|Hot croquetas, warm day, cool beer, perfection!|
A couple of posts ago on Scrumptious Scran, I reviewed José Pizarro’s excellent cookbook of Spanish cuisine, Spanish Flavours. Following on from the review, I really wanted to try one of the recipes from the book for the blog; proof of the pudding (or pagination) is, after all, in the eating. So packed is Spanish Flavours with alluring recipes, one might think my choice of what to cook would be a tricky one, but this wasn’t the case at all. Newly armed with my trusty deep fryer, I knew I was going to attempt my take on José’s recipe for crab and prawn croquetas.
Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Spain, or in a decent Spanish restaurant in the UK, I always make a habit of sampling croquetas, where these are on offer. And to be frank, you would be hard pressed to find a Spanish bar or restaurant that doesn’t serve some version of this tasty little tapa, so ubiquitous is the dish throughout Spain. Crisp and golden on the outside, yet soft, moist and flavour-packed on the inside, the beauty of croquetas lies both in their simplicity and versatility. Fundamentally, all a croqueta consists of is a thick béchamel sauce with assorted ingredients added to flavour this. This mixture is then chilled, formed into lozenge shapes, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
They key to making decent croquetas is ensuring the béchamel sauce is suitably thick but silky smooth, and choosing an appropriately flavoursome additive to incorporate in this. And there are many such ingredients from which to choose. I’ve sampled delicious chicken croquetas in Barcelona, ones flavoursomely made with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, in Madrid, and a fantastically fishy variety containing bacaloa (salt cod), in Seville. To be honest, it’s possible – within reason – to enhance a croqueta with whatever flavouring ingredient takes one’s fancy. Also, every bar and kitchen will have its own tweaks for each basic croqueta variety, making for a joyful pastime that is bar hopping and trying to asses which serves the best.
|“Lozenges” ready for breadcrumbs, then frying.|
And speaking of tweaks, I slightly altered the recipe below from the one for crab and prawn croquetas featured in Spanish Flavours. I have include dill instead of parsley (I just happened to have some in the fridge at the time), and infused the milk with a bouquet garni consisting of a celery stalk with a couple of sprigs of thyme and a fresh bay leaf tied to it. I suppose that, if an even more intense seafood flavour was desired, the prawns could be substituted for brown shrimp, or even finely chopped, cooked mussels. The tastey possibilities are almost endless…
This recipe will make around 35 individual croquetas, which is enough to serve 6-8 in one sitting. However, once the béchamel has been formed into the croquetas lozenges, these can be frozen for a few weeks for defrosting and frying at a later date.
- 500ml of whole milk (infused with a bouquet garni of herbs if desired)
- 150ml of fresh chicken of vegetable stock
- 85g butter
- 115g plain flour
- 125g fresh white crab meat (I used locally-caught, Scottish crab)
- 100g of cooked peeled prawns, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of dill (or parsley) finely chopped
- 2 large, free-range eggs
- 200g breadcrumbs, made from stale, crustless white bread
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Preparation and cooking
- Put the milk and stock in a large saucepan (together with the bouquet garni, if using) and bring to almost boiling. Melt the butter in another pan over a low heat, stir in the flour and cook gently for around 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break up the mixture as it cooks. Make sure the mixture doesn’t burn!
- Very gradually beat in the milk and stock mixture, giving a really good beating between each addition. The mixture should become silky smooth using this technique. Increase the heat very slightly and cook gently – stirring constantly – for about 5-7 minutes, in order to cook out the flour.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a minute or so before stirring in the crab meat, prawns and dill, together with a good amount of salt and (white) pepper, to taste. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish, spread out to form an even layer and press a sheet of clingfilm onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Allow to cool before chilling for two hours, or preferably overnight.
- Put the beaten eggs and breadcrumbs into separate, shallow dishes. Lightly oil the palms of your hands and roll 1½ tablespoons (around a 30g portion) of the chilled mixture into balls and then form them into zeppelin-shaped lozenges. Refrigerate your 35 or so croqueta bases for 15-30 minutes.
- Heat up oil in a deep fryer to 190°C. Dip the croquetas 4-5 at a time into the beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs and deep fry in batches for 2 minutes, until crisp and golden. Transfer briefly to plenty of kitchen paper to drain, whilst the remaining batches are cooked. Serve hot, accompanied by a slice of lemon.
Spanish Flavours, by José Pizarro, is published by Kyle Books, and is available in hardback at £19.99.