Boiling meat in water? I don’t see it. How can this be done to succulent beef, pork or chicken?…it’s sacrilege!
My Mom is a great cook. I’ve savored over the traditional Mexican meals such as mole, lengua, steak picado, etc because she cooks it with love. Then there rare instances when her cuisine cooking falls short of expectations and that love she brings to food turns into thoughts of, “What did I do to deserve this?”.
Albondigas (meatball) soup tops this list. I dreaded dinner time when Mom made the “soggy hamburger soup”. The primary technique to cook the soup was to boil meatballs in water with herbs and vegetables and served in a bowl. The problem for me was there wasn’t any flavor, it tasted like watered down beef broth. On top of that, the meatballs were gray and looked unappetizing.
For a long time, I thought all albondigas dishes were prepared like this…boiled and served as a soup. Not so, there are many ways to prepare albondigas. For example, I will show a rare form of albondigas done on the grill. It’s going to be spicy and flavorful and I hope to forget everything bad I remember as a child about albondigas
First I start with the sauce…which will have tasty fresh veggies, herbs, spices and very little water to help it all bind together.
- 4 Roma tomatoes
- ½ medium Onion
- 3 cloves Garlic
- 1 tbsp Chopped cilantro
- 2 cups Chicken broth
- 2 Chipotle peppers (from a can)
- ½ cup Adobo sauce
- Setup the 2-zone grill method.
- Roast the tomatoes and onion until you see some grill marks.
- Put the tomatoes, onion and the rest of the items in a food processor and blend well. Don’t puree, leave it a little chunky.
- Pour the sauce into a 9” x 12” aluminum foil pan.
- Store it in the fridge until ready to use.
The sauce will be spicy, but with great flavor. If you want to tone down the heat, remove the seeds from the peppers or leave out the chipotles altogether. Mild heat will still be present in the adobo sauce.
Now, let’s begin making the meatballs. Fortunately, I had a pound of ground lamb thawed out. I never tried it before, but I know Mexican cuisine occasionally calls for lamb (aka…cordero). In addition, I had some ground chuck on hand to add even more flavor. If you don’t have ground lamb, use all chuck or ground pork instead.
- 1lb Ground lamb
- ½ lb Ground chuck
- ¼ cup Milk
- 1 Egg
- ½ cup Cooked rice
- ½ tsp Ground cumin
- ½ cup Bread crumbs
- 1 tsp Oregano
- Salt & Pepper
Also needed: ½ Medium onion (sliced into rings) and cilantro.
- Combine all ingredients together (except the onion) in a large bowl.
- Add S&P to taste.
- Mix all the ingredients well.
- Form large meatballs, about 2” diameter.
- When the grill is ready, place the meatballs on the cool side.
- Place the foil pan with the sauce on the hot side of the grill.
- Cook for 10 minutes with the lid on and vents wide open.
Grilling the meatballs first does a few of things 1) they develop a light char from the indirect heat 2) they absorb a hint of smoke all around and 3) it precooks the meat. We don’t want to cook the albondigas all the way right now because they’re going to simmer in a bath of smoky sweet heat. Letting the meatballs braise in the sauce allows the meat juices to flavor the sauce.
Once the 10 minutes are up, follow these directions:
- Place all the meatballs and the sliced onion into the foil pan.
- Move the foil pan to the cool side of the grill.
- Check the fire, add more charcoal if needed.
- Close the lid with the vents wide open.
- Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your meatballs.
- They are done when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
My albondigas were about 2 inches in diameter, so I kept them on the grill for 45 minutes. Do not open the lid or peek until about 30 minutes. Keep that lid closed as long as you can because all that heat will escape from the chamber once you open it. And depending on the cooker, it takes a while to build heat back up.
After the albondigas are done, let them rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Albondigas can be served with just a bowl of rice, but I served it with a side of black beans. Make sure to top the meatballs with sauce, onion and garnish with cilantro.
When I cut into the albondigas, they were so moist and delicious. However, next time I will eliminate the breadcrumbs in lieu of more rice because there wasn’t enough. I liked how tender the rice was inside the albondigas. This is exactly what I had in mind for albondigas…spicy and full of flavor. If my Mom had made this for me back in the day, I would have added it to the long list of homerun meals she’s prepared.