Spanish Style Meatballs and A Glass of Manzanilla Sherry, A Pairing

Sherry, or jerez as I knew it in Colombia, is a simple, yet complicated fortified wine, and one I need to understand in my wine studies journey. This weekend Scott wanted to make his favorite meatball recipe from La Cocina de Mamá, by Penelope Casas, a Spanish cookbook full of traditional recipes and their stories. These meatballs are loaded with smoked paprika, saffron, garlic, and parsley, and the challenge was to find a wine that could stand up to the flavors, while respecting and enhancing them, and manzanilla sherry came to mind. 


What is sherry?
Initially I thought sherry was a distilled spirit, like brandy or grappa, especially since it is served in small glasses, as I watched Frasier and Niles Crane do for a decade. In reality, sherry is a wine fortified with grape spirit and aged sherry. The fortification process of sherry, and other wines like port and madeira, allows for the wine to age in specific ways that change the original product.

Sherry is the wine of the southwest region of Andalusia in Spain, where three major cities or towns, known as The Sherry Triangle, produce three distinctive wines. Jerez is the most recognizable named town associated with sherry, as the Spanish name for sherry is Jerez. However, sherry is also produced in and around the towns of San Lùcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. What is most interesting to me is how each of these areas produces a sherry with distinctive flavors based on their geographical location and proximity to the ocean.

Sherry has been the fascination of many artist through centuries, I remember the first time I read The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe, where the argument about a cask of amontillado was the bait for a murder. One interesting and confusing line, for I hadn’t yet studied sherry, was, “and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish between sherry and amontillado.” Turns out there are different styles, not just based on geographical location like a Fino from Jerez and a Manzanilla from San Lùcar, but also differences based on how the sherry is aged.  

And this is why we love yeast
As a baker I love yeast, without it there will be no bread. Yeast is an important ingredient on many products we love, like wine. An easy way to kill yeast in wine is to fortify it, or increase the wine’s alcohol by volume by adding brandy or other spirit. In sherry there are two levels of fortification, one enough to increase the booze while allowing an indigenous yeast called Flor to grow as a protective blanket on the wine so it can aged without oxygen, this is the process for Fino, or Manzanilla from San Lùcar. When the yeast dies, after years, the Fino sherry continues aging in contact with oxygen, which changes the flavor and color, and becomes Amontillado. The other level of fortification is high enough to kill all yeast and therefore the wine ages in full contact with oxygen, making it Oloroso or aromatic. Surely Mr. Poe preferred an amontillado.

What is even more fascinating is that all of these styles of sherry come from one main grape, Palomino. And that all of it is done using the same fractional blending system they have used for centuries called Solera. 

I haven’t tried many sherries to know my ultimate favorite, but I have become a fan of Manzanilla from San Lùcar. Manzanilla is light in color and fully dry, with Marcona almond notes and a hint of sea salt, flavors and nuances it developed during the aging process thanks to the proximity to the ocean, which is what makes it a Manzanilla. 


The Dish 
Anytime we want a big burst of flavor we look at La Cocina de Mamà for recipes, and these meatballs are no exception. The exotic, floral fragrance of saffron helps balance the bold garlic, and even thought I’m not a huge fan of smoky flavors, I have come to love Spanish style smoked paprika because of its underlying sweetness and its tamed smoky taste, unlike chili powder, which I find it harshly smoky with a dusty aftertaste. 

Saffron is a uniquely tasting spice, extremely floral and slightly bitter, and the most expensive spice in the world by weight. The Arabs introduced the cultivation of saffron to Spain in the late 900s and the Crusaders helped spread it through the rest of Western Europe in the 13th century. Saffron threads are the orange-red stigmas of a crocus flower, the Saffron Crocus native to Persia, which must be hand picked and then dried, requiring an average of 70,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. The good news is that a little pinch is enough to enhance and flavor a dish, in fact too much may actually ruin the flavor of any dish. 

One interesting ingredient in this recipe is a slice of bread, crustless and soaked in water, and then squeezed, which goes in the meat mixture. I guess it makes sense since many meatballs call for breadcrumbs to help bind the mixture, but I think the mushy bread brings its own moisture to the party making the meatballs more tender, and increasing the mixture’s bulk. 

These meatballs are a great tapas item together with Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp), and Higaditos al Jerez (chicken liver in sherry), and a glass of sherry. 

Spanish Style Meatballs 
From La Cocina de Mamà, by Penelope Casas
Serves 4-6 

1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground lamb {the original recipe calls for veal}
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 slice of bread, crust removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry
1 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt {keep them separate} 
Freshly ground black pepper {about 1/4 teaspoon)
Flour for dusting {in a large plate}
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/4 teaspoon Spanish style sweet smoked paprika {there’s a hot version, which is really hot} 
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons of dry white wine, or sherry if you don’t have white wine open
1/8 teaspoon crumbled thread saffron 

1- In a medium size bowl, lightly mix the pork and lamb {or veal}, half the minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of parsley, the egg, the bread, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper. Shape into 1-inch balls and dust with flour.

2- Heat the oil in a shallow casserole and brown the balls on all sides. Add the onion and sauté until softened. Stir in the paprika, then pour in the broth and wine. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes. 

3- Meanwhile, in a mortar or a small bowl, mash together the remaining garlic, 1 tablespoon of parsley, the saffron and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Add the mixture to the meatballs and simmer for 5 more minutes. Sprinkle the final dish with the last of the parsley and serve immediately.

TIP: when entertaining, you can cook the meatballs all the way through step 2 and chill, 30 minute before you plan to serve them add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and reheat them gently, then add the parsley, garlic, and saffron and finish step three. 

~ Paula 


2 thoughts on “Spanish Style Meatballs and A Glass of Manzanilla Sherry, A Pairing”

    1. I know! that’s one of my favorite serving vessels, love the color, the shape and how it enhances the look of the table. Thank you for your message 🙂

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