Spicy chicken and almond bites

A simple, drinks-friendly meatball snack inspired by the almond-studded tapas you find in Catalonia.

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My adoration of Spanish food is unbounded, both the what and the how. The lateness of the dinner hour – anything before 9.00pm would be considered lunch – and the long, late nights of socialising in bars necessarily change the way you eat. The whole world knows about tapas now, and with good reason: small, snack-sized food is essential to bridge gaps and line stomachs if you want to survive social life in Spain.

I developed a particular addiction to all the different kinds of albondigas, bowls of little meatballs that are perfect with an afternoon or very, very late night drink. They are found everywhere and are as varied in their flavours and composition as the regions of the Iberian peninsula itself. Catalonia, in the northeast, is home to the most spectacular variety. This recipe is inspired by the Catalan use of almonds in their meatballs, often served with an almond-based tomato sauce.

I make these in tablespoon-sized balls, about 20 grams each, so they're small and snacky. You could, of course, make them up as patties and make rissoles or burgers instead. I fry them in batches, brutally fast, in a pan I keep shuffling on the hob to roll them around until they're properly browned. If you're cooking them for a crowd – and they are always welcome as party food – you'd be better off roasting the whole lot on baking trays in a 190°C (375°F) oven for about 25 minutes.

My favourite accompaniment for these is an aioli made from ⅓ cup good quality mayonnaise, stirred through with a couple of cloves of roasted garlic and a spritz of lemon juice.


Spicy chicken and almond bites

 

Makes 30.

500g (1 pound) chicken mince
45g (½ cup) almond meal (ground almonds)
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 red onion, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 egg
sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper, and mix together until well combined. Using your hands is the best way to do this.

Depending on the quality of your chicken mince, you may need to adjust the stickiness of the mixture by adding a little more almond meal until it comes together enough to form the meatballs properly.

Working with wet hands, roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on a tray lined with baking paper. (You can put them in the fridge at this point if you're cooking them later.)

To cook, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, turning regularly, for 5 minutes until browned all over and cooked through. Serve immediately.