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A crunchy croquette is hard to forget

  • TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Croquettes are formed into little football- shaped pieces, then breaded and fried. It’s a good idea to fry one test croquette, taste it and adjust your seasonings before forming all the others.

This is why I’m glad I’m not learning English as a second language. If so I’d be hard-pressed to differentiate between the King of the Wild Frontier, a bite-size, deep-fried treat and a lawn game of wooden balls and mallets. Being a sanguine American, though, I know immediately that it’s Crockett, croquette and croquet.

And, while all three are a few of my favorite things, today we’ll focus on the treat and save Fess Parker and his wickets for another day. Today is all about croquettes.

The word “croquette” takes its name from the French and simply means crunchy and small. Tantalizingly old-school, a well-made croquette is fried to a Pavlovian golden brown, with an inside as tender and moist as the tears of an orphaned squid.

While modern croquettes typically are made from scratch, the original intent was to use up bits of leftover meat, poultry, fish, vegetables … you name it. They fall in two general categories: those bound with a thick sauce and those bound with egg.

The first category uses your basic leftovers: grilled chicken, baked ham … minced (or ground handily in your food processor) and mixed with other flavoring ingredients (onions, celery, herbs, etc.).

Make sure everything is minced fine enough to produce that tender moistness referenced earlier. Then the whole shebang is bound with a very thick sauce.

The second group of croquettes uses nothing but egg as a binder, about 1 egg per pound of main ingredient. These croquettes often are based on potato or seafood.

Leftover mashed potatoes make great croquettes, and you can add other flavoring ingredients: bacon, ground beef, cheese, herbs, whatever sounds good. (Aside from seafood, cheese and herbs, all the ingredients should be precooked.) The ingredients again are finely minced for that luscious interior.

What all croquettes have in common is a breadcrumb coating. I recommend a classic three-step breading: Dredge the formed croquettes in flour, then dunk them in egg wash before tossing them with breadcrumbs. After that, the whole lot is fried in oil to that crisp, golden brown we were talking about.

Now, here’s a piece of very good advice: Don’t form all your croquettes until you have formed, cooked and tasted one. If it’s right, go ahead and make the rest. I

f it needs fixing (more salt, for example), fix it, then form and cook another one. You want to avoid making the whole batch only to find there’s something wrong.

CHICKEN CROQUETTES

By James P. DeWan

  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, milk or mixture of both
  • 1-1/2 pounds cooked chicken meat, shredded or cubed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
  • Salt and pepper, as needed
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • >> Breading:
  • 1 cup flour, or more as needed
  • 2 eggs mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, or more as needed

In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, cook celery, onion and garlic in butter until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Stir in broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Fold in chicken and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

For breading, place flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs in separate shallow bowls. Form croquettes by rolling 2 ounces of chicken mixture into spheres or cylinders. Dredge each cylinder in flour, dip in egg wash, then coat in breadcrumbs.

Pour oil 2 inches deep in a heavy- bottom pot. Heat to 350 degrees. Fry croquettes, in batches, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Repeat with remaining ingredients; serve immediately. Makes about 20 croquettes.

Approximate nutritional information, per piece: 178 calories, 10 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 59 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, no sugar, 11 g protein, 466 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

MASHED POTATO, BACON AND CHEDDAR CROQUETTES

By James P. DeWan

  • 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes (or cook and mash 3 russet potatoes; season with butter and salt)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 6 strips bacon, crisped, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons parsley or chives, minced (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, as needed
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • >> Breading:
  • 1 cup flour, or more as needed
  • 2 eggs mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, or more as needed

Combine mashed potatoes, yolks, cheddar, bacon and parsley, if using, in a bowl. Taste; add salt and pepper, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about an hour.

For breading, place flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs in separate shallow bowls. Form croquettes by rolling potato mixture into 2-inch by 3/4-inch cylinders. Dredge each cylinder in flour, dip in egg wash, then coat in breadcrumbs.

Pour oil 2 inches deep in a heavy-bottom pot. Heat to 350 degrees. Fry croquettes, in batches, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Repeat with remaining ingredients; serve immediately. Makes about 20 croquettes.

Approximate nutritional information, per piece: 98 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, no sugar, 4 g protein, 160 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

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