On my first trip to Spain many years ago, I spent a couple of relaxing end-of-summer weeks in Costa Brava, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. At a little out-of-the-way restaurant one evening, I saw croquetas listed as the nightly special. I wasn’t sure what they were but ordered them anyway. Probably because they were cheap. I was rewarded with a plate full of piping hot, lightly browned, little mounds of heaven. Under the delicate crisp exterior, the creamy texture oozed savory flavor with a silky mouthfeel in every bite. They were probably the best thing I’d tasted so far that trip, and I sought them out on every menu for the rest of the trip.
Upon my return back home, I had to gradually purge them from my memory as they just simply didn’t exist in the United States. And I didn’t know anything about cooking back then, so the idea of trying to find a recipe was out of the question.
Fast forward to 2014, when I am making my way through my Jose Andres cookbook and I see his recipe for croquetas. My Costa Brava memories and flavors came flooding back, and I knew I had to make them. Right away. And so I did. I was thrilled that they were every bit as delicious as I’d remembered them, and was pleasantly surprised that the recipe made so many! I was able to devour as many as I wanted and still have plenty to share with family and friends, even leaving enough to freeze for later. Make these for your next dinner party, and your guests will never forget you!
Spanish Ham and Chicken Croquetas (Fritters)
(Croquetas de jamón serrano y pollo)
Recipe from the José Andrés cookbook “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America”
Note: this recipe can be adapted with just about any filling: mushrooms, ham only, chicken only, hard-boiled eggs, or even fish, shrimp or crab. Start with roughly 9-10 oz of the filling of your choice and see where it takes you!
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz/8 T)
½ C finely diced onion
1½ C all-purpose flour
4 C whole milk (at room temperature or lightly warmed)
3 oz finely chopped serrano ham (can use prosciutto or even regular ham)
6 oz cooked chicken, shredded
½ – 1 t salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 t nutmeg
2 C Spanish EVOO
1 C all-purpose flour (use more if needed)
2 eggs, beaten
1 C bread crumbs (Panko) (use more if needed)
Melt butter in a deep pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir constantly for 5 minutes to thoroughly cook; it will turn golden brown. Pour in the milk and stir/whisk continuously for about 2 minutes or until a very thick béchamel is formed (it’s done when drips hold their shape).
Add the ham, chicken, salt and nutmeg. Cook another 3-4 minutes or until the mixture is thick and can be molded into a ball: it’s done when as much batter sticks to a large spoon as falls off when turning a spoonful upside down. Allow to cool to room temperature before forming the croquetas. The batter will become even easier to roll once it’s cooled.
To form the croquetas, take a spoonful of batter (smaller than a ping pong ball) and roll it into a cylinder just larger than a wine cork. Form all the croquetas first. Next, roll each one in flour to coat; gently shake off excess and set aside until all of them are coated. Dip each one into the beaten eggs, gently shaking off excess, and set aside until all of them are coated. Finally, place the bread crumbs in a large plastic bag. Add a few croquetas at a time and shake gently to coat, then remove and set aside until all are coated.
In a small but deep frying pan, or a small sauce pan, heat the oil to 375 F. Add a few croquetas at a time so that they are completely covered in oil. Fry about a minute, gently turning them, until they turn light golden brown on all sides. Gently remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain. Allow the oil to come back to 375 F each time before adding more croquetas. Serve the croquetas hot.
Yield: 60-75 pieces, depending on size
Step by Step Details
Not much prep work is required for this recipe. Just finely dice the onions and ham and shred the chicken. And if you have time and remember, warm the milk.
Start by melting the butter over medium heat. Choose a pan with tall sides, as there will be a lot of stirring later and you don’t want everything to spill out.
Add the onions to the melted butter and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes, and then add the flour.
Stir constantly for 5 minutes to thoroughly cook the flour. It will turn golden brown and yes, it will be really clumpy. I’m not sure I used the best tool here for stirring the flour, as a lot got stuck inside, but it worked.
Next, pour in the milk. It will help things along if the milk is warmed or even at room temperature instead of cold, but if you forgot and have to add it cold, no problem. It’ll just take a little longer. You’ll get a good arm workout, with all that stirring.
Stir/whisk continuously for about 2 minutes or until a very thick béchamel is formed.
Since a béchamel thickens more as it cools, it’s sometimes hard to know when it’s done. I stop when I drop some of the sauce from a spoon and the drips hold their shape.
Add the ham, chicken, salt and nutmeg. The original recipe calls for Spanish serrano ham, but that can be hard to find, so prosciutto makes a good substitute. Even regular ham would work. As for the chicken, any leftover chicken—or rotisserie chicken from the supermarket—works great.
Stir it well and cook another 3-4 minutes or until the mixture is thick and can almost be molded into a ball.
Again, it thickens more as it cools, so even if it appears too sticky to form a ball when it’s still hot, it will likely work once it’s cooled. I consider it done when I take a big spoonful of the batter, turn it upside down, and about as much batter sticks to the spoon as falls off.
Allow to cool to room temperature before forming the croquetas. Go ahead and stir if a few times if you want. You’ll notice the batter becomes kind of congealed and will be even easier to roll once it’s cooled.
While the batter cools, get your breading station set up.
To form the croquetas, take a spoonful of batter (smaller than a ping pong ball) and roll it into a cylinder just larger than a wine cork. I just happened to have some corks on hand from open bottles of my favorites. Go figure: me with wine on hand.
Form all the croquetas first. If the batter starts to stick to your hands—and it will—just scrape off the excess and wet your palms with water. Keep doing this as needed, and the croqueta forming will be much easier.
When all the croquetas have been formed, roll each one in flour to coat; gently shake off excess flour. Set aside until all of them are coated.
Helpful hint: this step gets messy, so pick up each floured croqueta with one hand, drop it in the egg wash, and then remove it with the other hand. This way, one hand stays kind of dry and floury while the other stays wet and eggy. Otherwise both hands, as well as the egg wash, become eggy and floury and very sticky and messy.
Finally, roll them in the bread crumbs.
Again, use one hand for adding the wet ones, and the other hand to remove them once breaded. Add a few croquetas at a time and shake gently to coat, then remove and set aside until all are coated.
In a small but deep frying pan, or a small sauce pan, heat the oil to 375 F. Add a few croquetas at a time so that they are completely covered in oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan…give them lots of room to move around.
Gently remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.
Note: be sure to allow the oil to come back to 375 F each time before adding more croquetas. Adding croquetas—even if they are room temperature—has a cooling effect on the oil. If you add more before the oil heats back up, they will absorb the colder oil rather than cook in hotter oil. Plus, they won’t brown nicely or firm up well, leaving you with an oily, oozy mess of broken croquetas when you go to remove them.
Granted, these rejects make a great excuse for sampling the goods, but you’ll be better off snacking on the good ones.
If making ahead, allow them to cool completely before freezing. Then thaw them completely and reheat in the oven or toaster oven (about 325 degrees F) until hot and crispy.
Serve the croquetas hot as an appetizer or even a small meal. No dipping sauce is needed, as they will be creamy and packed with flavor all on their own. Enjoy!