At my last job, I worked with a Spanish girl called Maria and as is usual with me, a lot of our conversations revolved around food. She had me in stitches when she told me of her first experience with Irish croquettes - she was horrified to find them full of potato and covered in bright orange breadcrumbs. When I had stopped laughing, I explained that croquettes here bore absolutely no resemblance to the delicious bechamel-filled Croquetas that she was used to in Spain (more's the pity) and decided to make them myself. In Spain, I've had them with either ham or chicken and making them at home was the perfect opportunity to use the leftover chicken from our Sunday roast to create a filling Monday-night supper.
Making the bechamel sauce reminds me of making choux pastry - lots of whisking and beating involved and you think it will never come together but magically it does. It should be very thick because it needs to be this consistency to hold the chicken and the other flavourings together and form a croquette without falling to bits. You can use fresh breadcrumbs but here I used Panko, the dried Japanese ones because they add a lovely element of crunch to the croquettes.
It's best to make the bechamel sauce in advance and allow it to cool because everything needs to be cold to roll into balls and coat in the breadcrumbs before you bake or fry them. This makes enough to feed 4 hungry people or 6 people as a starter
Crunchy Chicken Croquettes
40g Butter, cubed
40g Plain Flour
Salt & Pepper
200g cooked Chicken, shredded
1 tbsp each Parsley & Chives, finely chopped
1 Egg, beaten
Start by making the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a large heavy pot, then whisk in the flour with a spoon or whisk until everything has blended together. Now you need to "cook" this mixture for 5 minutes, continuously stirring.
Now start adding the milk, a few tablespoons at a time, continually whisking until you have a very thick sauce (as my mother would say, thick enough to stand a spoon in). This is the consistency you need for the croquettes, so don't worry if you haven't used all of the milk - go & make yourself a latte with the leftovers!
Season well with salt and pepper and then allow to cool completely before making the croquettes.
When the bechamel sauce is cold, fold in the chicken and the herbs and mix well. Dip your hands in some flour (or use disposable plastic gloves like me) and form the mixture into golfball sized balls. Then it's time for the flour & egg routine... roll the croquettes in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Either fry in some oil until golden on each side or bake at 200c for 15-20 minutes if you want to be a bit healthier.
Serve with some fresh green salad and something delicious to dip it in. I went for a cucumber salad and a tomato salsa with some spring onions over the croquettes for an extra burst of crunch.