Croquetas are the ultimate Cuban comfort food, the best meal on the run, but the treat you rarely make at home. In Miami, croquetas are everywhere, perfectly browned, and crispy delicious. They are a must-have at any family party, or with your afternoon cafecito or a cold Iron Beer. You can see locals toting small white paper bags speckled with oil stains and a colada in the other hand. Although they are ubiquitous, I haven’t had a homemade croqueta in years. The fresh filling makes all the difference in this Cuban specialty.
This croqueta recipe is dear and special to me because it is my abuela’s. She was a fabulous cook and could whip up an entire Cuban feast at a moment’s notice. I was lucky enough to take cooking lessons from her and learn traditional Cuban recipes. I would go over to her house on the weekends, and we would cook a spread of the very best Cuban dishes, writing each recipe down one by one. One of the classics she taught me was how to make croquetas. My favorites are croquetas de jamón or croquetas de pollo (ham or chicken croquettes), but I know some diehard bacalao lovers out there, it’s just not for me.
My abuela perfected this recipe after many years, and she always insisted it was perfect, and it really really is. The bubbling butter bronzed the onions and made the basis of the creamy ham filling The rich, hot, filling tastes so decadent you’ll want to spread it on crackers or warm bread and just stop right there and enjoy. The ingredients are so simple; and the aroma of frying croquetas is familiar and inviting. When I close my eyes and smell the cooking, I am taken back to those afternoons with my abuela, and I am grateful for the memories and the knowledge she passed on to me.
1 stick butter
1 medium roughly chopped onion
2 cups cooked chicken or ham
4 heaping tablespoons of flour (Abuela said FULL, FULL, FULL tablespoons!)
2 cups whole milk Pepper to taste (Abuela said do NOT add salt)
½ tsp Sazón Completa (ONLY add to chicken or fish, DO NOT ADD to ham croquetas)
For the breading:
2-3 eggs, beaten with a splash of milk
1 cup flour (not an exact measurement)
2 cup bread crumbs (not an exact measurement, you may need more breadcrumbs, i did)
Grind meat finely in a food processor, set aside. Grind onion till it is granizado, and looks like chipped ice in the food processor. Melt 1 stick of butter in pot. Add onion and cook until golden. Add ham (or chicken or fish) and mix well with onion and butter. Now slowly add the 4 heaping tablespoons mixing well after each addition of the flour tablespoons. The mixture will form essentially a doughy ham ball. Allow this mixture to brown a little in the pan. Slowly add the milk, mixing well after each pour. Add pepper to taste.
Keep on mixing until you can see the bottom of the pan (scrape the bottom and see if the mixture separates so you can see the bottom momentarily as in the picture above). Spread mixture in a large dish thinly spread so it can cool. Ideally you should let this cool on the countertop before placing it in the refrigerator till cold and firmed up enough to shape and handle. In 3 separate bowls put (in this order) flour, beaten eggs, and the bread crumbs. Take a big spoonful of the mixture, and each spoonful will be one croqueta. Makes 20 medium or 30 smaller croquetas.You need to shape it a little bit. Then dip in flour-> egg-> bread crumbs.
Place in dish to cook later (or you can cook immediately, the nice thing is they store well in the fridge). When ready to eat, cook the croquetas 5-7 at a time in 2-3 inches of oil in a pan. Wait until the oil is HOT on around 5-7 temperature on the burner. Cook until golden. Drain on paper towels. Eat on crackers with a squeeze of lime. Try croquetas smashed in a sandwich called a croquet preparada or smashed in a breakfast sandwich. Buen provecho!