Creamy Crunchy Croquetas de Atun y Limon

By • February 24, 2012 5 Comments

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Author Notes: When I was in college,my mother took in an older Paraguayan woman named Lorenza, who had spent her life as an au pair and cook for a Peruvian diplomat until his kids were grown etc., and she had to finally go off and fend for herself. My family loved her tuna croquetas. The cornstarch( instead of flour) seems to make the beschamel binder especially silky and I think they do a good job of replicating Lorenza's. We have them as a dinner entree (and for snacks and.....).

Because they are really basically 2 flavors- tuna and lemon- they pair well with just about any flavor profile of any starch. I've mostly served them with quinoa or white bean side dishes. My only problem is that they are addictive. The hot crunchy exterior gives way to a warm creamy mouthful of tuna and lemon. I love the mouthfeel of this creamy tuna (compared to the dry textured chunks of canned tuna.) This simple recipe can easily be doubled or quadrupled. The croquetas freeze and reheat well in the toaster oven. But for some odd reason, that second batch never makes it into the freezer around here!
LE BEC FIN

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Serves 2-3 people

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • heaping 2/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups whole milk, heated to hot
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (to taste)
  • 3-4 tablespoons lemon juice (usually 1 lemon)
  • ~18 ounces ( 3 6- ounce cans)Pastene Fancy Light Tuna in Olive Oil
  • kosher salt
  • fresh coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, whisked well
  • 3/4- 1 cups Panko breadcrumbs*
  • 4-5 cups Canola Oil for frying**
  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat . Add the cornstarch and cook 3-4 minutes while whisking ,This cooks out the raw starch taste and makes a slightly nutty flavored roux. Add the hot milk while whisking ,and the mixture should immediately leave the sides of the pan, clump in the middle, and be very very thick. The mixture should be smooth(no lumps of flour.) Turn off the heat. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the lemon juice and nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  2. With a can opener, open the top of each tuna can all the way, but leave the top in place. Over a bowl, invert each can and squeeze down hard on its contents so that all juices and oil leave the can. (Now give this bowl of juices to your watchful kitty!) Over the saucepan of beschamel, add the tuna while shredding finely with your fingers. Blend thoroughly and adjust seasoning as needed. The goal is a well blended,smooth creamy mixture, not a chunky one, and with a bright lemon flavor (enough so that it won't need more later) spiked by pepper. If the mixture is cooled and set up already, you can proceed to make the croquetas. Otherwise, spread mixture into any spray-oiled 8-9” square pan; cover and refrigerate a few hours or overnight (or a few days) to set up.
  3. Remove the pan from the frig, uncover, and cut it into a grid of 4 x 4 squares. Remove each square (a narrow cake spatula or pancake spatula helps) and stand them on end in the pan, leaning against each other. Now roll them all: fold each square lightly in half , and roll in the palms of your hands briefly til you have a smooth 2 1/2” long x 1" Wide, square ended barrel . To get the proper and equal size, I usually end up with only 15. Place them in a shallow oiled pan with edges.
  4. Place the panko in a container that has a tight fitting lid. With one hand, place 2 or 3 croquetas at a time into the bowl of well beaten egg. With that same hand, grasp each by its end and flip it lengthwise, rolling them around in the egg. Then place 2 or 3 in the panko.
  5. With the other hand, snap on the container lid and gently shake the container to coat the croquetas with panko. With that same other hand, remove them and place them back on the same sheet pan. When all are done, refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 1 day, covered) to set the coating. They should be firm, not limp or squishy .
  6. In a medium size saucepan or fryer, heat a 3-4” depth of oil to 370 degrees F. Carefully lower in the croquetas. Depending on the size of your pan, fry about 4-5 croquetas at a time (do not crowd them) for about 5 minutes til medium dark brown. Stir gently after 2-3 minutes to assure their not sticking on the bottom. To test for doneness, remove a croqueta and insert a metal skewer tip into the middle. Upon removal, if the skewer tip is hot, the middle of the croqueta is as well. Drain on rack over thick newspapers . **For some odd reason, these do not hold together when kept for a few days, waiting to be fried. So fry them all after the coating has set up, at which point they can be kept warm or reheated- in a 250 defree F oven. - While I typically squeeze lemon juice on anything fried, these should need no lemon juice or any sauce! - These would make fine hors d'oeuvre if formed into 1 1/2" balls.
  7. *Panko is readily found in supermarkets and Asian food stores. For frying, it is hugely superior to bread crumbs because its texture and airiness creates a much crisper crunchier coating. ** Fresh oil is necessary for a clean fried taste. I use about 4 1/2 cups of oil to fry one batch of croquetas. I then filter the cooled oil through a fine sieve and discard the debris from the sieve and the pan. If the oil retains a golden color(unlikely), I may add a bit of new oil to it and use it for one more batch of croquetas, but then I discard that oil after that second batch.

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