I admit it – these are a bit of a palaver. Certainly more than most things I do. But they’re basically made in three separate relatively easy steps: make the filling; make the croquetas; cook the croquetas. Also I have a serious croqueta habit, and it’s still lazier than flying to Spain to satisfy it.
When I first made croquetas, I looked up lots of recipes (including the brilliant Felicity Cloake, who is my first go-to for any new recipe) and many of them said don’t add cheese – it’s unnecessary and inauthentic. So for years, I didn’t. But on our last visit to Madrid, we had croquetas de jamón y queso, and they were delicious. So to paraphrase the great Millie Jackson, if inauthenticity is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Using cheese also means you don’t have to worry about using stock to make the sauce, but if you have stock, do use it if you want – maximum savouriness is good. Really this is a template more than a recipe: you can use just ham, chicken, or salt or smoked (definitely inauthentic) fish; leeks or parsley instead of spring onions; stock of a suitable flavour to replace part of the milk. The filling ingredients need to be cooked before you add them to the sauce, which means it’s also an excellent vehicle for leftovers: I made post-Christmas turkey and ham croquetas using the stock from the ham last year and they were delicious. You could make veggie ones with cheese and cooked veg (mixed cauliflower and broccoli would be good, or feta, courgette and spinach, or finely chopped mushrooms) but you will need to minimise the liquid they produce. So, for instance, chop mushrooms finely and fry gently in a little butter, cooking all of the liquid off before adding to the sauce. Otherwise they will thin it and the croquetas won’t hold together when you coat them.
I make them quite large (in a pathetic attempt to minimise the frying fat content, and because smaller means more, and that means more coating work) and torpedo-shaped because that’s how I first had them, but you can make them smaller, rounder, even flatter if you want. It’s not the shape but the combination of creamy savoury filling, and crispy crumby outside that makes them so delicious. Eat hot.
Croquetas de jamón y queso
For the filling:
- 25g butter
- 50g flour
- 10 fl oz (half a pint) milk or milk and stock mixed
- 200g ham, finely chopped (I used offcuts of smoked ham, but either cooked or cured like Serrano will be fine here though quite different)
- 100g cheese, grated (I used strong cheddar)
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
Lazy sauce method (endorsed by Saint Delia) – put butter, flour and most of the liquid in a pan with some salt and pepper, heat slowly, whisking all the time till it starts to thicken, then stir with a spoon till it starts to bubble. Turn it down and simmer for a minute or so to cook out the flour, stirring all the time. Add more of the liquid if you need it, but you should have a very thick sauce – more like a paste. (The photo below shows the texture while it’s hot, and it’ll thicken up more as it cools.) Taste for seasoning, then mix in the rest of the ingredients. Press a piece of wet clingfilm to the top of the filling, and cool before putting in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.
For the coating, all in separate bowls:
- 1 heaped tbsp flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper
- 1 large egg, beaten with a little water
- Panko breadcrumbs, about 75-100g (These are a dealbreaker for me – I wouldn’t bother making them with ordinary breadcrumbs. Supermarkets sell small expensive packets, Asian supermarkets sell bigger cheaper ones.)
Take a heaped spoonful of the filling mixture and drop it in the flour. Turn it with a spoon to coat, then shape it with your hands into a torpedo shape. Drop into the egg, turn carefully with a fork, lift out draining off the excess egg, then drop into the breadcrumbs. Spoon more crumbs over the croqueta to cover the egg, then pick up and pat more on by hand if necessary. (Have found this method minimises sticky crumby hand syndrome.) Place the coated croqueta on a baking sheet or plate covered with clingfilm and continue till you’ve used all of the filling up. I made 17 largish croquetas from this mixture but you could easily get 30 smaller ones out of it. Put in the fridge to chill and set for at least 30 minutes.
These take very little time to cook, so get anything else you’re eating/drinking ready before you start cooking because you want to eat them hot.
You can deep fry them if you have a deep fat fryer – just cook till golden as the filling is already cooked. I cook them in a frying pan in 1 cm deep oil (vegetable or sunflower), turning twice so they brown on three sides. I cook about eight at a time and find that by the time I’ve turned them all carefully using two spoons, the first are just about ready to be turned again. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.
Now invite your friends round and watch them fight over the last one like mine did.