANT!!! Duck, dough, deep-fried…those have got to be top on my list of favorite words! And wow, I admire your persistence, which clearly paid off big time.
    Hmp! Why does no one make duck empanada here?!

  • ahnjel August 2, 2008, 3:36 am

    you made me hungry! anyway, thats an awesome recipe since i dont really know how to handle pastry well. thanks! i will definitely try to make these, maybe not duck but ill try making them.

  • allison c. August 2, 2008, 5:10 pm

    Holy. Crap. That. Looks. Amazing. Well done, sir.
    Also, I live in Chicago, where there’s an amazing mecca of encased meats that serves duck fat fries on the weekends:
    Don’t tell me you wouldn’t be totally into that!

  • claudia (cook eat FRET) August 2, 2008, 5:52 pm

    wonderful post
    just found you via tastespotting
    your video was just great, funny and informative – like if i was ever going to make anything that easy to screw up…
    love the blog

  • rain August 2, 2008, 6:51 pm

    i havent had an empanada (well, a filipino one) in a looong time.
    do you think this can be baked instead of fried?

  • dp August 3, 2008, 10:41 am

    The empanadas look good and I’m sure the duck fat did impart a wonderful flavor.
    I commend you on your persistence! It drives me crazy when my mom gives me instructions for a dish. She’ll say, “It’s just this or that!” in a way that makes me feel like a big dummy. But I’ve come to find out it’s never as easy as she makes it sound.

  • Marichu August 4, 2008, 1:50 am

    Oh no you didn’t! I have just gotten this kanto food out of my head and now I read about it on your site.
    Well, I sympathize with you on the vague dough recipe so I googled and found it under the name galapong. It is glutinous rice flour with a bit of water. Again, vague, right? So a little more digging turned up an Ilocano recipe, in Ilocano. Here’s the translated version (stuff in parentheses are mine):
    1/2 kilo flour (no mention of what kind)
    2 eggs, scrambled
    orange food coloring
    3 tablespoon cooking oil
    Mix flour with egg. Add a bit of water (sorry, no specified amount) and oil. Then roll.
    Hope that turns out well cuz I haven’t tried it. =).

  • manju August 4, 2008, 7:51 am

    Wow, Marv, you’ve done it again — the drool factor of those empanadas is through the roof! Great video, how did you ever find a song to match it so perfectly?!

  • Joelen August 4, 2008, 9:04 am

    Sarap! Nice work on your empanadas! In fact, I’m hosting a “hand pie” blogging event on my blog and would love to include you in the round up! You can get the details on my blog. Your posts are great and I look forward to reading more.

  • veron August 4, 2008, 10:37 am

    Yummy! this look like something I’d truly love – duck and duck fat!

  • Jescel August 4, 2008, 12:36 pm

    it’s a wonder that you haven’t started quacking yet! LOL…. hey, good tip on cutting the dough with the plates…Pinoys are really smart.hehehe..i actually tried rice flour as dough for my siopao, but I wasn’t successful even if I added flour.. don’t know what went wrong. i’ll try again… the empanadas look real yummy.. or should I say… quack,quack….

  • Wandering Chopsticks August 4, 2008, 12:46 pm

    Boiling water. It activates the gluten in the flour and makes it pliable. My potsticker dough is just all-purpose flour and boiling water.
    Hey! I thought I had dibs on the other duck leg? You promised! Because I suggested duck a la kalamansi orange remember? Hmph!

  • White On Rice Couple August 5, 2008, 2:00 am

    Great dish and vid Marvin! Especially after you returned from your vacation to share your inspirations with all of us. I like the music too and the fact that it has the word “duck” in the title!

  • joey August 5, 2008, 5:05 am

    Bravo! Figuring out Ilocano empanada crust on your own deserves a standing ovation!!!
    The crust looks fantastic…even moreso as it’s fried in duck fat…oohlala! I like :)

  • Burnt Lumpia August 5, 2008, 11:02 am

    Thanks eatingclub, I hope you’ve gotten over your want-attack by now;)
    Thanks jude. I figured I’d do the vid just in case I wasn’t making any sense.
    Hey Katrina. I couldn’t give up on the dough, I really really wanted to fry something in that duck fat!
    Thanks ahnjel. And yes, you can use anything besides duck if you please.
    Thanks Allison! I would totally be into the fries at hot dougs, and the hot dogs as well! I’ve read so much about that place. If I’m ever in chi-town I will definitely stop by hot doug’s.
    Thanks very much for stopping by, claudia!
    Hi rain. I’m actually not sure if this can be baked instead of fried. I’m guessing that if this were baked, the results would be completely different, so I wouldn’t recommend using my recipe for baking.
    It’s never that easy, dp;) But that’s the fun of the kitchen–experimenting and trying to figure out the secrets!
    Wow, thanks for finding that recipe and translating Marichu! I’ll have to test it out.
    Hi Manju. I actually just made the video, then stuck the song over it. I didn’t know how well the music actually fit what was going on until afterwards. But it ended up matching pretty well.
    Thanks joelen! I’ll take a look at the hand pies on your blog. Thanks for visiting my blog.
    Hi veron, duck fat is the best!
    Hey there Jescel! I was pretty close to quacking;) That’s pretty impressive that you’d make your own siopao too!
    Hi WC. I’ll give the boiling water a try too, but there is little to no gluten in rice flour, so I’m not sure if it would work the same. And sorry about the duck leg, I owe you;)
    Thanks very much WORC! And yes, I did get a few ideas from my vacation.
    Thanks joey, although I’m not sure I figured it out yet. I still think I cheated with the egg and all purpose flour.

  • Lori Lynn August 5, 2008, 8:49 pm

    Can I please have one NOW? With a cold beer? Marvin – those look fabulous but more so I love your sense of humor. duck, duck, dough. haha

  • Julie August 6, 2008, 8:12 am

    Man, my feed to your blog is broken and never tells me when you update! Maybe it’s because it’s plugged into MyYahoo!
    Anyway, holy beautiful empanada!!! It’s gorgeous, and what beautiful use of all things duck.
    You should just try the dough recipe with plain water. Glutinous rice flour and sweet rice flour (your Mochiko) are the same stuff, so that’s not your problem. Maybe you’re putting too much water and not kneading it long enough. You might also try letting it sit awhile so the flour has time to suck all the moisture up. Also, try lightly oiling your plastic so your dough isn’t tempted to stick to it at all.

  • Marichu August 7, 2008, 4:04 am

    Okay, I think I’ve cracked it. 1 bag of glutinous rice flour (if you Google it, then it’s the green bag with green lettering in English and Thai), 1 and 2/3 cup boiling water, 3 tbsp cooking oil, and achuete (mixed in with the flour).
    So, I start out with 1/2 cup flour and add 1/2 cup water. The mixture should be watery so I add more flour. Then it starts looking like mushed rice. Keep adding flour until you can pick it up without the mixture sticking like rice paste. Then I add the oil and knead. Oh, I made the dough in batches and stirred with a regular spoon. I made about 3 batches from that bag ‘cuz I don’t have the muscles to stir 1 big batch.
    I had hole problems when I rolled the dough too thin so I left it a bit thicker. Still tasted good, though!

  • JamminredheadEd August 15, 2008, 3:23 pm

    “What the Duck!?” -Awww… you crack me up!!!
    As a young woman that had little opportunity to explore her Filipino heritage, save for a few Filipino Community picnics attended as a child, I am delighted to find this site. Here, I can dig up some of those picnic favorites and share them with the family. Nobody’d guess my grandfather was Filipino because I was not taught the language and I look so white, but maybe with these recipes they’ll at least believe me.

  • Leica September 12, 2008, 2:57 am

    I went to Ilocos as well and the vendors were very vague with their recipe. They all say the same though, just rice flour and water for the dough.
    The filling though are very varied. I like my Ilocos Empanadas with Batac longganisa and grated raw papayas (no egg) and dipped in Ilocos Vinegar. Yum!

  • russ September 14, 2008, 10:01 pm

    Nalingaw lagi ko dire. Padayona ang pagkig-ila-ila sa nasud sa imong kadugu-an pina-agi sa pagluto ug pagkaon! bisita niya sa cebu bai, kaila ka’g “puso”?
    I’m sure you know some folks there who speak Bisaya…

  • fonzy08 September 21, 2008, 11:45 pm

    go0d responses from you all guys. binasa ko lang lahat ng comment, as if Ive already attended an empanada seminar, hahaha..
    can anyone orient me how to cook the original version of sisig and dinakdakan.
    -pure blooded ilocano living in negros occidental..hehehe

  • Chris J May 5, 2014, 3:58 pm

    Wow. Ever since I really ate an excellent duck confit and learned of the great taste, I have been a big duck fan. Mostly confit, sometimes in noodles, and sometimes as seared breast. But your recipe for duck adobo confit–gotta try it.

    My wife is after me to do more Filipino cooking which I’m down with–but I want to spin it my way…or at least a slightly different way. Duck Adobo Confit. Super!


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