Saturday, December 5, 2015

PAT ‘EM, ROLL ‘EM, THROW THEM IN THE OLIVE OIL—CROQUETTES!


It's a croquette party! Top are cheese-potato balls, bottom right are mushroom croquettes; bottom left are ham croquettes.

Golden-brown and crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside and packed with flavor, a good croquette is a joy to bite into. Croquettes appeal to all the senses, they go with every drink. Genuine crowd pleasers, croquettes are perfect for holiday parties.


Oh joy! Jugs of new olive oil ! Let's fry!
 Spain being the great land of olive oil, it comes as no surprise to find that fried foods top the tapas charts. Although, because olive oil is expensive, truth be told, many cooks use lesser vegetable oils. Perhaps this is false economy, as foods fried in olive oil absorb less oil than if fried in other oils. That means the oil lasts longer and it makes for less greasy food. Another advantage: olive oil used for frying can be strained and reused four or five times, whereas other oils begin to break down and really shouldn’t be used more than twice.

Don’t use your delicate and most expensive extra virgins for frying, for the simple reason that many of their flavour qualities are lost at frying temperatures. Best are extra virgin oils from Andalusia made from the very stable Picual olive.

Fryer basket.
You can fry croquettes in either a deep-fat fryer or a deep skillet. I’ve just bought a frying pan with a basket, to make removing the fried food easier. You need enough oil to completely cover the croquettes while they are frying.

Fry food in small batches, without crowding, and allow the oil to return to frying temperature before adding a new batch.

Heat olive oil to a temperature of 180ºC / 360ºF. The oil will be shimmering, just beginning to waft a little smoke. At this temperature a crust forms on the surface of the croquette, so the oil doesn’t penetrate it, but it doesn’t brown too quickly, allowing the interior of the food to cook thoroughly.

Have ready a platter lined with paper towels. Skim croquettes out of the oil and allow them to drain a few minutes.

After frying, cool the oil, strain it and store in a dark place for using again. Olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants, can be used up to four times.


Crisp on the outside, molten inside.
Croquettes are best served straight out of the frying pan, so the golden-brown crust is crisp and the filling molten. While they require last-minute frying, the croquettes can be shaped and breaded well in advance. Put them in the fridge until ready to fry them or else freeze them on a tray. Once frozen, store the croquettes in plastic bags. Do not thaw before frying them.

Croquettes are sometimes served with a dipping sauce. I’ve got alioli (garlic mayonnaise) spiked with hot pimentón and a sweet-sour quince sauce. (Those recipes are at the end of this post.)

Here are three croquette recipes. Two start out with a thick béchamel-type paste, but made with olive oil instead of butter. The third one, with cheese, has a base of mashed potatoes lightened with whipped egg whites.

Three kinds of croquettes, with alioli and quince sauce for dipping.

Mushroom Croquettes
Croquetas de Setas

Use any wild or cultivated mushroom for these croquettes.

Makes about 5 dozen 1-inch croquettes.

Ingredients for mushroom croquettes.
2 cups milk
Sprig of rosemary or thyme
½ cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups chopped mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
¼ cup fino Sherry
1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
4 cups olive oil for frying


Heat the milk in a pan with a sprig of rosemary or thyme.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the onion until softened, 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and fry until the liquid is cooked off and they begin to sizzle. Add the Sherry and cook until liquid is cooked off. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Pour half the hot milk through a strainer into the mushrooms (discarding the sprig of herb). Stir or whisk until it thickens. Stir in the remaining milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Continue cooking and stirring until thick and smooth, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.

Spread the mushroom mixture in a shallow oiled pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it lightly onto the surface of the mushroom mixture. Cool completely. (The paste can be refrigerated up to 2 days.)

Place beaten eggs in a shallow bowl. Spread half the crumbs in a shallow tray. 

Cut the mushroom paste into 1-inch squares. Roll them first in crumbs, then dip in beaten egg, then roll again in crumbs. Pat them gently to make rounded sides. Place on a tray. (Croquettes can be prepared to this point and chilled or placed on a tray and frozen.)

Place oil in a deep skillet and heat to 360ºF. Add croquettes in a single layer. Fry them until they are golden on the outside, about 2 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve croquettes hot.

 Ham Croquettes
Croquetas de Jamón

Chopped serrano ham.
Perhaps you’ve got a whole serrano or ibérico ham for the Christmas holidays. If, like me, you are hardly an expert in the fine art of slicing it (see http://mykitcheninspain.blogspot.com.es/2012/12/slicing-spanish-ham.html for more about slicing ham) ), you probably have plenty of ham scraps. Here’s the perfect recipe for using them up.

Heating some of the ham fat in oil flavors the oil.

This recipe comes from my book, TAPAS—A BITE OF SPAIN. I’ve left the ingredient measurements in metric, British and American measures.

Makes approximately 4 dozen 2 ½ -inch croquettes.

