My very first boyfriend was a friend of my brother’s. A tall, young man of Spanish descent, he was a fun guy with a great sense of humor. The first time I met him, he was completely bald. I don’t remember if he shaved his head on a dare or whether he lost a bet, but it was a pretty gutsy thing to do, especially in those days when being bald was definitely NOT the in thing to be. We were in high school and crazy about each other. But like many teenage romances, a long-term relationship wasn’t in the cards for us and we ended up going our separate ways. We’re both married with kids now, but we’re still friends to this day. He lives with his family in Spain where he works as a chef. This recipe is his. He wrote it out for me in a mixture of English and Spanish with the measurements in the metric system. I re-wrote it to make it a little more understandable and put in the American equivalents for the metric measurements.
Croquetas or croquettes are little fried dumplings which are very common all over Spain. Every tapas bar serves them and every housewife has her own favorite recipe. It’s my understanding that they sprung from very humble beginnings – it was a way to incorporate leftover scraps of ham or fish with cheap ingredients so they wouldn’t be wasted, but instead resulted in a whole new dish.
The most popular croquetas are made with jamón Serrano (Serrano ham), bacalao (cod), pollo (cooked chicken), or atún (tuna). However, croquetas are very versatile and lend themselves to almost any “add-in” you can think of, like carne molida (ground beef), setas (mushrooms), espinaca (spinach), camarónes (shrimp), queso (cheese), and so on. These little dumplings are so delicious with their creamy, soft interior and crispy, golden exterior. They practically melt in your mouth! Once you start eating them, it’s hard to stop at just one!
CHEF MARI’S CROQUETAS
- 1 liter (4 cups) whole milk
- 220 gms. (2 cups) flour
- 220 gms. (1 cup) butter
- 2 medium onions
- salt and pepper to taste
- 300 gms. (⅔ lb.) jamón (ham), bacalao (cod), pollo (cooked chicken), atún (tuna) or 3 cups grated cheese (manchego, cheddar, gruyère, gouda, or whatever you like)
- flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs, for coating the croquetas before frying
- Finely chop the onions.
- If adding ham or chicken, mince the meat; if adding tuna or cod, flake the fish.
- Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat.
- While waiting for the milk to heat, melt the butter in a large frying pan.
- Sauté the onions in the melted butter over medium-low heat.
- Once the onions are soft, add in the flour all at once.
- Keep cooking the butter-onion-flour mixture, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.
- While the flour mixture is cooking, the milk should be almost to the boiling point.
- Once the flour mixture is fully cooked, pour in about ⅓ of the milk while stirring constantly. You will see it thicken almost immediately.
- When the milk is well incorporated into the flour mixture, add the rest of the milk, stirring slowly until well combined.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. You will now have a thick bechamel.
- Keep stirring for another 2-3 minutes, then add whatever ingredient you’re using (ham, cod, etc.).
- Cook for another 3-5 minutes, then transfer to a pyrex dish and cover with saran wrap completely pressing out all the air.
NOTE: These instructions are for meat, fish or vegetable croquetas. If you want croquetas de queso (cheese), cook the mixture for 4-5 minutes in Step 12, remove the bechamel from the heat, add the grated cheese and stir to blend well, then transfer to a pyrex dish and continue on with the recipe.
- Let cool almost to room temperature, then place in the fridge to cool completely.
- Once the mixture has cooled completely, roll the croquetas into fat little logs about the length of your thumb. You will find that the bechamel is nice and easy to roll in your hands; not sticky at all.
- Set out 3 pie plates, one with flour, the second with beaten eggs, and the third with bread crumbs.
- Roll each log first in the flour to coat, then the beaten eggs, and finally the bread crumbs.
- Deep fry the croquetas until golden brown.
NOTE: You should get 30-40 croquetas from this recipe. The croquetas can be made ahead and frozen. Whenever you feel like eating a few, just bring out however many you want from the freezer and let them defrost before deep frying. You could also pull some out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost in the fridge overnight.