Thursday, May 10, 2012

Albondigas in Chipotle Sauce

Albondigas are Spanish meatballs and I believe they're most commonly made in soups. The first time I ever had them was in a soup, actually. I think what most Mexican recipes call for is raw rice in the meat mixture which is then cooked in a stock over a long period of time until the rice cooks through, which is pretty interesting. However, I'm not a huge fan of that technique and I don't like how the meatballs can turn tough and dry. My Mexican coworker brought some albondigas in for lunch one day and his were prepared with some sort of tomato-y sauce over rice, which I think is a more common Spanish tapas-style recipe. I'm not quite sure what was in them and he wasn't even that positive because his wife had made them so I had to just do a little experimenting on my own.

Ingredients for the meatball mixture [yields about 24 meatballs]:
1-1/4 lb ground beef (I like a leaner mix, 90-10, but it's up to you)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs or 2 slices stale bread torn up or 1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup shredded jack cheese

Ingredients for the chipotle sauce:
1/2 cup chopped onion
7 oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 tablespoon dark bittersweet chocolate chips
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
5 or 6 roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees before combining all of the meatball ingredients. You can see in the photo below that I chopped my onion into rather large pieces. This is my preference. I like having big chunks of "stuff" in my meatballs (and my meatloaf). I feel like it makes it seem more rustic and homemade and delicious. I used my hands to smash everything together and stopped just when everything came together. Over-mixing the meatball mixture will give them an unpleasant texture: tough, chewy, and mealy.

Next. I used my handy-dandy (new) cookie scoop to portion out my meatballs. This is a good technique because it makes sure that all of the meatballs are the same size so that they cook evenly. My scoop is a 1-1/2 tablespoon scoop and I ended up with exactly 24 meatballs. I like the slightly smaller meatballs because they cook up faster (so they don't have as much time to dry out) and they're bite-sized, or 2-bite-sized for people with smaller mouths. Once the meatballs were portioned, I rolled them in my hands to make them nice and round.

Then I popped the pans in the oven and let the meatballs cook for about 25 minutes.
Here's what the meatballs look like when they're done:
To make the sauce (which I did while the meatballs were cooking), I started by scoring the bottoms of the tomatoes (the pointy ends of roma tomatoes) with an 'X', about 1/4" deep into the flesh.
Then, I dropped them in some salted boiling water for two minutes. This helps make it really easy to peel the skin off of the tomatoes. You'll actually see it curling back and it'll pretty much just slip right off.
To assemble the sauce, I started the onions and garlic in olive oil over low heat in a large skillet - anything wide and shallow, like a frying pan, is ideal for assembling this sauce. Once the onions and garlic had sweat and started to turn translucent, I took each tomato and squeezed it gently (so it wouldn't squirt all over the place) into the pan. Using a wooden spoon, I stirred the tomatoes around and helped break them up over a low, gentle heat.

Once the tomatoes were sufficiently broken down, I added in the chocolate chips and stirred. What the chocolate does is add a deep sweetness that actually goes great with the tomatoes and the chipotle. If you're apprehensive about the chocolate, you don't have to add it in, but I think it's really nice. Then I added in the entire can of chipotle peppers and sauce and used the same technique as I did with the tomatoes; I used the wooden spoon to break up the pieces.

Once the sauce started to bubble, I knew it was done. I gave it a quick taste to see if it needed any salt or pepper, and then added in the cooked meatballs. That's why the large shallow pan is better than a saucepan - so that the meatballs can sit in one layer in the sauce.
Once the meatballs are coated in the sauce, sprinkle with the cilantro. Serve over rice or with pasta, as an appetizer/tapas with toothpicks, or even with tortillas as the protein filling for fajitas.

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