Croquetas are small fritters made of ham, meat, fish or vegetables mixed in with a thick béchamel sauce and then breaded and deep fried. They are integral part of Spanish and Latin cuisines. In Spain, they are frequently part of a tapas spread or enjoyed with a glass of wine prior to dinner. While ham croquettes are the most common flavor found throughout Spain, my all-time favorite is made with shredded bacalao or cod fish. It makes this quintessential comfort food a bit more sophisticated, plus it reminds of summer holidays by the sea!
8 oz salt cod
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove finely chopped
6 tablespoons butter
2 ½ cups flour, divided
2 ½ cups milk
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
About 2-3 cups olive oil for deep frying
Place the salt cod in a baking dish and soak in cold water for up to 24-36 hours, changing the water every eight hours. Once the cod has been desalted, shred it into flakes and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Then add the shredded cod and cook for three to five minutes. Set aside and let cool while you prepare the béchamel sauce.
In a medium saucepan (about 3 qts.), melt the butter and then add one cup of flour. Whisk until the flour is fully incorporated in the butter and forms a thick paste. Pour the milk and whisk until it becomes thickened and pulls away from the edges of the pan. Add the cod mixture to the bechamel sauce and blend thoroughly. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Pour into a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool for at least two hours or overnight.
Place three shallow bowls/plates next to each other. Place the remaining 1 ½ cups of flour in one, the beaten eggs in the next, and the Panko breadcrumbs in the next. To form the croquetas, take smalls portions of the béchamel mixture and shape into small rounds. I like using a truffle scoop (like an ice cream scoop but smaller) to keep the size consistent. Then roll them first in the flour plate, then in the egg plate and finally in the Panko breadcrumb plate. Set them in a baking sheet and when done breading the croquetas place them in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes to set before frying. Alternatively, you can freeze them at this stage, store in an airtight container and take them out when you are ready to fry them.
Heat the oil to medium in a deep skillet or a wok. Lower (don’t drop, otherwise you can burn yourself if the hot oil splatters) the croquetas into the oil and fry for about 5 minutes or until lightly brown. Lift them with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Serve immediately or keep in an oven heated to 200 degrees until ready to serve.