Saturday, March 23, 2019


Just a couple weeks ago I proclaimed my love for meatballs. Then, I was rejiggering a classic Spanish tapas dish of meatballs in almond-saffron sauce. While I’m on a roll, I’m widening the meatball gyre to include this one, made with seafood.

Balls are made of ground cuttlefish. The sauce has white wine and fish stock plus fresh fava beans.

Albóndigas de choco are balls made of ground-up cuttlefish—choco is the name of the small cuttlefish, also called sepia or jibia. It’s a dish from Huelva, the westernmost province of Andalusia on the Atlantic coast.

These seafood balls can be served as tapas. Here they're accompanied by fries. 

For a main course, serve the cuttlefish balls with white rice.

Variation: add cuttlefish ink (from a packet) to the sauce and spoon it over the balls.

Cuttlefish is a cephalopod (like squid and octopus), with the “shell,” or cartilage on the inside. The cuttlefish body is thick-fleshed, unlike the squid (calamar), so it’s perfect for grinding.

A cuttlefish cleaned of innards and cuttlebone, weighing about ½ pound.

Uncleaned, these chocos at the market are not pretty, with traces of ink on their skin. Fishmonger will clean them.

In Spanish markets cuttlefish is sold whole and uncleaned or completely cleaned and ready to cut up. You will need almost 2 pounds whole, uncleaned cuttlefish to make 1 pound, cleaned. Some versions of this recipe include a small portion of peeled, chopped shrimp added to the ground cuttlefish.

A food processor is useful for mincing the cuttlefish, making bread crumbs, chopping parsley, garlic and onions for the sauce.

The flour remaining after dredging the balls can be used for thickening the sauce. The oil in which they are browned can be strained and used for sautéeing the onions for the sauce.

This cuttlefish balls in sauce may have fresh fava beans or peas added. The dish can be served as tapas, accompanied by chunks of bread or patatas fritas, fries, or as a main dish with fries or white rice.

A white wine with denominación Condado de Huelva would be perfect with this dish, but any fresh white wine will do. Fino manzanilla can be used instead of wine in the sauce.

Cuttlefish Balls
Albóndigas de Chocos

Makes 20 balls.

For the cuttlefish balls:
1 pound cleaned cuttlefish
3 slices day-old bread, crusts removed
½ cup parsley (to make ¼ cup chopped)
1 clove garlic
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Flour for dredging the cuttlefish balls (about 1/3 cup)
Olive oil for frying

Cuttlefish body is thick. Cut into pieces before grinding in a food processor.
Cut the cuttlefish into 1-inch pieces. Cut the bread into dice (3 slices should make about 2 cups, diced). 

Cuttlefish minced in processor.
Chop the parsley and garlic in a food processor. Add the cubed bread and process to make 1 ¼ cups coarse crumbs. Remove. Add the cut-up cuttlefish to the processor and chop to the consistency of ground meat. 

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the parsley-garlic-crumbs mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the chopped cuttlefish. Cover and chill the mixture for 30 minutes.

Place flour in a shallow pan.

Form balls and roll them in flour.
Dip hands in cold water and form walnut-sized balls with the cuttlefish mixture. Drop the balls into the flour and roll them to coat with flour.

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet. Add the cuttlefish balls and brown them on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove them as they are browned. The balls do not need to completely cook in the oil. (Cuttlefish balls may be prepared up to this point and refrigerated, covered, until ready to finish the dish.)

Cuttlefish balls are browned first. They finish cooking in the sauce.

Peas or favas in the sauce.
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup dry white wine
Pinch of saffron, crushed (optional)
1 ½ cups fish stock
1 bay leaf
1 chile (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shelled fava beans or peas
Chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion and garlic on medium heat until onion is softened, 5 minutes. Stir in the flour. Add the white wine and cook until alcohol is cooked off. 

If using saffron, add it to the stock. Stir the stock into the skillet. Add the bay leaf, chile, if using, and salt. Bring the sauce to a boil, then simmer, covered, 15 minutes. 

Add the fava beans and the browned cuttlefish balls. Cook on medium heat until cuttlefish balls are thoroughly heated, 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf and chile.

Serve the cuttlefish balls in sauce garnished with chopped parsley.

Variation: After heating the cuttlefish balls in the sauce, remove the balls with a slotted spoon. Dissolve 2 sachets of cuttlefish ink in about ¼ cup stock or water and stir it into the sauce in the pan. Serve the balls with white rice and spoon the black sauce on top.

More variations on the meatball theme:

More recipes with cuttlefish: