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Meatballs in "Burnt" Chipotle Sauce

Kennedy, an expert on Mexican cuisine, says that every region of the country has a meatball recipe. This one comes from Mexico City.



  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 6 sprigs fresh marjoram, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably Mexican
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • 8 peppercorns, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 slice stale bread
  • 12 ounces ground beef
  • 12 ounces ground pork, with some fat
  • 1/3 cup long grain rice, partially cooked*
  • 1 large egg, hard-cooked and finely chopped


  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 6 chipotle chiles, dried (not canned)
  • 2 tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • About 2 1/2 cups beef broth or water


  1. Heat the broiler.
  2. Meanwhile, make the Meatballs: put thyme, marjoram, bay leaf, cumin, peppercorns, salt, milk , raw egg and garlic in a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Pour mixture into a bowl and soak the bread in it until mushy, then add the ground meats, rice and hard-cooked egg, work well with your hands. Form into 24 meatballs, each about 1 1/4 inches in diameter; set aside.
  4. To make the Sauce, first place tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and broil about 3 inches from the heat, turning once, until charred and slightly mushy.
  5. Heat a griddle or comal (a Mexican griddle), or a nonstick skillet and add the chiles. Cook, turning occasionally, until they become soft and flexible. Slit chiles open.
  6. Heat lard or oil in a heavy pan, and fry the chiles, flattening them with a spatula, until very dark brown, almost black.
  7. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat. Place chiles and broiled tomatoes (skin on) in a blender and blend until smooth.
  8. In same skillet, fry the onion gently, without browning, until soft.
  9. Crush the garlic, cumin and salt together in a mortar (or spice grinder). Add two tablespoons water - to clean the mixture out - and pour the mixture into the pan with the onion. Fry, stirring and scraping, over high heat until almost dry, then add the blended tomato mixture and dry over medium-high to high heat, stirring and scraping the bottom constantly, until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
  10. Add the broth and meatballs - the sauce should just cover them - cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook gently, turning meatballs occasionally, until they are cooked through and spongy, 30 to 45 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

* To partially cook rice, follow package directions, but cut the cooking time in half, turning off the heat after about 10 minutes instead of 20.

Source: Adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico (2000, Clarkson Potter) by Diana Kennedy.

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