Thursday, February 7, 2008
What A Croq
When I go to a Spanish restaurant in the city (which is rare because most are terrible) I always begin with tapas, which are easier to get right. If the tapas are acceptable, I consider moving on to a main course, which is where most places fail. Of the thousands of tapas out there, I almost always choose to start with the traditional ones like tortilla or croquetas. If those are bad I've been known to storm out angrily, so you can see why I generally avoid these places. Both tortilla and croquetas are easy to make at home, so if a restaurant can't handle it, I don't really care to be there.
Although I got home tired and a bit later than usual last night, I had all of the ingredients to make my own croquetas right in my fridge, so I decided to make them despite the recipe traditionally requiring a few hours cooling time in the fridge. I would also normally make them with Spanish ham, but since we're talking about someone who has just handed over a large sum of money to a landlord and--wait for it--two brokers, I went with the smoked bacon I had in the fridge and called it a day. Croquetas are really nothing more than extra thick and settled béchamel sauce rolled in egg and covered in breadcrumbs. You can use the same recipe for every kind and mix in whatever chunkies you like best: ham, leftover chicken, fish, and veggies, anything you like.
I generally make them the traditional way, just straight up béchamel with the chunkies mixed in, but this time I decided to give them a bit of a kick by adding some less traditional flavors. When the béchamel finally comes together I add a fat dollop of Dijon mustard and a pinch of cayenne pepper. A few turns of fresh cracked white pepper and all you have to do is transfer it to a bowl or plate and let it set in the fridge for a few hours. I, of course, didn't have a minimum of two hours to make dinner this time, so I gave it about an hour and a half and then started rolling out fat little béchamel tubes to dunk in egg and douse in seasoned breadcrumbs. They turned out a bit softer than usual and I had to use two spoons to roll then, but in the end they were pretty good. I'll definitely be using this tweaked recipe in the future.
Spicy Smoked Bacon Croquetas
4 strips smoked bacon, chopped into small pieces
2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
3 cups milk (you may not need it all)
1 Tbsp good Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups breadcrumbs (I like seasoned, but unseasoned is fine)
vegetable oil (about 2 cups for frying)
1. Sauté the bacon until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon so that rendered fat remains in the pan. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool.
2. Add butter to the cooled pan and melt it over medium low heat. When it has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until you create a roux (it should look and smell like a wet dough). Cook the roux slowly until it starts to brown and smell nutty.
3. Add in the milk a cup at a time until the béchamel is thick but not solid (this could take a minute or two). Stir in the bacon, mustard and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
4. Spread the mixture out onto a plate and allow to cool and harden in the fridge for a minimum of two hours (you can cheat this as I did, but don't go under an hour and a half).
5. When the mixture is firm, take a spoon and scoop out enough to roll a two-inch long, 1-inch wide croqueta. Carefully roll it in the beaten egg, and then cover it in breadcrumbs. Repeat until the mixture is all used.
6. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat until very hot but not smoking (it should be enough oil to completely submerge the croquetas). Add the croquetas, making sure not to crowd to pan, and cook until they're golden on all sides. Allow to drain for a few minutes on a paper towel covered plate. Enjoy!