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How to make croquettes, including one that tastes like fried chicken salad

By James P. DeWan • Mar 27, 2018 at 7:00 AM

See, this is why I’m glad I’m not learning English as a second language. If I were a native Bhutanese Dzongha speaker, for example, I’d be hard-pressed to differentiate between the King of the Wild Frontier, a bite-size, deep-fried treat and a lawn game of wooden balls and mallets. Being a Sanguine-American, though, I know immediately that it’s Crockett, croquette and croquet.

And, while all three are undeniably a few of my favorite things, today we’ll focus on the treat and save Fess Parker and his wickets for another day. Today is all about croquettes.

WHY YOU NEED TO LEARN THIS

As the heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul to put leftovers to good use. And leftovers disguised as croquettes? Why, they’re like those aliens that walk among us in human form: you’ll never know.

Until it’s too late.

THE STEPS YOU TAKE

The word “croquette” takes its name from the French and simply means crunchy and small. Like a June bug. Tantalizingly old-school, the outside of a well-made croquette is fried to a Pavlovian golden brown, with an inside as tender and moist as the tears of an orphaned squid.

While modern croquettes typically are made from scratch, the original intent was to use up delicious bits of leftover meat, poultry, fish, vegetables … you name it. Now, I’m no Carl Linnaeus, but, a croquettish taxonomy might argue for a couple of general categories: those bound with a thick sauce and those bound with egg.

The first category uses your basic leftovers: grilled chicken, baked ham, roasted saddle of veal (as if!). Those main ingredients are minced (or ground handily in your food processer) and mixed with other flavoring ingredients (onions, celery, herbs, etc.). Make sure everything is minced fine enough to produce that tender moistitude we referenced earlier. Then the whole shebang is cohered with a very thick bechamel or veloute.

(Tell me you don’t remember your mother sauces? Well, Forgetty McForgetful, bechamel is milk thickened with white roux and veloute is white stock thickened with blond roux. Then … oh, no, you haven’t forgotten roux, too? Don’t make me come over there. Equal parts fat and flour? Cooked together to shades of white, blond or brown? Yes? No? Roux? Sigh.)

As you’ll no doubt recall, the ratio for the average mother sauce is 8 parts liquid to 1 part roux. For croquettes, though, you need a sauce thick enough to wear a dunce cap, about a 2-to-1 ratio. That way, when you chill it, it becomes stiffer than sister’s wimple and easy to form into various shapes.

Now, the ink from that previous sentence isn’t even dry and I can already hear your plaintive cry, “What’s the ratio of sauce to main ingredient?” Well, you want very roughly about a 2-to-1 ratio of main ingredient to sauce, or, just enough sauce to hold everything together.

The second group of croquette varietals have nothing but egg to bind them, usually about 1 egg per pound of main ingredient. These croquettes often are based on potato or seafood.

Leftover mashed potatoes make for great croquettes, and you can add other flavoring ingredients as instructed by your alien overlords: bacon, ground beef, cheese, herbs, whatever sounds good. Just make sure all the ingredients are cooked beforehand (except for cheese and herbs) and finely minced for that luscious interior.

Unlike most other croquettes, the main ingredient for the seafood variety may start off fresh or cooked. Also, the result can be indistinguishable from what we might call a crabcake or salmon patty.

Regardless of the main ingredient or the particular species of croquette, what they all have in common is a breadcrumb coating. I recommend a classic three-step breading: Dredge the formed croquettes in flour, then dunk them in egg wash before tossing them with breadcrumbs. After that, the whole lot is fried in oil to that crisp, golden brown we were talking about.

Now, here’s a piece of very good advice: Don’t form all your croquettes until you have formed, cooked and tasted one. If it’s right, go ahead and make the rest. If it needs fixing (more salt, for example), fix it, then form and cook another one. See, you want to avoid making the whole batch only to find there’s something wrong, such as they need more salt, or less. What could be worse? (OK, discovering your beloved spouse is an alien colonist.)

The last thing I’ll mention is the great culinary truth that pretty much everything, croquettes included, needs a sauce. Try not to blanch, Blanche; it’s not as bad as all that. Look, you’ve ordered poppers at dive bars and the Appetizer Volcano at Johnny Crappola’s Pizza Gazebo. They always come with something, right? Chipotle mayo or simple marinara or garlic butter or blue cheese dressing or or or … you get the picture, right? Croquettes are fried. Serve a sauce with it, even if it’s just ketchup (Trust me, my 12-year-old would be on that like stink on a monkey, as the kids like to say. The kids still like to say that, don’t they? Stink on a monkey?)

Now, go make us some dadgum croquettes.

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CHICKEN CROQUETTES

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 2 to 3 minutes per batch

Makes: about 20 croquettes

Tasters in the test kitchen thought these croquettes tasted like fried chicken salad — a glorious thing indeed.

1 rib celery, minced

1/2 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 stick (4 ounces) butter

1 cup flour

2 cups chicken broth, milk or mixture of both

1 1/2 pounds cooked chicken meat, shredded or cubed

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley leaves

Salt and pepper as needed

Breading:

Flour as needed, about 1 cup

2 eggs mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Breadcrumbs as needed, about 1 cup

Vegetable oil as needed

1. In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, cook celery, onion and garlic in butter until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle 1 cup flour over and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Stir in broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Fold in chicken and parsley; season to taste with salt and pepper, then refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

3. For breading, place flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs in separate shallow bowls. Form croquettes by rolling 2 ounces of chicken mixture into spheres or cylinders. Dredge each cylinder in flour, dip in egg wash, then coat in breadcrumbs.

3. Heat 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottom pot to 350 degrees. Fry croquettes, in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides and warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain croquettes on paper towels. Repeat with remaining ingredients; serve immediately.

Nutrition information per piece: 178 calories, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 59 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 11 g protein, 466 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

* * *

MASHED POTATO, BACON AND CHEDDAR CROQUETTES

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 2 to 3 minutes per batch

Makes: about 20 croquettes

If you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, just boil 3 russets, then peel, mash with a little butter and season to taste with salt.

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

6 strips bacon, crisped, crumbled

2 tablespoons parsley or chives, finely chopped (optional)

Salt and pepper as needed

Breading:

Flour as needed, about 1 cup

2 eggs mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Breadcrumbs as needed, about 1 cup

Vegetable oil as needed

1. Combine mashed potatoes, yolks, cheddar, bacon and optional parsley or chives in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about an hour.

2. Form croquettes by rolling potato mixture into 2-inch by ¾-inch cylinders. For breading, place flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs in separate shallow bowls. Dredge each cylinder in flour, dip in egg wash, then coat in breadcrumbs.

3. Heat 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottom pot to 350 degrees. Fry croquettes, in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides and warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain croquettes on paper towels. Repeat with remaining ingredients; serve immediately.

Nutrition information per piece: 98 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 4 g protein, 160 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

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