#1211 - Croquettes | WYPR

#1211 - Croquettes

December 3, 2013 - Radio Kitchen - Croquettes

Welcome to Radio Kitchen, I'm Al Spoler.  During my recent trip to Spain, I kept encountering a type of food that grew on me every time I tried it.  It was the "croqueta," meaning of course, "croquette."  I never knew what was going to be inside these little fried shapes.  Sometimes it was seafood, sometimes it was cheese.  There were pork croquettes, and something like black bean croquettes.  And Chef Jerry Pelligrino of the Waterfront Kitchen, we've never talked about these delightful little treats before.

1.  A croquette is a deep-fried, savory breaded ball of something or other, usually either cylindrical or disk-shaped.

2.  Nearly universal.  Made on every continent, from north to south, east to west.

3.  The "filling" for a croquette is where the variety comes from.   Basically, anything savory that can be minced and blended into a packable mixture is fair game.  The thing they all have in common is some sort of breaded coating, and the frying.

4.  Croquettes can be used as snacks, hors d'eouvres, or clustered together as part of a main plate.

5.  Most of the fillings you read about involve potatoes, which makes sense since the potato is ubiquitous, and the starchiness helps hold the shape.  From there on, it's a matter of national preferences (almost clichés).

~The Korean "goroke" is filled with kimchi and pork.
~The Mexican "croqueta" features potatoes, tuna, chicken or black beans.
~ The Indian "kabab" is filled with spicy minced lamb.
~The Belgian croquette has béchamel sauce along with potatoes, beef or goulash
~And if you stop to think about it, the Maryland Crabcake, which used to be breaded with cracker crumbs, qualifies as a kind of croquette.

6.  My Spanish croquettes often had ham or cod as the central ingredient, along
with potatoes and béchamel sauce or soft cheese.

7.  Whatever the filling, the main trick is to keep the (we'll call it the dough) dry and stiff.  You need to be able to mold and shape these little blobs, so think dry at every stage.  Here are some tips:

-if the recipe calls for one egg, it means one egg, and a smallish one at that.
-if using potatoes, choose a baking style, not a waxy watery kind.  And dry
cook it, or at worst, steam it.  No boiling.
 -if you're using some kind of liquid to season, say a hot sauce or a vinegar,    
keep it to a minimum.  After you make the dough, and it's wet you
can pop it into a wire strainer and work it to drain away to excess.
-dry up your dough by adding additional breading, potatoes or even rice.
-always refrigerate the dough before molding.

8.  Let's say you make a dough out of minced cod, shrimp, green onions, red peppers, two egg yolks and assorted spices and a bit of flour.  If it's loose, you can sprinkle some panko crumbs into the mixture, or take a tablespoon's worth of dough, shape it with your fingers into a 1 1/2" disk and then roll it in bread crumbs.  The easiest thing, however, is to always start off with some dry mashed potatoes and add ingredients from there.

9.  If you can manage to shape your croquettes easily, here's the trick for breading:  have a bowl of beaten eggs handy, and dip the croquettes in and then roll them in the bread crumbs.  And don't forget the possibility of adding seasoning to the crumbs.

10.  When it comes time to fry, use a vegetable oil like canola or peanut oil.  Get it up to 350 and fry the croquettes in small batches.  Turn them several times to brown evenly.  Be sure to drain them on paper towels, and serve hot.