These Cuban-style ham croquetas are everything a croquette should be: smooth, flavorful, and delightfully crispy. Croquetas are found at Cuban food stands as well as birthday parties, weddings and quinceñeras. Croquetas are also very popular at restaurants, walk-up counters and bakeries all over Miami, Florida, where I first discovered them. There are countless versions where you can also use chicken, fish, potato or cheese as a filling, so feel free to adapt to your own tastes.
Makes 12 to 24 Croquettes
For the filling (masa):
4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup onion, minced fine
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
1 Tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 pound smoked ham, ground
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
For the breading:
2 large eggs, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
1 cup dry bread crumbs, mixed with 1/4 cup all purpose flour*
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan, add the onions, and sauté until translucent.
Whisk in 1/3 cup flour to make a roux ; add more butter if necessary to make a smooth roux. Gradually whisk in the milk to form a smooth sauce. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens. Whisk in nutmeg, sherry, and parsley. Fold in the ground ham and one cup bread crumbs.
Let the filling mixture simmer for five minutes on low heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. NOTE: The ham probably has enough salt already.
Spoon the mixture into a baking pan and refrigerate until well chilled for at least one hour. NOTE: The mixture needs to be firm enough to form into rolled “logs”. If your mixture is too soft or sticky, add some additional bread crumbs.
Shape the ham mixture into logs about 3/4-inch thick and three inches long.
To set up the breading station:
Make an egg wash by beating the eggs with water until frothy in a small bowl.
Combine the bread crumbs and flour in a second bowl; add salt and pepper.
Dip the logs in the egg wash and roll the logs in the seasoned bread crumbs. Dip a second time and re-roll in bread crumbs.
Place the croquettes in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan lined with parchment paper and cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. NOTE: You may also freeze for the croquettes for later use.
In a Dutch oven, or a deep fat fryer, add enough oil so that it will cover the croquettes. Heat the oil to the frying stage at about 360 to 375º F. Fry the croquettes in small batches,for about three to four minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Always let the oil come back to 375ºF between batches. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
* For a lighter crispier breading, you can use about 1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers,finely ground in food processor or blender. Another option is to use 12 ounces of cracker meal in place of the bread crumbs when making the breading.
For a variation, an equal amount of COOKED chicken, can be substituted for the ham. Grind the cooked chicken in a food processor. Add a dash of fresh lime juice to the ground chicken. In omitting the parsley, add a handful of chopped cilantro to the ground chicken for a nice flavor twist.
The breaded croquettes can be frozen in plastic wrap or aluminum foil indefinitely. Just thaw them before frying.
The traditional way to serve croquettes is without any sauce, but some restaurants serve them with a cilantro garlic sauce for dipping. They are also good dipped in ketchup!