Croquetas Two Ways
When it comes to Spanish bar food, I don’t need much more than a plate full of jamón serrano to accompany a few cañas of beer. But for Martha, there is no better tapa than the croqueta: a deep fried little log of gooey delight (beer doesn’t hurt here either). Always looking for ways to please, and not exactly hating croquetas either, I recently fried up a couple of batches using two different recipes for Martha’s and my own enjoyment.
I made my first batch of croquetas using the classic technique (my base recipe came from Penelope Casa’s Delicioso: The Regional Cooking of Spain). The first step is to make a very thick bechamel: my roux consisted of 6 tablespoons of olive oil and ¾ cup of flour to which I added 2 cups of milk over medium heat. In preparing the bechamel I learned that a lumpy roux that just won’t break up can be remedied with the magic of a food processor, a most satisfying action after 5 minutes of uselessly hunting lumps with a whisk.
Lots of fillings can go in croquetas, but salt cod and cheese are two very popular options. Since we were fresh out of salt cod, I decided to go the cheese route. Obviously, a Spanish cheese would have been appropriate, but I was not interested in going to the store, so instead I folded a handful of cheap provolone into my cooked sauce with salt and pepper for good measure.
As I mentioned earlier, croquetas are shaped like small logs. But how to give shape to liquid bechamel sauce? The answer is to chill it. Most recipes seem to recommend chilling the bechamel overnight before proceeding. Crunched for time, I got away with just an hour and a half of chilling.
After the bechamel was cold enough to work, I formed pinches of it into cylinders and placed them on a plate. Then, it was time to bread: separate dishes of flour, eggs, and bread crumbs and a fanatical observance of “wet hand, dry hand” rule make this a clean and efficient process. As the croquetas were breaded I placed them on a sheet pan to wait for their date with destiny—a pot full of 350°F oil.
Croquetas don’t take long to fry, just a few minutes until the breading is golden. If they sit in the oil too long, there’s a risk of the filling exploding out of the breading. They are best eaten very hot, washed down with the aforementioned beer.
We also enjoyed a few other Spanish standards: tortilla española, jamón (ok, prosciutto, but what can you do?) and aged goat cheese.
Making these must have given me the croqueta bug, because just over a week later I was hauling out the oil again for another round. This time, though, I used a recipe from the New York Times that was less traditional: rather than a bechamel, these croquetas were based on leftover mashed potatoes (the recipe was originally published in anticipation of Thanksgiving leftovers). It happened that I had a large amount of mashed potatoes left over from Martha’s birthday and this recipe sitting on my desktop for the past year and a half; it was a croqueta perfect storm, really. I made the recipe as described in the Times, again substituting prosciutto for jamón (but really, there is no substitute).
If using leftover mashed potatoes seems too convenient and not a little questionable to you, your suspicions are well-warranted. These croquetas had good flavors and were a good way to use up leftovers, but the heavy mashed potatoes just can’t compete with gooey, creamy fried béchamel. All considerations of time and convenience aside, I’d take traditional croquetas every time. But in any case, there’s plenty of room in our lives for all kinds of croquetas.
And therein lies the real joy of making croquetas at home: if you order them in a restaurant, you can expect three to five to a plate accompanied by a crazy urge to order more. Too much of this can break the bank. At home, relatively cheap ingredients are transformed into enough fried goodness to satiate anybody’s croqueta cravings.