Food & Drink

Meatballs à la Marfa

A little European, a little Texan, this dish is all comfort

Photo: Johnny autry | Food Styling by Charlotte Autry

The first time Alexandra Gates visited Marfa—a small high-desert West Texas ranching village with an outsize reputation as an arts center—the California native had a surprisingly visceral reaction. “Marfa is surrounded by these beautiful ranching landscapes,” she recalls. “They may be complete opposites in so many ways, but I had the exact same reaction upon seeing New York for the first time: I have to live here.”

Gates’s mother is Swiss, and she grew up spending her summers with her grandparents in the foothills of Switzerland’s Alps. Her grandfather often went fishing in the early hours before work, and she would wake to find the bathtub filled with fish, which she and her grandmother would clean and cook. “Between that and having so many international friends from growing up in California,” she says, “I developed a very European perspective toward food.”

After stints in New York kitchens, Gates moved to the Lone Star State with her husband, a Texas native, and continued her eclectic culinary approach in Austin: She ran an acclaimed food trailer serving Spanish-inflected foods, and served as the executive chef for the boutique Hotel Saint Cecilia. She opened her Marfa restaurant, Cochineal, in a 1920 adobe building and promptly began melding her heritage of European cuisine with a full-throttle love of Texas. “I immediately fell in love with the wild-game scene,” she says, and the restaurant nearly always offers some brand of game, from nilgai antelope to elk and quail. And wild hog. “Sometimes they are very sweet, and sometimes really herbaceous,” she explains. “Are they eating acorns or prickly pear? They are a complete expression of their environment.”

This dish articulates Gates’s international influences. She first discovered meatballs in an almond sauce on a trip to Spain. “So I tried to Americanize that with the whiskey,” she says. And the addition of wild hog makes it a delicious love letter to her adopted Texas home.  


  • Wild Boar Meatballs in Whiskey-Almond Sauce (Yield: 8 (2-inch) meatballs)

  • For the meatballs:

    • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • 1 tbsp. olive oil

    • 1 small sweet onion or ½ large onion, finely chopped

    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

    • 2 tbsp. parsley, chopped

    • Pinch grated nutmeg

    • Pinch cinnamon

    • Pinch ground sage

    • ½ tsp. salt

    • 1 tsp. white pepper

    • 1 lb. ground wild boar

    • ½ cup panko bread crumbs

    • 1 egg, whisked

  • For the whiskey-almond sauce:

    • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • 1 tbsp. olive oil

    • ½ cup blanched almonds, preferably sliced (but slivered works)

    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

    • 1 slice torn bread

    • ½ cup whiskey (such as WhistlePig rye or Garrison Brothers Balmorhea bourbon)

    • 2 cups rich vegetable or chicken stock (plus more to loosen the sauce as needed)

    • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. For the meatballs:

    Heat butter and oil in a pan on medium heat. Sauté onion for a couple of minutes to soften, then add garlic, parsley, nutmeg, cinnamon, sage, salt, and white pepper. Continue to stir over medium heat until onion and garlic are soft and translucent. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

  2. In a bowl, mix the ground boar, panko, and egg until completely incorporated. When onion mixture is cool, combine with boar mixture. Let rest in refrigerator for at least an hour (up to 24 hours) covered with plastic wrap.


  3. Shape and roll meat into 2½-inch balls and place on a sheet pan.

  4. For whiskey-almond sauce:

    Heat butter and oil in a pan on medium heat until butter is melted. Add almonds, garlic, and torn bread, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and pepper and continue to heat through, taking care not to let ingredients burn.

  5. Once sauce is hot, add whiskey. Let the mixture come to a boil, then remove from heat and let cool slightly. Blend on high in blender until smooth and add the stock in a stream to loosen the sauce to a creamy consistency. Season to taste.

  6. To cook and serve:

    Heat 3 tbsp. oil and/or butter in a pan. Cook shaped meatballs over medium heat until browned all around and cooked through. Pour sauce in the pan and heat up to a simmer.

  7. Serve in a lipped dish with fried sage and toasted almond slivers as garnish as well as rustic bread to sop up the sauce. Serve with a whiskey, neat.