Cook's Illustrated

Meatballs the Spanish Way

In Spain, albóndigas, or meatballs, are a quintessential tapas offering, enjoyed as part of a spread of shared dishes. Unlike Mexican albóndigas, which are simmered in a soup, these petite, saucy meatballs are typically served in a cazuela (a shallow clay baking dish) and eaten one by one using toothpicks.

I’ve enjoyed albóndigas coated in a robust tomato sauce, but I recently learned of another style. In this version, a saffron-and-paprika-infused wine sauce is flavored and thickened with a lively mixture of fried ground nuts and bread, raw garlic, and often parsley. Unlike a roux or cornstarch, each of which is primarily used to thicken foods, the ground nuts and bread in picada provide body while also contributing vibrant complexity. Frying the nuts and bread in olive oil brings richness and nuttiness that’s accentuated

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