I’d love to tell you about the first time I tried a croqueta—how I bit into the crisp, lightly fried exterior (with flamenco music playing in the background, obviously), savored the béchamel-creamy filling and had never tasted something so delicious. The truth is: I lived in Spain for years, have tried more croquetas than I can remember, and the first one was probably in some crappy bar, luring in wide-eyed Americans, in the touristy center of Madrid. Croquetas are served in bars and restaurants across Spain, and though many of them are very delicious—memorable even—as any Spaniard will tell you, the best ones are always hecho en casa (homemade). So it’s time you learn to make them yourself.
If you haven't had the chance to tapear with croquetas (yup—Spaniards have a verb for eating tapas), think of them as the mozzarella stick’s elegant, two-bite Spanish cousin. The breaded and fried outside has a light, delicate crunch that breaks easily, unleashing a creamy béchamel filling, hinted with nutmeg and mixed with your ingredient of choice — from traditional mix-ins like chicken, Serrano ham, cod and squid (jet black on the inside from the salty squid ink!) to inventive things like Roquefort cheese, blood sausage, leeks, even chocolate. So if you’re wondering: Will it croqueta? the answer is yes. Probably yes.
The idea of making croquetas used to vex me. I figured it took years of rolling and frying croquetas under the tutelage of a Spanish granny to achieve that perfect crunch-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside balance. Once I got over myself and sat down with a few recipes, I realized it’s actually very doable. Practice a couple times yourself and you'll be hosting a very authentic Spanish tapas party muy pronto (and you should probably invite me, right?).
Here's my guide to making croquetas without ever looking at a recipe.
First, gather these ingredients:
Don’t worry about getting specialized equipment. You’ll need a medium bowl for the filling, two small bowls for eggs and breadcrumbs, a whisk, and two spoons to shape the croquetas. Use a large, non-stick pan to fry the croquetas, and remove with a slotted spoon onto a large plate.
Before you begin, think through how much milk you’ll need. The filling to milk ratio should be about 2 cups filling (cooked chicken, jamón, tuna, vegetables, etc.) for four cups of milk. For my fellow pata-negra lovers: dry-cured jamón (finely chopped) works great here, but be careful to salt to taste, as the jamón is very salty already. Also, set aside a quarter cup or so to mix into your filling at the end, so each bite has a few tasty morsels of jamón. If you want to add subtle notes to the flavor profile, try infusing flavors—like bacon, cardamom, chili peppers—into the milk before you begin.
Drop a couple tablespoons of butter or olive oil into a non-stick pan over low-medium heat. Add onions and let them sweat. Cook until golden then add your filling, mix and let them cook together for a few minutes. For more delicate ingredients, like cooked mushroom or white fish, your cooking time will be slightly shorter.
Pour in the milk you’ve proportioned, a shake of nutmeg and a couple pinches of salt. Carefully remove and place in a food processor, blend, and return to your pan. Turn the heat back on to low.
Whisking slowly, add a couple spoons of flour. Whisk to bind ingredients together. If the mixture is pulling away from the pan and forms a wet dough, the mixture is thick enough and you can proceed to the next step. If not, add another spoonful of flour and keep stirring until mixture is thick enough to form a paste consistency that pulls away from the pan.
Turn off heat and spread mixture evenly in a ceramic baking dish. Once cool, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Now would be a good time to whip up some aioli or sauce to dip the croquetas in.
When you’re ready to make croquetas, fill one medium bowl with breadcrumbs and another with a couple of eggs, beaten.
Remove croqueta filling from refrigerator. Use a tablespoon to scoop a walnut sized portion of filling, then use a second spoon to shape your croqueta—think a large tater tot that’s slightly rounded at the ends. Drop into breadcrumb mixture, roll around then place into the egg mixture to coat. Spoon your croqueta back into the breadcrumb mixture and cover completely. Finish forming croquet by hand and place onto a plate. Repeat with remaining filling.
Note: you may want to prepare half of the croquetas and refrigerate them while you finish the other half. This will prevent the dough from becoming too liquidy for frying.
Heat oil in a large pan. You’ll need at least an inch-deep of oil to get a proper fry. To tell if oil is hot enough, drop a piece of old bread into the oil—if it starts sizzling immediately, it’s ready.
Use a slotted spoon to fry croquetas in batches, gently flipping halfway through, for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a plate. Serve warm.
Note: This is just one method for making croquetas. Another is to make a béchamel, mix the filling into the béchamel, and proceed to cool, bread, and fry. It's essentially the same as my method, but in a different order—the difference is that the croquetas will be less smooth. So if you prefer a coarser texture, make the béchamel first.