Meatballs with Smoky Chipotle Tomato Sauce

I have to say I’m a little glad to take a break from cooking for a few days. I cooked a ton this past week between holiday cookies, Christmas eve dinner, Christmas day brunch and Christmas day dinner but unfortunately didn’t take too many pictures of any of it! But here, my friends, is one that made it in to the Canon.

I get a little nervous when I make food for a lot of people. Will it turn out? Will guests like it? Is it only me that thinks this is any good? Nerves were settled when this batch of appetizers were devoured on Christmas Day and some were even hidden in the bottom of the pot to be smuggled home by a guest later. Make them for a tailgate party, New Year’s Eve or Day or just to eat all by yourself.  This recipe was adapted from an Allrecipes recipe, I’ve tweaked along the way both in ingredients and preparation. They are a little spicy so tame guests should be warned.

Meatballs with Smoky Chipotle Tomato Sauce– click back there for your printable recipe.

Tips and recommendations:

1.Prep all your ingredients 1st for both the meatballs and the sauce. You want to cook the sauce in the same pan you browned the meatballs to get all that goodness that will be stuck in the bottom of the pan. You don’t want the meatballs hanging out to long on dry land while you are putting your sauce together (and you don’t want to kill anyone later because their internal temperature got all faloozalled.) If you are really a procrastinator and prep the sauce when you get to it. After browning the meatballs, maybe stick them in the fridge, if it seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time getting your sauce on- I’ve been there, some days we can’t find the blender and the brown sugar.

2. These are great made one or two days in advance then heat them up on low in a slow cooker the day of your 50 meatball party.  I cook them all up sauce and such and then put the whole mess in the slow cooker insert and let it chill out in the fridge for a few days. The sauce gets better, the meatballs get all loved up by the sauce. It’s very touching.

3. Could you skip the homemade meatballs and throw in some frozen pre-made deals? Of course! They won’t have the zing but we have to do what we have to do. The sauce is still half the flavor.

My first mishap. I only had a little over a cup of bread crumbs in the pantry.

Easy problem to solve. I just made up enough breadcrumbs to fill that last 1/2 cup.

For the 1/2 cup, I just used whatever bread I had, in this case hamburger buns. Rip up one and add about a tablespoon of butter cut in to small pieces and hit the on button on your food processor.

And now you have….


And now we have our full 1/2 cup to add to the 1 cup. Magic.You could make the entire 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs this way if you are feeling really domestic.

In a large bowl, mix together all your ingredients except the olive oil. You will use that later to brown the meatballs.

If raw meat makes you a little queasy, use a spoon to mix it all up. It’s  much easier to just get in there and use your hands.

Now start rolling…get a little helper. Little hands make little meatballs.

Meatball roller helper.

Now wash your hands and heat up the olive oil in a pan. Brown the meatballs carefully on all sides, you’ll need to do several batches so they aren’t crowded in the pan.  You are just browning them so they don’t fall apart in the sauce, not cooking them through. They will cook through when they go in the sauce later. Use a pot or pan big enough to hold all the sauce later. You won’t have to wash the pot between the browning and saucing- bonus.

Turn them carefully to brown all sides.
Now take them out and place on a plate to wait. Brown remaining meatballs.

Now this is the reason we are using the same pan to make the sauce. DON’T wash the pan! This is your magic goodness ingredient.

DON'T wash the pan. You want these bits and browning in the sauce. I think it's called fond and you want it. Don't wash it down the drain.

Now start your sauce. Heat up some olive oil in the same pan and add the onion. Cook until tender and translucent.

Now as the onions get juicy, that good stuff in the pan will soften up and flavor those onions.

While the onions are sautéing, blend the tomatoes and chipotle peppers.

These are spicy! They are essentially dried jalapenos. Most recipes only call for one or so of them so there is a lot left from the can. I put them in a little container and use them up in chili, eggs, salsa, mac and cheese, anything you want a little smoky spice added in. A little goes a long way when you are using these up. They'll keep for a few weeks in the fridge.

You need three whole peppers from the can for the sauce.

Add the peppers and diced tomatoes to a blender and blend up.

Amazingly the ingredients just fit. If you need to process in two batches, don't feel bad.

Once the onions have softened up, add the garlic and cumin and stir for about a minute just until you start to smell the spices.  Then add the tomato mixture, chicken broth, water and brown sugar. Stir up and add the meatballs carefully back in to the pan.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meatballs with Smoky Chipotle Tomato Sauce

After they cook for about 30 minutes, then are ready to serve. Sprinkle with some fresh, chopped cilantro.

This is when I moved the whole concoction to the slow cooker insert and stuck it in the fridge for a few days. Reheat on low in a slow cooker for a few hours.

Over the course of a few hours and a few hungry guests waiting patiently for a ham to cook, the slow cooker emptied itself.

This man, he will remain nameless and identified only by his plaid shirt, hid some in the bottom of the sauce to later smuggle home in a Ziploc bag for later.

Enjoy! Have a great New Year everyone!


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1 Response to Meatballs with Smoky Chipotle Tomato Sauce

  1. Frugal Table says:

    Mmmm, these look really great. I have some ground venison that I think I’ll replace the sirloin with!

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