Finally, other than the versioned traditional “torrijas”, something typical spanish!: croquetas de jamón ibérico (spanish ham croquettes…it doesn’t sound as good, does it?). About a month back my brother asked me “so when will you post about a spanish recipe? show your roots!” Well, my roots are spanish, but since I’ve lived abroad for quite a few years, cuisine-wise I’m not so deeply-rooted!
Croquetas are one of those tapas that can be creamy flavourful heaven…but often they are terrible! There’s nothing more disappointing than going out for tapas, getting a “ración” and when you bite into it…not again! it’s like biting into cement, but made with a conglomerate of flour that sticks into your front teeth first and then into your palate!(often from frozen commercial brands) So, I’ve quit hoping I’ll get the good ones when I go out, I just don’t ask for them anymore!
Basically, croquetas are just a flavoured thick béchamel, shaped and coated with breadcrumbs that will withstand frying, so when you bite into the crispy outer layer, you feel the creamiest warm béchamel. The problem with making them is that to get the texture right is not as simple as it seems. If the béchamel is not cooked to the right consistency, it will burst and you’ll end up with the coating on one side and the filling on the other! Also, to have it creamy rather than thick, you must use much less flour, making the resulting dough more difficult to work with.
But, I’m sharing with you today two approaches to making good croquetas. Note: I’m not saying these are the best croquetas (they are “my” best croquetas)…everyone has a grandma that makes the best croquetas!:-). I’ve used jamón as a filling, as they are really tasty and quite traditional, but feel free to change the filling according to your preferences or availability! Salted cod is also often used, roasted chicken with it’s juices is delicious!, funghi porcini mushrooms make wonderful croquetas, spinach & nutmeg are also nice, or simply you can add hard-boiled egg to these…They can even be made sweet! Lemon rind ones are lovely! So innovate as you like!
About the two approaches, one is a softer béchamel version, meltingly soft, but a bit more difficult to work with. The other has slightly more flour, just enough to make it workable using your hands (so the shaping procedure is completely different) but still very creamy. The latter working method I’ve adapted from a restaurant where we had to prepare hundreds of them, so it’s quicker to make, and you can shape them as small as you like…excellent for one bite cocktail ones! (but cutting down on the flour…as at home it pays off to make it even creamier!!!). All you need to succeed making these tasty tapas is to be accurate with the weights, and learn the point at which the béchamel is well-cooked, then you’ll make these with consistent excellent results! Furthermore, you can make a good batch and freeze it and fry from frozen, so once done, they are really convenient to take out when you need something! I hope you try these y…¡Qué aproveche!
Croquetas de jamón ibérico
(about 50 medium-sized or 100 bite-size…so you can half the recipe!)
1L whole milk*Important: you don’t need a really good (and pricey) one…I wouldn’t “waste” a good jamón ibérico de bellota to make anything but to eat it on it’s own! a mid-range price one is more than ok!)
130g flour (for approach #1) or 160g or up to 180g (for #2)
65g mild flavoured olive oil (or 90 for #2)
65g unsalted butter (or 90g for #2)
150g jamón ibérico*
salt and freshly milled black pepper
(optional, about 100g of onion)
(optional but recommended to infuse the milk: 1 spanish ham bone
You’ll also need for coating:
some plain flour
some breadcrumbs ( ideally about 500g) The more, the easier to work, you can always sift when you finish for other uses.I always first infuse the milk (by the way, for croquetas, some people use substitute some of the milk with a good stock…depending on the flavour you want) but I prefer to do it this way, as in my opinion yields a creamier result with all the flavour a let’s say, ham stock would do. So, if you can find a bone from a spanish ham (a mandarin size is enough for 1 liter) make sure you remove any “yellow” skin, which has a “rancid” flavour.
just place it on pre-warmed milk and bring it to a boil. Turn it off and cover with film to infuse until cool. Then, strain. You can do this the day before if you like.
Also, have your jamón ready, cutting it as finely as possible.
Now we start making the roux for the bechamel. I sometimes like to add finely chopped onion, fried until very soft to the croquetas, specially if I don’t make the previous infusing step, as it gives a nice taste to the bechamel that complements the ham very well. If you use, chop it up as finely as you can and slowly fry in the oil (not the butter) until starting to colour and it’s very soft. Then, add the butter…
Add the weighed flour (for #1 or #2) and fry over low-medium heat to cook the flour a bit, for about 1 or 2 minutes, stirring as it cooks.
