Maria’s fish albóndigas

Maria called these albóndigas, which usually means a type of meatball, but in fact they are more like fried fish quenelles. She used cooked fish left over from another meal and I would ask for them again and again. You need to start the preparation well ahead as it is done in stages, but it’s well worth the effort and you can do most of it the day before if that is more convenient.


  • 300-350 g cooked boneless fish
  • 2 medium onions about 75 g butter
  • 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour, plus extra for coating
  • about 570 ml whole milk
  • generous pinch of saffron strands
  • ¼ nutmeg, grated
  • 2 medium free-range eggs
  • sunflower or groundnut oil for shallow-frying sea salt, black pepper

For the tomato sauce

  • 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 level teaspoon harissa or chilli powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar


Remove any skin from the fish and flake the flesh small. Peel the onions and grate coarsely. Melt about two-thirds of the butter in a large, deep frying pan over a gentle heat. Add the grated onions and cook until they are transparent and pale golden. Add the remaining butter and once it has melted, add the flaked fish and stir to coat with butter. Remove from the heat and stir in the 2 heaped tablespoons flour with a wooden spoon.

Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the saffron and grated nutmeg, and season with salt and plenty of black pepper. Heat until bubbling and then gradually pour onto the fish and onion mixture, stirring all the time. Put the pan back over a medium heat and bring to a simmer, continuing to stir until the mixture is as thick as a soft dough. If it’s too stiff, add a little more milk; if it isn’t thick enough, mix a heaped teaspoon or so of flour with a little milk, add to the mixture and simmer again until thicker. Turn the mixture into a bowl and leave to cool, then cover and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

Shortly before you will be ready to eat, prepare the tomato sauce. Mash the chopped tomatoes thoroughly in a bowl with the harissa and wine vinegar, using a fork. Turn into a serving bowl.

Beat the eggs in a bowl. Using floured hands, take handfuls of the chilled fish mixture and form into small rissole shapes. Roll these on a well-floured board to coat in flour.

Heat a 1 cm depth of oil in a clean, large, deep frying pan until it is almost smoking. You will need to fry the albóndigas in batches. Dip each one in the beaten egg and carefully lower into the oil. Fry them quickly until golden brown all over, then lift out with a slotted spoon or spatula and place on a double layer of kitchen paper to drain off excess oil. Once drained, transfer to a warmed serving dish.

Serve the albóndigas at once if possible, though they can be kept warm in a very low oven for half an hour or so. Put the tomato sauce on the table for people to spoon onto their albóndigas.