Chipotles are smoked and dried jalapeño chillies. The smoky and spicy taste is characteristic of many Mexican dishes. However, there is a catch: chipotles are very hot. In the case of this chilli, there’s no smoke without fire. It’s easier to control the heat with whole chipotles, break them open and remove the seeds and veins. Chipotle powders, pastes and sauces (or canned chipotles en adobo) can be used as alternatives – add a little at a time, tasting after each addition. In this recipe I deal with the heat by making the meatballs less spicy, allowing the sauce to carry the heat. I’ve boosted the smokiness of the sauce by adding ordinary smoked paprika (not Spanish pimenton).
- I cook the onion before adding to the meatballs, it gives the meat a mellower and richer taste.
- I’ve soaked the breadcrumbs in cream. This provides extra moisture and gives a slightly softer texture to the meatballs.
- The meatballs include Wensleydale cheese, this is similar to an aged añejo Mexican cheese. Try feta or Pecorino Sardo as alternatives.
- I’ve used several spices, they help give an authentic – or at least distinctive – taste to the dish. The spices that surprisingly appear regularly in Mexican recipes are cinnamon and allspice. Cumin is used sparingly.
- The meat was supplied by CD Jennings & Sons, Surbiton.
1. Make the breadcrumbs. Use a fresh rustic-type loaf to make the breadcrumbs. Cut off the crust and cut into chunks. Measure 30g and blitz in blender. Put the cream in a bowl and add the crumbs.
2. Make the meatball mixture. Separately, chop the onion, chillies and garlic into a very fine dice. Put a heavy pan on a low-medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of light olive oil and then the onions with half a teaspoon of salt. Gently fry the onions, stirring often for 10 minutes. Then add the chillies and fry for 5 minutes, finally add the garlic and fry for a further 5 minutes. In a large bowl, mix the two meats together. In a separate bowl beat the eggs, whisk in the breadcrumbs and cream, then the cooked onion mixture, the cheese and remaining herbs and spices. Add to the meat and mix thoroughly. Put the mixture in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.
3. Make the sauce. Put the chipotle flakes in a mug and add a tablespoon of hot water. Chop the onion and garlic into a fine dice. Put a large heavy pan on a low-medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of light olive oil and then the onions and garlic with half a teaspoon of salt. Gently fry the onions and garlic, stirring often for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock, tomato puree, sugar, the chipotle flakes (and their soaking water) and the remaining herbs and spices. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
4. Make the meatballs. Form small amounts of the meat mixture into walnut-sized ball. Work each well in the hands to make a smooth compact ball. Continue working through the mixture to make similar-sized balls and set aside on plates.
5. Fry the meatballs. Using a large heavy frying pan, add about 80ml -100ml of vegetable oil. Heat the pan on a medium-high heat and fry the meatballs in small batches until browned. Drain each batch and set aside as you work through all the balls. Try to ensure the meatballs brown without burning. When all the meatballs have been fried, drain the pan of oil and deglaze with a little hot water. Taste the resulting liquid, it should be full of flavour and can be added to the main sauce. However, discard if it tastes at all burnt or bitter.
6. Finish the meatballs. Carefully add the browned meatballs to the sauce, simmer gently for 5-10 minutes.
7. Serve. These meatballs are great with corn tortillas, they can also be served with rice and mixed salad. Garnish with crumbled Wensleydale cheese, chopped parsley, sliced radishes, Greek yoghurt and lime.