07 November 2011

Chipotle meatballs

I mentioned these meatballs yesterday. I had seen a recipe for them on the 'net somewhere, and then I found a recipe in Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. He says the meatballs are traditionally made with ground pork, but that other meats — turkey or lamb, for example — would also be good. I've adapted the recipe for the ingredients I had or could get.

When I was at the supermarket, I found what they call « farce fine » in the butcher section. That's a mix of ground pork and ground veal, seasoned with some chopped garlic and parsley. I really wanted lamb, which you can't buy already ground, but then we have a meat grinder and often grind meat for ourselves at home.

Then I noticed a pack of merguez sausages, which are a North African sausage that is very widely available in France. Merguez are made with a filling of ground lamb and spices, or with a mixture of lamb, beef, and spices. That's what these were.

I thought the lamb-beef mixture combined with the pork-veal stuffing meat would make good meatballs with Mexican spices and ingredients. I had about 1¾ lbs. of meat in all. It was no trouble to take the merguez sausage meat out of the casings — slit the casing down one side of the sausage and it peels right off. Again, use the ground meat mixture you prefer or want to try.

I had a can or two of chipotle peppers that somebody was kind enough to bring me from the U.S. Or maybe I brought them back myself. Anyway, chipotle peppers are ripe red jalapeños that have been roasted and smoked. In tins, they are packed in a thick tomato sauce called adobo.

The ingredients for the meatball mixture are half a cup of fresh mint leaves coarsely chopped, three-fourths of a cup of breadcrumbs, one chipotle pepper finely diced, a minced garlic clove, plus smoked paprika, sweet paprika, salt,and black pepper to taste. Mix all that up with the meat in a big bowl.

Maybe you are better at making meatballs of uniform size than I am. This amount of ground meat should make between 16 and 24 meatballs, depending on how big you want them to be. I made them pretty big and next time I'll go smaller.

What I do to get a certain number of meatballs of the same size is to form the meat into a long log and then cut it with a knife into as many pieces as I want. Then I can roll each cube or slice of meat into a ball and everything comes out even. I've tried tablespoons and ice cream scoops but the method I describe, pictured above, seems the easiest.

Put the meatballs in a big baking pan and cook them in a hot oven (425ºF/220ºC) for fifteen minutes until they are lightly browned. If you want to, you can spoon any extra fat out of the pan after they're browned and discard it. It depends on how fatty the meat mixture is.

Meanwhile, make a sauce by combining two cups of tomato puree or sauce with a couple of minced garlic cloves and two finely diced chipotle peppers (there are half a dozen chipotles in a small tin).

If you can get roasted tomatoes in large tins, use those instead of tomato sauce. Or add some smoked paprika to the tomato sauce to give it that kind of flavor, as well as some of the adobo sauce the chipotles are packed in to give it a good kick. Purée all the sauce ingredients together with, for example, a stick blender. Taste the sauce for spiciness as you go, adding more adobo to taste.

Pour the tomato sauce into the baking dish, over and around the meatballs. Put the pan back in the oven for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the meatballs are completely cooked and the sauce has thickened up to approximately the consistency of tomato paste.

Take the meatballs out of the sauce and keep them warm in the oven, which you have turned off. Pour or scrape the thick tomato-chipotle sauce into a sauce pan and then add enough hot broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable) or even hot water to give it a spoonable consistency for serving. Pour it over the meatballs in a serving dish, and there you have it.

Serve with rice or polenta and a vegetable or a salad. We had cooked carrots and polenta with ours. This is good food for these cool gray November days we are having here.


  1. These sound delicious. Chipotles in adobe are so good.

    I just tried your method of steaming pork for BBQ. It worked pretty well with the jar of Dreamlands BBQ sauce we were given. Not Eastern NC style, but good just the same.

  2. Hi Carolyn, I just looked up Dreamlands and so now I know what and where it is. I bet the sauce is pretty sweet, no? You can make Eastern N.C. barbecue sauce by adding hot and sweet paprika, black pepper, and spices like thyme to plain distilled vinegar. I need to work up a more precise recipe for the Eastern NC vinegar-based sauce.

  3. Oh, God, a recipe. Blah blah blah. Just feed me! (They look delicious.)

  4. Wow, good idea for portioning out the meatballs with the logs cut into sections.

    I never knew what Chipotle peppers were :)) I thought they were a different variety!

  5. Hadn't thought of using the Merguez in this way. We buy chair from the butcher in Grand Pressigny and 250gms makes 12 meatballs which we freeze [tray freeze and then bag]. This gives a good meal for two with homemade pasta sauce.
    Next time we'll buy some merguez and then add them to some chair along with some ras-al-hanout and freeze them ready for future use... thanks for giving us the idea.

  6. Carolyn, are you in Birmingham, AL or Tuscaloosa? Those are the only two Dreamland locations that I know about. Ken prefers NC sauce, but our sweet sauces are good too.

    Ken, your dinner looks great. Hope you are on the mend now.

  7. I had never heard the word chipotle before, then twice in one day, on different blogs, the other blog used it in baking a cake.

    I still don't really know what it is !!

  8. Jean, chipotle or chilpotle peppers are jalapeño peppers that have ripened and started dry on the plant. They are further dried/roasted and smoked. They can be used in their dried form or packed and sort of rehydrated in tomato puree with onions, garlic, and other aromatics. Chipotles are not too hot but are nice and smoky. What was the other blog?

  9. Great recipe. I think I'd like it a little less spicy.

  10. I misspelled adobo! Chipotles in adobe would be hard chewing.

    Evelyn, we live about 13 hours from Dreamlands. But our neighbor drives to Tuscaloosa in one day! The sauce was sweet--I looked at the label afterwards and found high fructose corn syrup was ingredient #3.

    Ken, I'll be looking for your definitive sauce recipe one of these days. But I think the flavor has more to do with the long slow cooking of the meat.

  11. I like your idea of how to make equal size meatballs and will try it. Mine never seem to be the same size.

  12. Hi Carolyn, I'm sure you're right about the long, slow cooking of the meat. The hickory wood smoke, for example, and also the right cut of meat: pork shoulder, called Boston butt. The sauce is not just an extra, however. Vinegar helps tenderize the meat, I think.


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