Tuesday 17 September 2013

Ham Croquettes

Long before there were frozen fish sticks or Chicken McNuggets, there were croquettes.  Every Home Ec student learned how to make them.  Every mom knew they were a great way to present yesterday's leftovers in a new guise.  Hostesses loved them because they could be made ahead in miniature form; part of the handy selection of foods to be reheated and served on toothpicks when passing trays at a party.

No one much seems to make them any more.


I'm here to revive the custom.  
Croquettes are easy and inexpensive to make. They freeze well, and kids love 'em.  Their crispy outer crust and moist filling are a pleasing combination of textures, and they're perfect for dipping.
My husband says they should be called crispy coated bundles of excellence. 

'Nuff said.  ;^)

I'm sharing ham croquettes here but this is really more technique than recipe, and very easily adapted.  You can use any meat you have on hand in these, or leftover cooked white fish like cod, or halibut.  You can even use canned salmon.  Let creativity and your available ingredients be your guide.

Croquettes are deep fried, so not an every-day food at our house (more a sometimes treat), but it takes almost the same amount of time to make many as it does to make a few so, when I do make them, I make big batches.  They're handy to keep on hand for those days when I just don't feel like cooking.
Deep frying is best done with oil that has a high smoking point.  Because I wish to avoid GMOs, I no longer use canola oil.  I fry my croquettes in peanut oil.  

Peanut oil is not inexpensive but you can reduce the cost per portion by filtering the oil after it cools, storing it in the fridge, and using it again.  If well filtered and properly stored, peanut oil can usually be re-used for frying several times.

To make ham croquettes, you'll need:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 pounds cooked ham
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • seasonings to taste
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (I used focaccia crumbs but any bread you like will work.  Just season it to taste.)
  • 2 eggs
  • oil for frying

Begin by making a thick white sauce.

Melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour to make a roux.  

Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  It will be dryer than a more traditional roux made from equal amounts of butter and flour, and should look something like this:

Whisk the milk in bit by bit, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and forms a very thick sauce. 

Season the sauce to taste.

Allow the white sauce to cool to room temperature.

When the sauce has cooled, make the filling for your croquettes.

Chop the ham finely, in a food processor or by hand.

Transfer the chopped ham to a large bowl and add in the onion, parsley, and mustard.

Add about half the cooled white sauce and stir it in.

Does the mixture hold together?

If not, continue adding more white sauce - a little at a time - until the mixture binds enough so that you can form it into balls using just a little pressure from your hands.

Taste the ham mixture and adjust the seasoning.

Divide the breadcrumbs between two bowls.

Beat the eggs in a third bowl.

Scoop portions of the ham mixture and form them into balls or shape them into logs.  (I made mine into 1-1/2 inch meatballs.)

Coat each portion in bread crumbs, then in beaten egg, then again in bread crumbs. 

Place the breaded croquettes on a parchment lined cookie sheet or non-stick pan and refrigerate them for at least half an hour.

When the croquettes have rested in the fridge for at least half an hour, pour couple of inches of oil into a large pot.  The oil should not fill the pot more than half way.

Heat the oil to 360F, and preheat your oven to 225F.

While the oil is heating, set a wire rack over a jelly roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet and set them to one side.

When the oil is heated, use a slotted spoon to add croquettes to the pot one at time. 

Don't put too many in there.  Leave some space around them. Over crowding the pot will cause the oil temperature to drop too low, resulting in a greasy-tasting finished product.

The croquettes will cook quite quickly.  When they're nicely browned, remove them to the prepared wire rack and jelly roll pan.

Season the croquettes immediately, then put them in the oven to keep warm. 

Repeat the process until all the croquettes are cooked. 

Serve your croquettes piping hot, while the outside crust is still nice and crispy. 

We like to pair ours with a condiment or sauce for dipping.  We served this batch with applesauce, but mustard, ketchup, chutney, or a spicy mayo would be good too.

Allow any leftover croquettes to cool completely, transfer them to a parchment lined cookie sheet or non-stick baking pan, and freeze them.  Once they're frozen, transfer them to a plastic freezer bag.

Reheat frozen croquettes directly from the freezer, without thawing them first, in a 400F oven.