By: COOKBOOKS 365
When I got home from school as a kid, my mom was always there, just sitting down for her lunch while whoever was the baby at the time (and there was always a baby in our house) napped. My siblings and I would head immediately to the kitchen for a snack, often something homemade and maybe even still warm from the oven–mom’s nearly flat, super-crisp, chocolate-chip cookies if the stars were aligned.
Maybe I’m romanticizing that time before my mother went back to work and took all hope of homemade after-school snacks with her. I probably am, at least a little. I’m pretty much counting on the fact that my kids will do a little of the same when they get older and remember their own afternoon noshing–and most everything else about their childhoods.
Reading chef José Santaella’s description of eating admittedly dry croquetas as a school boy in Puerto Rico, I realized that I’m not the only one waxing romantic about the past. Santaella remembered those ham-and-potato bites so fondly that he featured them in his lush new cookbook, Cocina Tropical. Luckily, he tinkered with the formula to make his own version one worth remembering.
Growing up in San Juan is incredible. The city, while home to our island’s government and diverse businesses, is also vibrant with music and color. The beach is within earshot, and when I was a kid I could walk home from school with my friends and go straight to the beach or a park. Almost every day after school, I would duck into one of the Spanish panaderías, or sandwich shops, that are all over the city. I had a standard order-a ham croquette. These very common Spanish-style snacks are not refined at all. They are simple-and, honestly, sometimes a little dry-but they were always satisfying and hold a place in my heart. Once I learned to cook I discovered that stirring in a béchamel created a velvety texture and I fell in love with croquetas de jamón all over again.
CROQUETAS DE JAMÓN Y CILANTRO ~ HAM AND CILANTRO BECHAMEL CROQUETTES
From: Cocina Tropical, by José Santaella
Serves: 6 croquetas
1 cup milk
2½ tablespoons butter
2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 ounces good-quality cured ham, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup potato flakes
1 cup finely ground Ritz or saltine cracker crumbs
Peanut or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
For this recipe, it does require the use of a hob to make sure the ingredients melt together correctly. This requires a high temperature. If your hob doesn’t seem to be working or isn’t reaching a high temperature, it might be worth considering getting it fixed by an appliance company, such as https:www.CamasApplianceRepair.com. They should be able to get it working properly, allowing homeowners to do more cooking. Once it’s up and running, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a boil, then remove from the heat and set aside. In another saucepan over low heat, melt the butter completely. Add the flour, salt, and garlic powder and cook, whisking, until the mixture is well blended. Gradually add the hot milk, whisking continuously until the mixture is completely blended and smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, whisking; cook for another 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Pour the béchamel into a bowl, let cool to room temperature, then add the ham, cilantro, and nutmeg. Fold the mixture into a paste. Cover the béchamel completely with plastic wrap, pressing down so that the plastic is touching the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, heat at least 3 inches of oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat to 350°F. Line a plate with paper towels.
While the oil is heating, beat the eggs in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the panko, potato flakes, and cracker crumbs. Remove the chilled béchamel mixture from the refrigerator and, using a spoon or a small ice cream scoop or even your hands, scoop out portions of the paste and form them into approximately 1½-inch round croquettes. Set the croquettes on a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Dip each croquette in the beaten egg and then roll in the bread crumbs mixture. In batches, carefully place the croquettes in the hot oil and fry until golden brown about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the croquettes to the paper towel–lined plate to drain. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a 200°F oven until ready to serve.
For this recipe you can use any good cured ham. It can be country ham, Serrano, or prosciutto, finely chopped with a knife or pulsed in a food processor.
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Click here to purchase your own copy of José Santaella’s cookbook Cocina Tropical: The Classic & Contemporary Flavors of Puerto Rico.