Makes about 15
I don’t know what it was that made me want to make these, but it has been a long term plan. I had some delicious croquettes at Fino the then sister restaurant to Barrafina in London: crisp outside, with that delicious melting interior made for a memorable occasion. These can be a larger starter dish, or made well in advance and smaller rounds dropped into hot oil to go with drinks in the evening. The key is to put them them in the fridge to firm up and hold together when being fried. I like to make a simple mix of mustard and mayonnaise as a side dip.
- 100g cured Spanish ham, preferably in 1 chunk
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 60g unsalted butter
- ½ small leek, finely diced
- 60g plain flour
- 500ml whole milk, hot
- Nutmeg, to grate
- 2 free-range eggs, beaten
- 150g panko breadcrumbs
- 25g manchego or other hard cheese, finely grated
- 1 litre oil, to fry
1. Dice your ham and leek as finely as possible. Warm the milk.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and, when the butter melts, add the leek and and fry gently for a minute. When that’s done add two thirds of the ham and cook until the leek has softened and the ham fat has begun to melt.
3. Turn the heat down, gradually stir in the flour and cook gently, stirring regularly, until it loses its raw flavour – this should take about 8–10 minutes.
4. Gradually stir in the hot milk, beating it in well, until you have a smooth paste. Cook for another 15 minutes until it has the consistency of smooth mashed potato, then fold through the rest of the ham and season to taste with a grating of nutmeg and some black pepper (you won’t need any salt).
5. Put the béchamel in a bowl cover pressing the clingfilm on to the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
4. Put the beaten eggs into a bowl, and the breadcrumbs and cheese into another. With floured hands roll spoonfuls of the mixture into rounds and firm together – dip these into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs until well coated. Return to the fridge until needed but give it at least 15 minutes.
5. Heat the olive oil in a large pan to 180C, or until it begins to shimmer. Prepare a plate lined with kitchen roll. Fry the croquettes in batches for a couple of minutes until golden all over, then lift out with a slotted spoon, drain on the paper and serve at once.