Now, the time to add the milk (if it is coolish, it is easier to add it without the risk of getting lumps). For those not used to making bechamel, the way it works best for me is as follows. I take the pan off the heat and grab a whisk (keep a spatula with you also, to scrape the sides, as this thick bechamel will stick) add a generous laddle at once and immediately whisk vigorously to incorporate it into the roux. As you see it thicken, keep pouring more milk constantly whisking…When it is all incorporated and lump-free return to the heat. For these small amounts it’s best to do it off the heat (I think) as it quickly boils up and if you are not quick enough, you’ll inevitably get lumps!
Now, it’s workout time! You must keep stirring constantly until it is thickened enough. So, I find it easier to do so with the whisk, but keeping the silicon spatula to, from time to time, scrape the sides, as the whisk doesn’t reach.
When it’s fairly thick add your chopped jamón and continue whisking!
It will take about 10 minutes to get to the right texture…To know when it’s ready, if you are using recipe #1, you are looking for the bechamel separating from the bottom of the pan…If in doubt continue whisking until you see than it starts to almost “separate” some of the fat. Then, stop. For recipe #2, you are aiming for a bechamel to completely come together and separate from the bottom and sides of the pan…in fact, if you touch it, it should barely stick! This is important to keep in mind, since you want to be able to work it with your hands, and although you’ll be doing it when cold, this is a good indication. So, here is photo of when each is about ready…The one on the left is obviously much thinner, it can still be cooked a bit more, but don’t expect it to come off the sides as recipe #2.
Whenever each is ready, take if off the heat and pour into a tupper or pyrex and cover it with film touching directly on top, so it doesn’t form a skin. Let cook, ideally on a rack, and when cool, film over again and rest until the next day.
When ready to make your croquetas, get ready a bowl with some flour, another one with the well beaten eggs (they need to be liquidy, so if you need to add a tbsp of water), a medium or small frying pan, and a large tray with sides with as much breadcrumbs as possible (I’m not the best example, as I happened to be out of breadcrumbs!… so just processed enough stale bread to use. But believe me that working with more makes your life easier!!)
So, for the thinner bechamel recipe, you will have to do as follows: Flour a working surface, and grab two spoons(large or small depending on the size of croquetas you want to make) and hold one on each hand. Take a spoonful of mix with one of the spoons and with the other press to shape a quenelle…
Lay each “quenelle” over a floured surface and dust with extra flour and lightly shape and place on the frying pan and pour two spoonfuls of the egg wash and sauté the croquetas in the pan! Carefully with this recipe as they’ll want to stick! You’ll need to work quick at this stage, so the “dough” doesn’t stick to the bottom. So, the moment you place the croquetas to half-fill (or less) the pan and pour in the egg, sauté them to cover with the egg and pour into the breadcrumb tray.
The traditional way to do it, in case you prefer it is to have a large bowl with beaten egg (much more than two) and drop the croquetas there after flouring then, then with a fork or straining onto another bowl, you remove them onto the breadcrumbs. But this way I find you use much less egg and dirty the breadcrumbs much less, as you only add enough egg to coat the croquetas into the pan, so there’s no threads of egg in the breadcrumbs!
And that’s it! shake the breadcrumb tray to distribute them and coat them, just roll each a bit and place into a tupper side by side to directly freeze! I always freeze them as I do them…Specially this lighter recipe, otherwise if fried room temperature they are more likely to break. Also, I find it more convenient to freeze them flat side by side and then, separate them and place in a bag with the date, so I can take as many as I want each time to fry and it barely uses any space!
Now, for working on the other recipe…after this, you’ll be happy. If in doubt, I recommend you try this easier version and then move onto the other one if you want to try! Just in case you are put off making them!:-)
Your dough will have “set” and you can simply unmould it over the same film that was covering it.
Then, with a knife or a dough scraper break up slices to roll into sausages ( like making gnocchi)…If you can, try not to add much flour at this stage on the working surface, but leave it to after they are cut and you want to shape the rounds. For me it worked well with barely any flour. Then, cut up into the size you want. These I’ve made one-bite (cocktail) size to show you…
And over a lightly floured surface roll the croquettes, one at a time or two with both hands if you can handle. Place them on the pan and as before add a tbsp or two (depending on how many croquetas you have…with this recipe you can fill up the pan more as they won’t stick) and sauté and into the breadcrumbs.
Here’s the difference in size:
So, grab as many as you want from frozen and deep-fry until golden brown…
They are super crisp outside and meltingly creamy inside!