Papas rellena, literally “stuffed potatoes,” are fried balls, or slightly flattened balls, of mashed potatoes with a meat filling. They are a traditional potato dish in several South American countries, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Both a street food and a dish prepared in homes and restaurants, papas rellena are widely regarded as a comfort food.
In Peru and Chile, papas rellena are fairly large, about the size of a potato, and shaped much like a potato. The potatoes are boiled, then peeled and mashed. When cool, they are kneaded with salt and an egg to make a supple dough. The filling is seasoned ground or minced beef with raisins, black olives, chopped tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs. They are often served with an onion-based sauce.
Colombian papas rellena are smaller than those served in Peru and made in a slightly different way: Stuffed balls of plain mashed potatoes are dipped in batter before frying. They are served both hot and cold, for snacks and sometimes for breakfast. A variety of fillings are used, including some that are just chopped vegetables, such as peas and carrots, with seasonings. If a meat filling is used it often has rice and eggs added to it. Aja sauce, made of chopped fresh tomatoes and chilies with vinegar and lime juice, may be served with them.
The Cuban version uses mashed potatoes mixed with egg yolks and sometimes milk, molded around a picadillo filling. Picadillo is a ground beef dish made with tomato, seasonings, green olives and raisins. The molded balls are dipped in slightly beaten egg white and rolled in dried bread crumbs or crushed corn flakes, then refrigerated before frying. Traditional Cuban bakeries sometimes sell papa rellenas by the piece.
In Puerto Rico, they are called relleno de papas. Fillings may be pork, beef, or chicken, cooked with tomato, seasonings, chopped green olives and capers. The mashed potatoes are mixed with salt, flour and eggs before the balls are assembled and fried.
No matter what the recipe, papas rellena are either deep-fried or fried in several inches of oil, about enough to come halfway up the balls, and turned once. A neutral tasting oil with a high smoke point is best for frying. It is important to handle them gently as they are somewhat fragile. If a coating or batter is not used, dipping them in slightly beaten egg will help the papas rellena stay intact during frying.