Spotlight on: Croquettes

Cuisinology takes a look at a globalised French delicacy: the croquette

The humble croquette: a concept so simple and delicious that it has traversed the globe and embedded itself in the food cultures of countless nations. Its origin is French, from the verb croquer (to crunch or be crunchy), and the concept is simple: a filling of your choice, sometimes bound together with béchamel sauce, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried in plenty of oil.

So what is it about this delicacy that gives it its international appeal, allowing it to conquer the world? Well, first of all, it’s a cinch to prepare: just take any kind of food, mix it to a paste with béchamel sauce, coat it in egg and breadcrumbs and fry in scorching hot oil until crisp. So unless you live in a place where flour, eggs, bread, and oil are hard to come by; or you don’t know how to mix ingredients together, dip ingredients into other ingredients, and fry stuff; you should be able to whip up a batch of these satisfying bites in no time.

Home-made ham and blue cheese croquettes
I whipped up these ham and blue cheese croquettes while living in Madrid. Riquísimas!

Secondly, although French in origin, the croquette is versatile: it can be made with all kinds of local delicacies, thus blending in and becoming part of the national cuisine. The croquetas that appear on Spanish menus are typically filled with jamón (cured ham), bacalao (salt cod), or morcilla (Spanish blood sausage). In Italy, potato and mozzarella crocchette are popular, while another version containing aubergine is more commonly known as polpette. In South Korea, a goroke (고로케) or keuroket (크로켓)* might well contain japchae, kimchi or bulgogi, while seafood is a popular ingredient in the Japanese korokke. Potatoes are the staple ingredient in German, Austrian and Swiss Kroketten, as well as Irish and British croquettes.

* The Korean word for croquette is slightly less recognisable than the others because the language does not support consonant clusters, so the ‘c’ and ‘r’ have to be separated by a vowel: keuroket or goroke.

So the croquette has the unusual ability to insinuate itself into the hearts, minds and bellies of the locals, wherever it goes. But the fact that it can be made with almost any filling also makes them very practical: the leftovers of most meals can be scooped up into lozenges and made into croquettes for a convenient appetiser or finger food the next day. I’ve made croquettes with leftover mince, mashed potato, mushroom risotto, and even haggis! It’s a fool-proof way of re-styling your leftovers with ingredients you probably have in your pantry.

For a basic potato croquette recipe, click here (USA) or here (UK). Martha Stewart has a recipe for Spanish-style croquettes with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese here. If you’d like to give it a shot with leftover risotto, try Epicurious’ version here. Once you get the hang of the process, the sky is the limit! I’m currently working on a way to croquettise the leftover chilli from the Superbowl last night: I’ll let you know how it goes…


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