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This version of Spanish Meatballs (albondigas en salsa) is just like those you'll find served in shallow, earthenware cazuelas in old Madrid Tapas Bars. It's a restaurant worthy dish that's accessible to the home cook with everyday ingredients and straightforward methods.
Every country, every culture has meatballs. They're just hand-rolled balls of ground meat, right? How different can they be? But if you know meatballs, you know they can range from just okay to completely irresistible. These are the latter: real deal, saucy, Spanish-style meatballs that melt in your mouth.
Ingredients You Need to Make Spanish Meatballs
- Panko Breadcrumbs: Read the label on these, some are loaded with preservatives.
- Milk: Ideally whole milk.
- White Onion: Or yellow onion.
- Ground Pork: Not too lean.
- Ground Beef: Also not too lean.
- Eggs: Large or extra-large eggs.
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper: Ideally freshly ground.
- Nutmeg: Ground or freshly grated.
- Fresh Parsley: Ideally flat leaf.
- Olive Oil: Ideally extra virgin olive oil.
- Carrot: Leave the peel intact if you prefer.
- Sweet Paprika: Not smoked.
- Diced Tomatoes: Partially drained, retaining ¼ cup of juice.
- Brandy: Or cognac.
- Dry Red Wine: Such as Tempranillo or Garnacha (Grenache).
- Chicken Stock: Or chicken broth.
- All-Purpose Flour
I've adapted this recipe from The New Spanish Table, a magnificent cookbook by Anya von Bremzen that's worth adding to your shelf. It's an inspiring compilation of 300 recipes ranging from Spain's tapas bars and paella shacks, to the best Spanish chefs and home cooks.
The meatballs blend ground pork and ground beef with onion, a bit of bread and milk, egg, parsley and just a whisper of nutmeg. Lightly floured and fried they achieve a delectable crust, and already these meatballs are extraordinary.
There's more. This is a saucy dish, and the sauce is at once delicate and complex. Finely minced onions, sweet carrots, high-quality canned tomatoes, and a kiss of sweet paprika form the foundation. Chicken stock and splashes of brandy and red wine bring the sauce home.
The original recipe's main components are here, but I did make a few adjustments. Using panko breadcrumbs instead of fresh white bread, for their light texture and the ease of not having to squeeze them out after soaking in onion and milk. I also substituted diced tomatoes to avoid using a partial can of whole tomatoes (this also skipped the step of chopping them).
Coating meatballs in flour and frying is a step that I often avoid, opting for baking instead. But here, the result is worth the effort.
These Spanish meatballs are more than comforting, they're festive! A true celebration of meatballs cooked right.
More Delicious Meatball Recipes
- Spicy Pork Meatballs
- Cheesy Baked Italian Meatballs
- Lamb Meatballs with Tomato Sauce, Feta and Mint
- Mexican Meatballs
- Albondigas Soup
How to Make Spanish Meatballs
Step 1: Combine breadcrumbs, milk, and chopped onion in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes then mix in remaining meatball ingredients with your hands (pork, beef, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and parsley). Cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.
Step 2: Cook onion and carrot until softened and starting to brown in hot olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add paprika, tomatoes and ¼ cup of their juice, and brandy. Reduce slightly over high heat. Add wine and chicken stock and simmer, partly covered for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Puree half of sauce in a standard blender or immersion blender and return to saucepan. Keep warm and add more broth if sauce is getting too thick.
Step 3: Add a thin layer of flour to a large plate and set nearby. Scoop enough meat mixture out to form a 1 ¼-inch ball and place on parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining meat mixture, placing the mounds side by side. Gently roll each mound into a ball and return to baking sheet. Lightly coat each ball with flour, shaking off any excess and return to baking sheet.
Step 4: In a large, non-stick skillet brown the meatballs on all sides in hot olive oil in two batches, placing both batches of browned meatballs in a large bowl. Add ⅓ cup water to hot, empty skillet and scrape up any browned bits; add to sauce.
Step 5: Add meatballs and any juice to the sauce and gently stir to combine. Cover and simmer over low heat until cooked through. Let stand off heat for 5 minutes before transferring to shallow serving bowl or cazuela. Garnish with parsley and serve.
- ⅔ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons milk
- ¼ cup finely chopped white onion (note that you'll need more white onion for the sauce)
- 1 pound ground pork
- ½ pound ground beef
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt plus more for the sauce
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- pinch ground nutmeg or 2 to 3 gratings of fresh nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley plus more for garnish
- 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 small white onion finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot peeled and diced
- ¾ teaspoon sweet paprika (not smoked)
- 14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes chopped and drained, reserving ¼ cup of juice
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- 1 cup dry red wine (recipe note #2)
- 1 ¼ cups chicken stock or broth, or more as needed
- all-purpose flour for dusting the meatballs
- Add breadcrumbs, milk, and finely chopped onion to a large bowl; stir until well combined and let stand 5 minutes.
- To breadcrumb mixture, add pork, beef, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and parsley. Knead mixture gently until thoroughly combined (do not overwork or your meatballs will be tough). Cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce (about 40 minutes).
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add onion and carrot; cook and stir until softened and starting to brown, 5-7 minutes. Add paprika, tomatoes plus ¼ cup of their juice and brandy. Increase heat to high; cook and stir 1 minute, or until reduced slightly. Stir in wine and chicken stock and bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste.
- Puree half of the sauce in a standard blender and return to saucepan. Or puree half of the sauce right in the saucepan with an immersion blender. Place over low heat to keep warm while you prepare the meatballs. (Add chicken stock as needed if sauce is getting too thick.)
- To make the meatballs, spread a thin layer of flour on a large plate and set a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet nearby. Use a teaspoon or 1-tablespoon scoop to portion meatball mixture into about 1 ¼-inch diameter ragged portions and place side by side on baking sheet. Gently roll each ragged portion between between cupped hands into a ball, returning meatballs to baking sheet as you go. Then gently roll each meatball in flour, shaking off any excess and return to baking sheet.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs and brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer browned meatballs to bowl. Repeat with remaining olive oil and meatballs.
- Add ⅓ cup water to empty skillet; cook and stir, scraping up any brown bits and add to sauce.
- Add browned meatballs and any accumulated liquid to sauce and gently stir to combine; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover; simmer 5 to 7 minutes to cook meatballs through completely. Remove from heat to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer meatballs and sauce to cazuela or other shallow serving bowl and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve.
- One large white onion is enough for both the grated onion in the meatballs and chopped onion in the sauce.
- Anya von Bremzen notes that dry white wine is often used for these saucy meatballs, though she chose dry red wine for hers. Both ways are delicious.
- Serves 8 people as a tapa with crusty bread, 6 as a main course with rice or potatoes.