Now that fall is coming, and we have eaten enough fresh salads and enjoyed our share of healthy smoothies, it’s time for a little indulgence in the form of …
Now that fall is coming, and we have eaten enough fresh salads and enjoyed our share of healthy smoothies, it’s time for a little indulgence in the form of fried foods. After all, it’s going to get chilly soon. We need the calories!
Croquetas are great fall and winter food. Most cultures have their own variations of the original French recipe, but they all are basically deep-fried breaded rolls made of ham, chicken, turkey (perfect for Thanksgiving leftovers) fish or beef. They can also be vegetarian, filled with mashed potatoes, cheese or mushrooms. I’ve even heard of apricot and apple croquetas, but in my opinion the sweet kind falls in the realm of pastry. Croquetas are traditionally a savory treat.
In Miami and other cities with a high concentration of Cubans you don’t need to make them at home because they are sold in most restaurants and cafeterias. There are even croqueta-eating contests. But since there isn’t (yet) a Cuban restaurant in Taos, I will share my mom’s recipe.
I chose ground-beef croquetas simply because they are easier—you can buy the beef already ground and skip one step. But if you prefer to make them with chicken or turkey, just boil it first, then use a food processor or an old-fashioned meat grinder to grind the meat. You can also make them with ground smoked ham.
There’s a wonderful thing about croquetas: they are extremely versatile. Hot or cold they make a nutritious breakfast, with a glass of coffee and milk. They are also good sandwich-style snacks—a couple of croquetas inside two slices of bread. Freshly made, they can also be main dish for lunch or supper, served with rice and a little salad.
During the 80’s they were a staple in Cuban birthday parties. They were served with a slice of meringue cake, a mini sandwich and elbow salad inside a little cardboard box.
The nature of croquetas makes them perfect for a big party. You may invite some guests to come earlier and take part in the cooking process. Croquetas are more fun, and less work, when treated as a communal project: while some people roll the cylinders, others dip them in eggs and a third group fries them.
Of course, you can also make a big batch for yourself and refrigerate or even freeze them. My mother makes around 20 every time, and they last her a whole week.
The sauce used as a base is similar to a Bechamel, only thicker.
It’s very important to let the mix refrigerate for at least two hours, and longer is better. This way you don’t risk the croquetas coming undone when you start frying them.
I sometimes add Goya adobo for seasoning. You can use any seasoning you want, or none at all.
For the breading, you can choose breadcrumbs or ground crackers. I strongly favor breadcrumbs as they are a better, thicker binder. You may need to put them in a food processor to give them a finer consistency.
2 cups ground beef
1 chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic or 1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder
6 tbsp butter or lard or olive oil. The original Cuban recipe calls for lard.
2 cups flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon beef bouillon
For the breading:
2 cups of breadcrumbs
2 beaten eggs
½ cup flour
In a frying pan, fry the meat in 2 tbsp butter or lard or olive oil. Season it lightly with salt and pepper. Put it aside.
In a large saucepan, cook the onion and garlic in butter, oil or lard until onion becomes translucent. Add flour, combine for one or two minutes, stirring constantly, until totally mixed. Make sure the mix does not stick to the sides of pan! Add beef bouillon, and more salt and pepper if needed. Then start adding milk, whisking until it thickens.
After the “roux” is ready, add the cooked ground beef and mix well.
Refrigerate for 2 to 5 hours, or a whole day if possible.
Setting the stage for the breading:
Once the ground-beef mixture has been refrigerated and it’s cold, make sure it is also firm enough to mold the rolls. If it feels too soft, add some breadcrumbs or sprinkle with flour before starting the process.
Fill a plate with breadcrumbs and a bowl with the beaten eggs. In the middle, sprinkle ½ cup of flour.
Scoop a tablespoon of the ground-beef mixture and roll it into a small sausage shape, around three inches thick and three inches long. Roll gently in the flour, then dip it in the beaten eggs and coat it in breadcrumbs.
Cover and refrigerate for one or two hours.
Heat 2 or 3 inches of oil, butter or lard and fry the croquetas until golden brown, four or five at a time. The shell should be crispy while the inside retains a creamy consistency.
Place on a paper-towel lined plate briefly to drain and absorb excess oil before serving.
Yields 20 croquetas.
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