1 liter / 1 ¾ pints / 4 ¼ cups milk
140 ml / ¼ pint / ½ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
Chopped ham fat (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped spring onion, including some of green
Pinch of thyme
110 g / 4 oz / 1 cup plain flour, sifted
125 g / 4 ½ oz/ 1 cup serrano or ibérico ham, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
210 g / 7 ¼ oz / 1 ¾ cups fine dry bread crumbs
3 eggs beaten with 2 teaspoons water
4 cups olive oil for frying

Bring the milk to a boil and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the ham fat until fat partially melts. Pour the oil through a sieve into a heat-proof bowl. Discard the bits of fat.

Return the oil to the pan and sauté the onion without letting it brown, 2 minutes. Add the thyme and stir in the flour. Cook 2 minutes without browning the flour. Whisk in the hot milk, stirring hard as the mixture thickens. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and smooth, 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the ham, salt and pepper.

Spread the mixture in a large, shallow tray that has been lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Cut the paste into cylinders.
Place half the bread crumbs in another shallow tray. Place the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl.  Working with part of the croquette mixture at a time (return the tin to the refrigerator), drop spoonfuls into the tray of breadcrumbs. Roll them in the crumbs to form 5-cm / 2 ½-in cylinders. (Use about 22 g / ¾ oz of the mixture for each croquette.)

Use 2 forks to dip each croquette in beaten egg, letting excess egg drip off, then drop the croquettes back into the crumbs. Sprinkle with some of remaining crumbs. Roll the croquettes in crumbs. Take care to completely coat the croquettes so that filling doesn’t leak out in the hot oil. As they are shaped and breaded, place them on a tray. Allow to dry for at least 30 minutes.

Place oil in a deep fryer or in a deep frying pan to a depth of at least 2 ½ cm / 1 in. Heat to 180ºC / 360ºF. Fry the croquettes in batches until they are golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

Ham croquettes.


Cheese and Potato Croquettes
Croquetas de Queso


Cheese croquettes with quince sauce.
Fried in olive oil, these croquettes are a good trade-off (for a dairy meal) for latkes (potato pancakes), a favorite dish for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival that celebrates oil (starts at sundown December 6).

The recipe comes from La Mancha where it is made, obviously, with Manchego cheese. Today, instead, I’ve used a semi-cured goat cheese from Cádiz. In fact, any cheese could be substituted. I’m thinking a smoky Idiazábal from the Basque country would be good too.

Cooking the potatoes unpeeled prevents their absorbing a lot of cooking water. They will be almost as flaky as a baked potato. Unlike the other croquettes, these do not need to be chilled. They should be fried off within a few hours of preparing the mix so that the egg whites don’t lose their pouf.

The croquettes can be fried up to 4 hours in advance and kept at room temperature. Place them on a baking sheet and reheat them in preheated 400ºF oven until hot, 10 minutes. Fried croquettes can be frozen for up to 1 month. Remove them from freezer 15 minutes before heating. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 375º oven for 15 minutes.


Makes 50 (1 ½-inch) croquettes.


1 ½ pounds potatoes (3 medium)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ½ cups grated cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced scallion
½ teaspoon cumin seed (optional)
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Olive oil for frying (about 4 cups)


Cook the potatoes, unpeeled, in boiling water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Split them in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl, discarding skins. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and mash the potatoes with a fork or potato masher until fairly smooth.

Stir the cheese into the potatoes. Add the scallion, cumin, parsley, salt, thyme, and hot pimentón.

Separate 2 eggs. Place 2 whites in a clean bowl. Stir 2 yolks into the potato mixture.

At high speed beat the whites until stiff. Beat in the vinegar.

Fold half of the egg whites into the potato mixture until thoroughly combined. Fold in remaining whites.

Beat remaining 2 eggs and place in a shallow bowl. Spread the bread crumbs in a tray.

Use a teaspoon to scoop up a mound of potato-cheese. Drop it into the beaten egg and roll it to coat all sides. Lift it out with the spoon and a fork, allowing excess egg to drain off. Place the croquette into the crumbs. Continue shaping croquettes until the tray is filled. Spoon some of the crumbs over the croquettes and, using a fork, roll them to coat all sides.

Lift the croquettes out of the crumbs, patting very gently to shape into a ball. Place them on another tray as they are shaped.

Place oil in a deep skillet or fryer. Heat the oil to 360º. Fry the croquettes in 4 or 5 batches, turning them once, until they are golden-brown, 1 ½ - 2 minutes. Skim out and drain briefly on paper towels. Serve hot.

More recipes suitable for Hanukkah can be found here.

Cheese croquettes are puffy balls of potato.
For the quince sauce, cook 1 or 2 quinces, peeled, cored and sliced in 2 cups water with 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar and 1 tablespoon sugar until the quinces are fork tender. Drain, saving the liquid. Puree the quince in a blender with enough reserved liquid to make a smooth sauce. 

For the spicy alioli, whisk 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon hot pimentón (pimentón picante) and 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar.



2 comments:

  1. WOW! You really out did yourself with this one, Janet! I and my new friends in New Mexico are getting together for a Christmas party and these croquettes are the perfect thing to serve.
    I do have one question however; what is the best cheese to use if Manchego is not available, for the cheese and potato croquettes? Can't wait to try these! Thank you, Patty

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    Replies
    1. Patty: I bet you could find Manchego just about anywhere in the US. Otherwise, use any firm cheese with good flavor--cheddar, gruyere. Have a great holiday party!

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