Albóndigas en Salsa

albóndigas con guisantes

I had a craving for Albóndigas en Salsa (meatballs in sauce) which can only be fixed if one can find them on a Menú del Día – I wanted albóndigas de la abuela hoy (grandma’s meatballs today), so I needed to make them myself, en casa!

albóndigas de ternera

Meatball sauce recipes are often quite thick with tomato, but I was looking for the kind of thing often served at lunchtime in Barcelona (above at Flor de Maig) – in a savoury brown sauce. Eventually I found the sort of recipe I wanted in La Vanguardia, the Catalan newspaper that I’d worked for in the 1990s. They call it La receta de albóndigas de toda la vida (the meatball recipe for all your life [always]). The newspaper tells us that the word albóndigas (mandonguilles in Catalan) is Arab in origin, coming from al-bunduqa,  meaning “the ball”. There are meatball recipes in the Roman cookbook Apicius, but the Persians have recipes with lamb which predate it. It’s probable that albóndigas existed in Spain before the Moors arrived and that the Arab name replaced the Latin one – I wouldn’t be surprised if the Iberians were already making albóndigas before the Greeks and Carthaginians colonised the coast, at least 500 years before the Romans arrived!

What I really liked about La Vanguardia’s instructions, was this, “Hay quien las prefieren con perejil, sin perejil, con pimienta, con salsa de tomate… Y, hay quien las acompaña de arroz, patatas o verduras… No hay una única receta para preparar las albóndigas pero sí unas directrices básicas para su elaboración” (There are those who prefer them with parsley, without parsley, with pepper, with tomato sauce… And, there are those who accompany them with rice, potatoes or vegetables… There is no single recipe for preparing meatballs, but there are some basic guidelines for their preparation). So following their instruction, I made up my own recipe, but stuck closer to their salsa than for the albóndigas.

pork belly slices

Las Albondigas (serves 3 or 4):

500g of beef chuck, brisket or shoulder (minced)
250g of pork belly (minced)
1/2 a large onion
6 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh coriander (chopped) or parsley if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon Pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon Pimentón de la Vera dulce
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground)
1/2 teaspoon of ground mixed herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme)
1 egg
3 dessertspoons home made breadcrumbs
2 dessertspoons flour
sea salt cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil for frying
save a teaspoon of coriander/parsley (chopped) for serving


Ideally mince the meat with the onion, garlic and breadcrumbs, then mix in the seasoning followed by an egg.


Otherwise, buy the meat ready minced (the minced beef with a higher fat content) and put the onion and garlic into a food processor to make it fine enough to blend into the meat by hand.

taste test

Test the flavour and seasoning by frying a small amount of meat beforehand.

dusty balls

When happy, make small balls with the mixture in the palms of your hands, then roll in plain flour. You should get about 15 meatballs – put these on a plate or tray and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

freír las albóndigas

Fry the albóndigas in plenty of hot olive oil – don’t overcrowd the pan, or they will poach and go sticky. Using a large frying pan I recommend cooking in two batches. As they contain raw pork, do make sure they are thoroughly cooked. If you have a meat thermometer, check that they reach 62ºC and allow them to rest for 10 minutes (they will continue to cook during that time).

La Salsa:

1/2 a large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
a squirt of anchovy paste
1 dessertspoon of flour
1 glass of red wine
1/2 pint home made chicken stock
a splash of sherry vinegar
1 bay leaf
sea salt cracked black pepper (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil
a little water if it starts to get too thick.


Do use the olive oil from cooking the meatballs, though I used a smaller frying pan to control the heat better when cooking the onion. Sofreír (poach) the onion until it’s soft and sticky – add more olive oil as necessary and stir often. The dirty colour comes from having cooked the albóndigas in the same oil – it’s not burnt onion (which you don’t want).


Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two,


before stirring in a dessertspoon of flour (do use any leftover from rolling the meatballs).


Slowly mix in the red wine and stock to make a sauce – cook off the alcohol for a few minutes.


Splash in the sherry vinegar and a squirt of anchovy paste. Check the seasoning and sprinkle on salt and pepper as necessary. When done, liquidise to make a smooth sauce – I put it into a jug and used a stick blender.

albóndigas en salsa

Return the meatballs to the original large frying pan and pour over the sauce. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add a little water if the sauce looks too thick.

Albóndigas en Salsa often comes with peas in the sauce. To keep the peas a bright green colour, I cooked a handful of fresh ones separately, while the meatballs bubbled in the pan.

To serve, sprinkle with coriander or parsley, then drain the peas and spread around the meatballs. In Catalunya, mandonguilles (albóndigas) generally come with potatoes (fried, poached or boiled) or rice. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Con 2 Huevos (with two eggs/balls), a Tempranillo from the Rioja wine region.

mandonguilles amb pèsols

Al fin, these are delicious, albóndigas, but the craving never goes away and you’ll beg your abuela for more!

About Mad Dog
This entry was posted in Barcelona, Drink, Food, Meat, Recipes, Spanish and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Albóndigas en Salsa

  1. Funny, I was just reading a recipe for “polpette della nonna” on an Italian website (that’s Italian for “albondigas de la abuela”. What is it about meatballs and grannies, I wonder, lol!

    Anyway, this sounds like a lovely recipe. Would make for a nice change from the usual tomato sauce version. Going to this a try soon.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Frank – it’s absolutely delicious and I’m already thinking about making it again! Spanish and Italian nonnas are the best 😉

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