This Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas makes juicy pork and beef meatballs in a rich tomato sauce spiced with smoked paprika and a touch of chilli. Albondigas is a tapa, a small snack plate available at tapas bars in Spain, where a tapas bar crawl – a bar-hop to sample these delicious snacks – is must-do for food-loving travellers, and fun to replicate at home.
Our classic Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas will make you juicy meatballs simmered in a rich tomato sauce spiced with smoky paprika and a slight kick of chilli. We recommend serving up a dish of these juicy morsels with slices of crusty bread to mop up the sauce, as part of a tapas spread.
This traditional albondigas recipe for Spanish meatballs is the first in a series of our best Spanish tapas recipes, which we’ll be sharing with you over coming weeks. Look out for recipes for chorizo and potato croquettes, Spanish chorizo in red wine for chorizo al vino tinto, Spanish style garlic shrimp, smoky squid done on a griddle, and more.
As with so many of our recipes of the last two years, the series is a result of longing for Spain, Spanish food and the delicious experience that is the tapas bar crawl, a leisurely bar-hop from one boisterous spot to another sipping vermouth or vino while nibbling on snacks such as these, preferably in the company of new friends.
Before I tell you more about this Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas, I have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-funded. If you’ve enjoyed our recipes or other content on the site, please consider supporting Grantourismo. You could buy us a coffee and we’ll use that donation to buy cooking ingredients for recipe testing or you could contribute to our epic original Cambodian cuisine history and cookbook on Patreon.
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Spanish Meatballs Recipe for Albondigas – The First in a Series of Classic Spanish Tapas Recipes
Our classic Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas makes the moist tender meatballs that were delivered to our spot at the bar in a rich tomato sauce that was still bubbling in the clay dish.
The sizzling albondigas came with a basket of sliced crusty bread and a warning in the owner’s thick Spanish accent not to touch the hot plate as he topped up our glasses of house red from the carafe.
Funnily enough, those first tastes of albondigas and our first Spanish tapas experiences weren’t in Spain at all, but were in a little corner of Spain in Sydney, Australia, back in the late 1980s and 1990s.
The Spanish quarter developed along Liverpool Street and neighbouring streets in the centre of Sydney in the late 1950s and 1960s after a handful of migrant families from Galicia in Spain opened delis specialising in products they imported from Spain, such as jars of stuffed olives, big tins and bottles of Spanish olive oil, canned fish and seafood, chorizo sausages, and cured hams and cheeses.
It was their attempt to recreate a little of their old home in their new home through their cuisine and culinary culture, so naturally the establishment of tapas bars and restaurants where fellow Spaniards could socialise soon followed – along with the opening of the Spanish Club in the 1960s.
With an influx of political refugees from Latin America in the 1970s, the Club became a social hub for diverse Spanish speaking communities to meet to discuss politics over paella and cazuela, to soak up the music and dance from home, and for a new generation to get lessons in everything from the language to flamenco.
The restaurants in the Spanish quarter typically had bars at the front for nibbling on tapas and dining rooms beyond for full sit-down meals. Unless Terence and I were eating with friends when we’d book a table, we generally sat at the bar alongside the old-timers who’d be sipping glasses of vermouth and nibbling on manchego and jamon.
We’d order a carafe of Spanish red and settle in for a while to snack on plate after plate of tortilla espanol, chorizo en vino, sizzling gambas in garlic olive oil, and albondigas in a rich spicy tomato sauce that some years later we’d discover were just as delicious as any we’d eat in Spain.
We’ll tell you more about tapas in Spain in the next post in our new series on the best Spanish tapas recipes. For now, let me share a few tips to making this classic Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas.
Tips to Making this Spanish Meatballs Recipe for Albondigas
As usual, just a few tips to making our classic Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas. We recommend making the tomato sauce first as you can then transfer batches of meatballs to the sauce, where they can sit and simmer while you finish frying the others.
As long as you remove the meatballs from the fry-pan or skillet after they brown, and don’t continue to cook them, they won’t dry out and will remain deliciously moist and tender. Buying fatty pork mince will also help in that respect.
Do taste the tomato sauce and adjust the seasoning and spices to suit your palate. The same goes for the meatballs. Before making a batch of meatballs, fry a little mince in the pan or even pop a teaspoon of mince in the microwave, try it and adjust to your taste.
We like the combination of ground pork and ground beef, but you could use one or the other. We also prefer the freshness of chopped celery leaf but you could use flat leaf parsley. Save a little for garnishing at the end.
We use our kitchen scales to weigh the spoons of minced meat mixture before shaping it into meatballs to ensure they’re uniform in size – we like to aim for 32 g / 1.13 oz – so that they cook evenly. That size is what you’ll find in most tapas bars. It’s meant to be a snack not a full meal, plus that smallish size will cook faster. The mixture makes us around 30-32 meatballs.
If you’re not feeding a family or group of friends, our Spanish meatballs recipe makes leftovers. They’re fantastic on slices of sourdough or in baguettes. We’ll happily nibble on them for a couple of days.
You’ll want to serve these Spanish meatballs with a few other tapas, such as potato croquettes, garlic shrimps and chorizo en vino (more recipes coming soon) and perhaps a garden salad and loaf of crusty bread.
Spanish Meatballs Recipe for Albondigas
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves peeled, crushed
- 2 x 400 g tins chopped tomatoes
- ½ tsp salt or to taste
- 2 tsp smoky ground paprika
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4 thick slices white bread crusts removed
- 8 tbsp milk
- 2 garlic cloves peeled, crushed and finely chopped
- 1 brown onion peeled, finely diced
- 400 g ground pork
- 400 g ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 10 g celery leaves finely chopped – or flat leaf parsley
- olive oil for shallow frying
- In a large frying pan or skillet over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and fry the crushed garlic until fragrant; add the crushed tomatoes, spices and seasoning and increase heat to high so the sauce is bubbling and reduces to a thick consistency.
- Taste the tomato sauce and adjust seasoning and spices as needed, then turn heat to low to simmer or turn off heat until needed.
- In a mixing bowl, soak the stale bread slices in the milk until they’ve completely soaked up the liquid. If the bread is too stale you could blitz it with the milk in a blender.
- To the same mixing bowl, add the ground pork and ground beef, garlic, onion, egg, spices and seasoning, and chopped celery leaf, and use clean hands to combine well.
- Use a tablespoon to scoop out some meatball mixture and check the weight on your kitchen scales – aim for 32 g / 1.13 oz – then roll the mixture between two hands to form into a small smooth meatball. Transfer to a tray then repeat. The mixture should make around 30 meatballs.
- In a deep small-medium sized fry pan or skillet, heat olive oil, then transfer enough meatballs to fill the pan, leaving some space between them so they’re not touching, and shallow-fry the meatballs in batches, turning each meatball as needed until brown.
- When the first batch of meatballs are brown all over, use tongs to transfer them to the pan of tomato sauce and let them simmer while you fry another batch. Repeat until all the meatballs are fried and brown and are in the pan.
- Simmer the meatballs for another 5 minutes then transfer to a bowl and serve with crusty bread, other dishes of tapas and/or a garden salad.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make our classic Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.