The Food Chain

Russell Moore Is Captivated by Il Buco’s Beef Empanadas

Photo: Melissa Hom

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last time around, Oakland chef Alison Barakat raved about the boudin blanc with duck-fat potatoes that Russell Moore makes at Camino. What rings your bell, Russell?

Who: Russell Moore, chef-owner of Camino in Oakland
What: Beef empanadas
Where: Il Buco, New York
When: February

“My wife and I took a trip to New York, and we walked into my friend Ignacio Mattos’s restaurant — he’s from Uruguay, but he’s a chef at an Italian restaurant — and we were really tired, but it was lunchtime. He wanted to feed us, not too much, but you know how chefs can be cooking for other chefs. He sent out these empanadas in the middle of the meal, as if it was a pasta course or something. He has them on the menu at this place, and I have no idea how, but these beef empanadas were just as light and beautiful as can be. I asked him how he made them, and he said it was his grandmother’s recipe and explained the technique, but I’ve never been able to replicate them myself. For whatever reason, they fit perfectly in the middle of an Italian meal.”

Il Buco chef Ignacio Mattos spills the beans:

“We use a nice skirt steak, and it’s hand cut. We dice it all by hand, toss it with some caramelized onions, cumin, pimenton, a lot of love — that’s about it. Home cooks usually do it with ground beef instead of diced beef, and the difference is just that when you do it diced, you can get it juicier, so you have a much moister, richer feeling. They’re pretty messy: You take a bite and it’s juice just dripping all over.

But right now empanadas aren’t on the menu. We took them off just for fun, to play with the menu a little bit. People actually do ask for them, but I love it when people don’t get what they want, and instead get something that’s just as good and they get really turned on. We’re doing some croquetas now that are just unbelievable. I miss the empanadas myself, personally — it’s one of those things you keep in the refrigerator and it’s a perfect snack, you just drop it in the fryer and you have a beautiful, succulent meal in minutes. But it was hard to control the staff from eating them all. We were probably doing half of them just for the staff!”

Russell Moore Is Captivated by Il Buco’s Beef Empanadas