Recipes,  Tapas

Traditional Spanish ham and cheese croquettes: the best way to re-use your leftovers

Hola a todos!

For Christmas, what is just as popular as mulled wine, roasted turkey and singing carols? Yes, leftovers! Even though this time of the year we gather in numbers for our family meals, not everybody eat the same amount of food. Therefore, we save the remaining of it and either eat it on the following day (or days) or freeze for later-sometimes, for much later. And, you know, re-heating is not always pleasant as much as it was the most delicious meal yesterday.

The Spaniards are very resourceful when it comes to recycling food. I believe that it comes from our grandparents, who unfortunately grew up in a country devastated by the Civil War. As the food was scarce to insane levels, they had to be very innovative and combine the few available ingredients in order to cook something edible. A good evidence of this in the blog are the All saints porridge, the Traditional meatballs, the Poor style potatoes and the one I am featuring today: croquettes.

Today they are considered one of the best Spanish tapas and, in some places, a very sophisticated dish. However, the reality of this meal is much more surprising. Most of the times, and in contrast to their brand new appearance, they are made out of leftovers of all sorts: the chicken of a cocido; the roasted meat of the previous day; the final bits of a jamon that no one eats because they are too hard; the fish (generally cod) that you don’t want to eat alone; or these vegetables that have become too mature in the fridge. Any of these are then re-cooked in béchamel sauce (or white sauce), seasoned to taste and shaped into small, oval units. And there we go: a fresh meal at a budget! You are most welcome.

Before you attempt anything with your remaining Christmas dinner, I recommend you a trial with cheap ingredients like the ones I list below. You will realise the process is not complicated or exhausting at all, but the difficulty will arise at the time of shaping the croquettes themselves. Our grandmothers are the GOAT and this recipe can be regarded as their absolute masterpiece- they are so dominant that when they pass it down the next generations we simply mess it. In my family, nan Dolores is the master. I am visiting her within two weeks and I will ask her to teach me.


INGREDIENTS (MAKES 10-12 UNITS)

  • Cooked ham (6 slices-150 g)
  • Grated cheese of your choice (100 g) – I used parmiggiano
  • Onion (1/4)
  • Plain flour (1 tbsp)
  • Ground nutmeg (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Milk (500 ml)
  • Olive oil
  • Pepper
  • Salt

For the coating

  • Egg (1)
  • Bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS FOR COOKING

  1. In a pan, heat up some olive oil. Grate the onion and simmer it for about five minutes with a pinch of salt and pepper. Then, finely chop the ham slices and cook them alongside.

2. Tip the flour and cook it until it’s fully integrated. After that, gradually pour milk and stir intensely at medium heat. The filling will start to thicken so add the cheese, the ground nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pepper.

3. You must keep stirring until you achieve a porridge-like texture. Taste and add more salt/pepper if necessary. Once it’s cooked, pour it in a baking tray and let it chill. Cover with cling film and store in the fridge for a couple of hours-the more, the better.

4. Now it’s time to shape the croquettes-and it’s when the fun starts. Take the filling tray back from the fridge, help yourself with two spoons and form oval portions from it. Coat them first in egg (beaten) and bread crumbs. If the filling is not too sticky, you might do it with your hands.

5. Fry the croquettes in batches and at high heat. Once done, put them in a plate covered with kitchen paper so it absorbs the excess of oil. Wait a few minutes until they are less hot and will be ready to eat.

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