“But you play that, not eat it!”
I confused my son last week because I made croquettes (kro-kets), and he thought I said, “Croquet (kro-kay).” He thought it was funny that we were going to eat the game! And of course, croquettes actually look like little balls, so throughout the entire meal, he kept pretending that he was hitting them through croquet hoops.
If you aren’t familiar with croquettes, the name comes from the French, but they’re simply chopped up meat or chicken or cheese or vegetables or fish or potato or rice or quinoa or beans or combinations of all these, rolled in breadcrumbs or seeds or nuts and then cooked. For me, croquettes are a lovely way to use up leftovers. They’re versatile, not only in what you can put into them, but the way you can make, cook, and serve them. Plus if you serve them for company, the French name makes them think you’ve done something special. *grin*
Croquettes are quite easy to make, especially if you’re beginning with leftovers. The most common recipes you’ll find online are for ones made with mashed potatoes, either alone or in combination with meat, chicken, cheese, or vegetables. You’ll usually find, too, that they’re fried in some way, whether deep-fried or pan-fried, but they can be just as good baked. Below I’ll give you some tips for how to go about making your own.
The Main Ingredients: What’s important to know about croquettes is that no matter what you use, smaller is better. You don’t want large chunks in your croquettes. Because you’ll be rolling the mixture into balls, the smaller the pieces of meat or vegetables, the easier it will be for them to adhere to one another. I use my food processor to zoop at least one of the ingredients into almost a paste – potatoes, butternut squash, chicken, fish, rice, quinoa, beans, etc… all work well. Then I process the rest of the ingredients into tiny pieces which will mix well into the more paste-like ingredient. The reason I made croquettes last week was because I had some leftover chicken breasts which weren’t enough to serve as another meal for the whole family, so I processed them into a paste and added finely chopped cooked zucchini, mushrooms, and broccoli (also leftovers).
The Seasonings: You can season croquettes however you like. Salt and pepper, of course, but herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chervil, sage, mint, dill, tarragon, marjoram, etc…) and spices (allspice, cayenne, cardamom, coriander, tumeric, cumin, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, cloves, mustard, onion, saffron, etc…) of your choosing are great, too. If you are going to eat the croquettes by themselves, you should season more heavily. If you are going to serve them with a sauce, then the croquettes can be more plain because the sauce will give them flavor.
The Binder: It’s important that your ingredients hold together to keep their shape. If you do as I do and puree one of the ingredients into a paste, then the rest of your ingredients will stick to that. It’s one of the reasons why so many croquette recipes are made with potatoes. Potatoes are naturally glutinous. If you want all your ingredients to be small, solid pieces, though, then you’ll need something to hold them together. Most anything works. Some recipes use eggs. Others call for mayonnaise or sour cream or yogurt. Many just moisten the ingredients with a little bit of liquid like chicken or vegetable broth or milk and add some flour or bread crumbs to give the vegetables or meat something to adhere to. Whatever you choose to do is fine. What’s important is that your ingredients can be shaped into balls, so if they can’t and won’t stick together, try something different.
The Shaping: Whatever ingredients you use and however you choose to bind the croquettes, I recommend that you chill the mixture before you shape the croquettes. Unless your ingredients are super sticky, chilling the mixture will help them to adhere to another better. I use a quarter cup measuring cup to form my croquettes but you can certainly make them smaller or larger. Whatever size you make, though, having them be uniform will allow them to cook evenly if you bake them or help you to time them consistently if you’re frying them.
The Coating: After you’ve shaped your main croquette ingredients into balls, you need to coat them with something. Usually they are coated in bread crumbs. I like to make my own with gluten free bread, but you can use store bought bread crumbs. What’s important is that your crumbs be very fine. Texture is very important to the taste of the croquettes. If you opt to use something other than bread crumbs, there are many options: cracker crumbs, finely ground nuts or seeds, flour, etc… Once you decide on your coating, you can decide how you want to adhere the bread crumbs (or other choice) to the croquette balls. You can roll the balls in beaten eggs, in milk, in broth, in mayonnaise, in just about anything which will help the bread crumbs stick to the croquettes. I find that eggs make for a crispier croquette, mayonnaise (or something similar like sour cream or yogurt) for a moister croquette, and milk and broth for softer croquettes, so you can choose.
The Cooking: If you want to deep fry them, it’s best to make sure you have enough oil to completely cover the croquettes. You also want to heat your oil as hot as you can. I have a deep fryer which heats to 374 degrees but if you heat oil in a pan stove-top, you can usually get the oil to about 350 degrees. The hotter your oil, the more quickly the croquettes will cook and the less oil they will absorb. Since your ingredients in the croquettes are already cooked, all you’re doing is making the croquette warm and crispy, so usually just two to three minutes is all they need to cook.
If you want to pan fry the croquettes, you simply need enough oil to brown all the sides of the croquettes. Having your skillet on medium high is good. Simply place the croquettes in the skillet and allow them to brown on one side before turning them over to brown on the other. When making the croquettes in a skillet, they usually take about four to five minutes per side.
My preferred method for making croquettes is to actually bake them because they’re healthier that way. I line a pan with aluminum foil which I’ve crinkled and very lightly grease the foil with olive oil. I place the croquettes on the foil and then lightly brush them with olive oil. I preheat my oven to 450 degrees and bake the croquettes for about 20 minutes, turning them halfway through.
The Sauces: Croquette sauces are as varied as the ways you can make the croquettes. You can dip them into a barbecue sauce, a cheese sauce, a tomato sauce, a lemon sauce, a mustard sauce, a garlic sauce, an avocado sauce, a dill sauce – if you can imagine it, you can make it. What’s important is to think about the ingredients you used in the croquettes and to match a flavor which would complement the croquettes. So, for example, if you used ham and potatoes, maybe a mustard sauce. If you made fish croquettes, maybe a lemon-dill sauce. What’s fun is if you make croquettes and serve them with a couple of different sauces for the family to try.