Spanish Croquetas - Smoked Haddock or Crispy Ham (vegetarian optional as choice of filling)
In Spain, they serve a variety of croquetas as part of your tapas spread – salt cod, spinach, mushroom, ham flavours. Take yourself to Malaga, looking at the sea, sipping your cold sherry and eating these lovely creamy-but-crispy bites. They are actually quite substantial, due to the rich bechamel and generous filling, so you could certainly have them for a good warming lunch alongside some green salad and zingy lemon mayonnaise. A tapas or starter portion would be one of each type, a lunch portion might be two of each type – so this recipe makes enough to feed quite a few people. Once you’ve got a feel for the consistency of the bechamel required, you can make these in smaller quantities and using pretty much anything for the filling – leftover chicken, cooked vegetables (but make sure they aren’t watery at all), something spicy?
Makes 12-14 croquetas of each type. Timings – 30 minutes on Day 1, 60 minutes on Day 2.
For each type you will need an additional 40g butter, 40ml olive oil and 65g plain flour
First, make your fillings:
Poach the haddock fillet in the milk and water with the bay leaf for about 10 minutes until the fish is cooked. Let it cool for a few minutes, then take out the fish and strain the liquid into a jug – you will use this for the sauce later. Remove the skin from the fish and flake the flesh well with a fork, taking out any bones you see. Keep the fish in a bowl.
Fry the pancetta in a little oil until crispy, drain on kitchen towel. Cut the prosciutto finely with a sharp knife.
Make each bechamel in the same way – I did one after the other in the same pan, as you need a fairly heavy bottomed saucepan. Melt the butter and the oil together, add the flour and stir over a gentle heat, cooking the flour without letting it burn. Add the liquid and keep stirring. It will thicken as you stir, and keep adding the liquid to make a very thick bechamel sauce. You need to keep stirring and cooking for a while to make sure any flouriness is cooked out, and the sauce is creamy. Add the filling and taste for seasoning. Add the grated nutmeg to the ham one. You probably don’t need to add salt to either of these, although you would if you were making spinach or mushroom croquetas. A generous grinding of pepper lifts the flavour.
Line a container with cling film – I try to avoid using cling film these days but I have tried other things and the sauce sticks and you waste a lot, so I do use cling film for this. Pour the bechamel into your container and wrap the cling film over the top to stop a hard skin forming. Place in the fridge for 24 hours to chill thoroughly and set firm.
Make the second bechamel if you are making two flavours of croquetas and do the same, so you have both flavours chilling overnight.
Next day, prepare a flat bowl with beaten egg and another one with breadcrumbs. Working on a floured baking tray, take a dessert spoonful of the set bechamel mixture and roll it in the flour, using flour to stop your hands sticking too. Form it into a cylinder about as long as your thumb and a bit thicker. Make all the croquetas of one type to this stage in one go. Then drop two at a time into the egg mixture, then into the breadcrumbs, firmly pressing the breadcrumbs onto the eggy surface. They should stick and make a firm dry coating. Put the completed croquetas on a plate to set again, while you do the other flavour.
It is fiddly, and it takes a while – it might be easier if you have a production line of helpers assisting you with this.
When the croquetas have had a few minutes to set, heat 2cm of oil in a heavy pan, or fire up your deep fat fryer. Fry the croquetas quite briefly in medium hot oil – the filling is already cooked, so you just want to warm it up and brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from the hot oil and serve as soon as you can – they do keep warm in the oven quite nicely if you are doing one flavour followed by another.
Eat with a simple green salad, a lemony mayonnaise for the fish one, and a tomato relish for the ham one, and imagine you're in Seville, sitting in a sunny courtyard.
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