Spanish Home Cooking – Croquetas

Today I feel like a real Spanish mamá. I just cooked some croquetas from chicken left-overs. It doesn’t get much more Spanish than that. Well, except maybe if I cooked it whilst wearing a supremely practical blue housecoat. And in a spotlessly clean house….Well, anyway… I cooked croquetas. And they were great.

croquetas caseras

Me and my homemade croquetas – plain but fabulous! ;)

Croquetas are a classic Spanish dish and a fab finger-food that is beloved of children and bar-propping tapas eaters alike. They are also a fantastically frugal food, helping you use up every last scrap of any left-over cooked chicken (or ham) that you happen to have.

I have to confess that I always thought that croquetas were made with potatoes (maybe because I’m Irish?) so it was a revelation the first time I actually saw them being made, by my neighbour Rosi, and realised that the basis for the filling is in fact a thick white sauce or bechamel.

Watching Rosi make her croquetas also made me realise just what a simple, good home-cooked food they are (or can be at their best) and it inspired me with the confidence to incorporate them into my own kitchen repertoire. It’s the kind of plain, real cooking that is best learned at the elbow of a kitchen matriarch.

Ca' Paquita

Real Spanish food as cooked in real Spanish kitchens

Just in case you’re not so lucky as I and that’s not an option for you, below is the basic recipe for you to have a play with. ¡Que aproveche!

Recipe for Chicken Croquetas / Croquetas de Pollo

You’ll need:  Nothing you don’t already have! (That’s the whole idea ;) )

whatever cooked chicken you have left over and need to use up! I grind mine in my new whizzy food processor but Rosi just chops hers up into tiny pieces with some kitchen scissors

for the white sauce:  olive oil (note: not butter, this is a Spanish recipe!), milk, plain flour, onion, salt, black pepper, nutmeg (optional)

for the coating:  egg, breadcrumbs

Olive oil to fry

The quantities all depend on the amount of meat you have and how far you want (or need) to make it go.

On this occasion I made 12 croquetas and used approximately: 2 tbsp of olive oil, 4 tbsp plain flour and 8 fl oz of milk plus some finely chopped onion (a small handful).  I had 250g of chicken to hand.

Heat the olive oil then add the onion and fry gently for a few minutes until it becomes soft and translucent.
Sprinkle the flour in and stir for a minute or two more then add the milk slowly, stirring constantly and bring the paste to a boil.
The aim here is to make a gloriously thick white sauce that ultimately winds up with the consistency of a dough mix.

Once the sauce is thickened, turn the heat off and add the chicken and season to taste with the salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Spread the mix on a large plate and place in the fridge until fully chilled. This is important as it makes the mixture much more easy to work with and shape. Allow at least a couple of hours or even overnight.

Once it’s thoroughly chilled you’re ready to shape the croquetas – line up your plate of paste, a plate with beaten egg, a plate with breadcrumbs and a plate for the moulded croquetas.

Rosi uses a dessert spoon to get the perfect Spanish croqueta shape. You can do this or shape them with your hands by rolling. Next dip them in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs, making sure they are nicely coated.

Now all that remains is to fry them in very hot olive oil. I use a deep-fat fryer set to 190 degrees c. You could also just do them in a deep frying pan.

Once they are a gorgeous golden brown (a matter of just a couple of minutes) take them out and soak off the excess oil onto kitchen paper.

Serve immediately.  Riquísimo!!

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