Croquetas are a tapas bar staple and one of my favourite Spanish nibbles. Crispy on the outside, soft and luscious on the inside, you can make them with cheese, ham, tinned tuna, boiled egg, prawns ... they're all delicious.
I had some Christmas ham so that's what I've gone with here, although in Spain they'd usually be made with Serrano scraps. Turkey and ham, used 50-50, would also be good. And talking of Christmas leftovers, while croquetas are usually made with a thick béchamel, you can use bread sauce. It sounds odd but it works brilliantly and half your work is done.
If using béchamel, it should be very thick, nearly stiff enough to stand up a spoon. If the finished mix is too runny it won't set and your croquetas will explode messily when you fry them (cheese croquetas are particularly prone to this).
Ham Croquetas (makes 24-30)
100-200g cooked ham, to taste, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
For the bechamel sauce:
75g plain flour
450 ml whole milk
Salt and pepper
For the coating:
1 egg, beaten with 2 tbsp milk
3-4 tbsp plain flour
4-5 tbsp toasted breadcrumbs (panko are inauthentic but give extra crunch)
Oil for frying
Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour and cook on a gentle heat for a minute or two. Then gradually add the milk, stirring all the time to incorporate it and cook for five to 10 minutes, still stirring, until the sauce you have a smooth, thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Take it off the heat and mix in the chopped ham and parsley. Spread in an even 2cm layer in a shallow rectangular tin or dish and cover the surface with cling film. Once it has cooled, chill in the fridge until set (about three hours; overnight is fine).
Line up your egg-and-breadcrumbing ingredients: a dish each of plain flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Using a knife to mark out the divisions, cut the set ham mixture into pieces about the size of a wine cork.
Gently roll each first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. It's a good idea to use one hand only to do the dipping so you have the other clean for picking up plates.
Once coated, you can keep the croquetas in the fridge up to for 24 hours, or freeze them, set slightly apart, for up to three months. If you freeze them and stack them up, put greaseproof paper between the layers or they'll stick together. They can be cooked from frozen but they will take a little longer.
To cook, heat about an inch of oil in a deep frying pan until you can see a light haze forming. Fry your croquetas in batches, cooking until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Eat while still warm with patatas bravas (fried potatoes tossed with sweet paprika and a little cayenne), good crusty bread or with another Catalan favourite, pa amb tomàquet: sliced baguette, toasted or not, rubbed with garlic and ripe tomato and drizzled with a little olive oil and salt. A tomato salad and some crisp lettuce will provide a nod towards healthy eating and make a nibble into a meal.
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