Cooking Techniques: Croquettes

“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.

 

 

The Coating:

The Cooking:

Cooking Techniques: Fish

Wonder twins activate!

If you are of a certain generation in the U.S., you probably grew up watching the Hanna Barbera Saturday morning Super Heroes cartoon. In this particular cartoon, all the super heroes are working together to save the world, and the wonder twins are a boy and girl team whose powers must be activated by the two of them connecting in a certain way.  When they do, they become one unit which is better equipped to fight evil than if they had remained separate.

I thought about this the other day when a mom wrote in about my last super foods post, asking whether I had any suggestions for how to get her children to like fish. In my experience folks tend to either like or not like fish, but I do believe there are ways to get your children to tolerate fish. The trick is to combine ingredients in such a way that they become something better than the fish by itself.

Some Suggestions:

1. Coat the fish: Most children will eat fish sticks, but storebought fish sticks aren’t necessarily the healthiest and while they do make gluten free versions now, they don’t always meet other allergy needs. You can, however, make your own coating for fish. Use the type of wholegrain bread which fits your dietary and allergy needs and simply process them in your food processor to make bread crumbs. The best crumbs are flavored, so add fresh or dried herbs of your choosing and/or garlic and/or onions and black pepper as you’re zooping the bread crumbs.

The healthiest way to cook breaded fish is to bake it in the oven. If you crinkle up aluminium foil and use it to cover a shallow baking pan, your fish won’t stick the way it would otherwise. Coat the aluminium foil with a little bit of a healthy plant oil like olive oil before placing your breaded fish onto the pan.

For the fish itself, you can use beaten whole eggs or egg whites or a type of milk as your liquid for which the breading can stick to. I recommend double coating your fish for the best adhesion and taste. You can either double coat it with the bread crumbs or what I prefer is to coat the fish first with flour such as garbanzo bean or sorghum or gluten free oatmeal which I’ve mixed with some herbs and black pepper, and then I coat it with the bread crumb mixture.

After your fish is laid out on the pan, use a brush to lightly coat the top with olive oil so you’ll get that nice crunchy texture that kids tend to like.

The best way to bake the fish is at a high temperature such as 400 or 425 degrees for a shorter length of time. Most fish bakes in less than 10 minutes, as long as they’re not too thick.

When serving the fish, you can make up sauces for your children to dip with whether it’s a fancy homemade ketchupy type or a tartarish sauce or a yogurty, fruity type. If you have a few options, you increase the chances of your child finding a combination he or she likes.

2. Glaze the fish: The most common complaint folks tend to make about fish is that it’s fishy, so when making fish for children, you want to give them a different flavor that they can taste instead.

One of my children’s favorite glazes for fish is simply a mixture of soy sauce, agave, garlic, onions, and ginger. I mix the glaze well and let the fish marinate in the sauce for at least half an hour in the fridge. Then I either bake the fish, broil it, or grill it. Broiling or grilling the fish will allow the sauce to cook directly onto the fish. Baking it will make a liquidy sauce which you can spoon over the fish when serving.

You can experiment with different types of glazes. Maybe your children prefer something fruity and you could use an all fruit jam as a glaze. Maybe you like the taste of balsamic vinegar and want to make a glaze with that. Use your children’s taste buds as your guide.

3. Top the fish: If your children don’t really like fish but love salsa or spinach dip or tartar sauce, put it on top of the fish you cooked so that your children are eating something they like with something they’re not as fond of.

My children love when I put a roasted eggplant dip onto broiled fish. I make this dip where I chop up one eggplant into one inch pieces, mix it with a little bit of olive oil, and roast it for 10 minutes at 500 degrees, turning once or twice during the cooking time. I then puree the roasted eggplant with minced garlic and onion, black pepper, and one 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted but sometimes just plain or the versions which have herbs or garlic and onions mixed in.

When the fish is done broiling, I put as much of the eggplant dip as each child wants on top of the fish, and they love it.

When making a topping for your children, think about what they like. If they like salsa, experiment with different types of salsas, whether store-bought or homemade. I like to make a pineapple salsa where I simply puree up tomatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic, peppers, fresh cilantro and cumin. Sometimes we use mangoes or peaches instead. All are tasty on fish.

4. Stuff the fish: My children like stuffed fish because then you taste more of the stuffing than the fish. You can use leftover actual stuffing. You can cook up a mixture of spinach and vegetables with herbs and a type of cheese. You can even stuff the fish with fruits like dried figs or sauteed apples.

There are couple of ways to stuff fish. The traditional way is to put the stuffing ingredients on the fish and then to roll the fish up around the stuffing. Another way is to layer some fish in a pan, top with the stuffing mixture, and then top the stuffing mixture with a second layer of fish. Either way works. For both, simply bake in the oven until the fish is fork tender, usually about 20-30 minutes. For fish which is stuffed, I suggest baking at a lower temperature like 350 or 375 degrees.

5. Sauce the fish: You can top fish with just about any type of sauce. Tomato sauce, a white sauce, a cheese sauce, a spinach sauce, a tartar sauce – whatever your children prefer. One of the ways my children like to eat fish is when I bake it with a pureed, saucy salsa with cheese sprinkled on top.

Another way is when I make up a spinach sauce where I whisk 2 cups of soy milk with 1/4 cup of sorghum flour and slowly cook it over low heat until it thickens. Then I add 10 oz thawed frozen spinach, garlic, onions, oregano, and thyme. When the spinach has begun to warm, I add a couple tablespoons of Tofutti dairy free cream cheese. It makes a wonderful sauce for just about any type of white fish.

The key to getting your children to eat fish is to find something which they like to pair with the fish. Then the fish becomes more than just fish to their taste buds.