Tuna Albóndigas en Chipotle

Time30 minutes
YieldsServes 2 to 4
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)
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Albóndigas en chipotle, meatballs simmered in a smoky tomato-chipotle sauce, is a nostalgic dish in many parts of Mexico, common at home and in restaurants serving comida corrida, home-style set meals at affordable prices. This version is loosely adapted from a recipe by writer and cookbook author Lesley Téllez, with one important difference — rather than ground pork, the meatballs are made from canned tuna and deviled ham.

It might sound like an odd combination but consider that in Sicily, meatballs made from fresh yellowfin tuna and pancetta are a grandmotherly tradition. And in my pandemic kitchen, maybe Sicily is an island just off the coast of Mexico, OK?

With this version, the addition of grated Parmesan (the stuff in the green container is apocalypse appropriate) adds umami; canned deviled ham (or minced ham) adds a subtle smokiness that connects to the flavor of the chipotle en adobo. If you’d prefer to go gluten-free, swap Parmesan for the bread crumbs the way they do in online keto cooking forums.

Since the meatball ingredients are mostly cooked already, after a quick sear you only need to warm them through before serving. The real star of this dish, however, is the sauce: sauteed onions, tomatoes and canned chipotle chiles blitzed in a blender. I’ve used tomato paste and chicken bouillon to cut down simmering time, but if you prefer to use another can of diced tomatoes and chicken stock in lieu, allot extra time for the sauce to reduce. Any leftover sauce is excellent drizzled over eggs, roasted vegetables or pasta.


In a medium bowl, mix together the tuna, ham, bread crumbs, Parmesan, garlic powder and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg and stir until thoroughly combined. Divide mixture into 1 tablespoon portions and roll into balls.


Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Working in batches if needed, add the meatballs and cook, turning as needed, until browned all over, about 3 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a plate.


Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the onions to a blender or food processor; reserve the skillet. Add the bouillon, tomatoes, tomato paste, chipotles and adobo sauce and blend on high until smooth.


Return the reserved skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the blended sauce to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until boiling.


After sauce comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and season with salt and pepper, adding more of the adobo sauce, if desired. Add the meatballs, and carefully shake the pan to coat them (do not stir) in the sauce. Partially cover with a lid and cook until the meatballs are heated through and sauce is thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.


Remove the pan from the heat and garnish the meatballs with chopped cilantro. Serve warm with tortillas, beans and rice.