While living in Mexico City, I ate chipotle meatballs all the time in the bare-bones cocinas econimicas that dotted my neighborhood, those simple little holes-in-the-wall where grandma cooks three-or four-course meals of basic, everyday food from scratch, all for just a few bucks. When I bought a cookbook there – it was call Marichu en la Cocina Mexicana – nearly thirty years ago, I learned how to make this version. I’ve reworked the process to simplify it, but kept intact the savory punch of roasted tomatoes, smoky chipotle, bacon and mint.
Riffs on Chipotle Meatballs:
Though pork is most common in Mexico, you can make these from beef or a combination of beef and pork. Lamb can be worked into the mix too. Turkey is what will appeal to most people looking for the leanest dish. The bacon adds just the right tough to succulence and savor, so I’d fight to keep it in, even though the meatballs will turn out fine without it. Mint adds the traditional touch, but parsley, thyme (not too much), sage and basil are all delicious in meatballs.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationlactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free
Equipmentbaking/gratin dish, blender, food processor
Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, hot & spicy, meaty, savory, smoky, spiced
- 3 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled (divided use)
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup dried bread crumbs (3/4 cup if they’re the coarse-textured panko)
- 1 ¼ pounds ground pork
- ½ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped mint leaves, plus extra leaves for garnish, if you wish
- One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
- 1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, stemmed and seeded
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle canning sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
- About 1 ½ cups beef or chicken broth
Turn on the oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, combine the bacon and 1 garlic clove. Process until finely chopped. Add the eggs, bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon salt. Pulse several times to combine thoroughly, then add the pork and mint. Pulse the machine, a few more times until everything is well combined – but not at all processed into a paste. Remove the blade.
With wet hands, form the meat into 16 plum-size spheres, spacing them out in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Bake until lightly browned (they’ll be browned more underneath than on top), about 15 minutes.
While the meatballs are baking, combine the tomatoes, with their juice, chipotles, canning sauce, oregano, the remaining 2 garlic cloves (cut in half) and ½ teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor. Process to a smooth puree.
When the meatballs are ready, spoon off any rendered fat from the baking dish, then pour on the tomato mixture, covering the meatballs evenly. Bake until the sauce looks like tomato paste, 15 to 20 minutes.
Microwave the broth for about a minute to heat it (or heat in a small saucepan). Divide the meatballs among four dinner plates, leaving most of the sauce behind. Stir enough broth into sauce to give it an easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with additional salt if you think the sauce needs it. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs, decorate with extra mint leaves, if you wish, and carry to the table.
2009 Rick Bayless