Saturday, March 2, 2019


I’m crazy for meatballs. But I don’t relish the process of making them. I don’t mind rolling them, but flouring and frying a few dozen balls is a pain. I started out intending to try the oven-roasting method to cook the meatballs and wound up giving my favorite meatball recipe a complete re-make. 

Besides doing away with the frying, I eliminated the carbs (bread) from both the meatballs and the traditional almond sauce. And, I used ground chicken thighs instead of the usual pork-beef ground meat. I must say, I’m delighted with the results.

A remake of a traditional Spanish meatball recipe. The meatballs are made with ground chicken, there's no bread and they're not fried. The sauce is classic, though, with almonds and saffron.

Bread in meatball mix is not just filler. It actually keeps the meat from compacting, preventing dense, hard, dry balls.  So, I needed to replace the bread with something. Ground almonds were the perfect solution. They contributed moistness, richness and flavor. (Other gluten-free additions—although not low-carb—are chickpea flour, oat flakes, cooked rice or cornmeal.) Finely chopped mushrooms added meatiness and juiciness to the ground chicken.

In 10 minutes of roasting, the meatballs were done (no longer pink in the center), but they were browned only on the bottom. I tried turning some of them and placing them under the broiler for a few minutes, but I decided I liked the meatballs best juicy and pale, the better to show off the golden saffron sauce.

For the sauce, I eliminated the bread that usually thickens the sauce and increased the quantity of almonds.

Meatballs in almond sauce are favorite tapa bar fare.

A tapa-sized portion. In a tapas bar, meatballs are served with a few patatas fritas (fries) and chunks of bread. In keeping with the low-carb theme, I served them with neither potatoes nor bread.

Meatballs for dinner, with "zoodles"--low-carb zucchini noodles.

Meatballs in Almond-Saffron Sauce
Albóndigas en Salsa de Almendras

Makes 30 meatballs.

For the meatballs:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces mushrooms (1 cup finely chopped)
1 egg
½ cup ground almonds (unsweetened)
¼ cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grating of fresh nutmeg
1 ½ pounds ground chicken thighs

Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the chopped mushrooms until they have lost their moisture and begin to sizzle in the oil (4 minutes). Remove from heat and let them cool slightly.

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Mix in the almonds, onions, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the sautéed mushrooms and oil from the skillet. 

Mix meat in very lightly.

Use a fork to fold the ground chicken into the mixture in the bowl.

Cook one meatball to taste.
(Fry one meatball in a small skillet to taste for seasoning.)

Line a rimmed baking sheet with baking parchment. 

Form the chicken mixture into walnut-sized balls. (If you like precision, that’s about 1 ounce per ball.) Place them as they are shaped on the baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. 

Roast the meatballs until just done, 10-12 minutes. (If you want them to brown on two sides, turn them after 6 minutes.)

Roasted meatballs are browned only on the bottoms.
For the almond-saffron sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup blanched and skinned almonds
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ teaspoon saffron
10 peppercorns
1 clove
¼ cup hot water
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Fry almonds till golden and crisp.

Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the almonds and garlic until golden. Skim out the almonds and garlic and place them in a blender. Leave the oil in the skillet.

Crush the saffron, peppercorns and clove in a mortar. Add hot water and let the saffron infuse. 

Add the wine to the blender with almonds and garlic. Add the spices and water. Blend the mixture to make a smooth paste. 

Pour the almond mixture into the oil in the skillet. Stir in the chicken stock. Add salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon). Simmer the sauce, stirring, until it is smooth and thickened, about 8 minutes.

To serve, add the roasted meatballs to the sauce and reheat them. Serve the meatballs garnished with chopped parsley.

Ground almonds help to keep oven-roasted meatballs juicy and tender. The dark flecks in the meatballs are chopped mushrooms, which add to the meatiness.

More meatball recipes:

More recipes with almond-saffron sauce:

More low-carb recipes:

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