Croquetas de Jamón, Alyssa Style

One does not go far in Miami without encountering croquetas de jamón, or ham croquettes. These fried morsels are ubiquitous on catering trays and party platters, a hit on breakfast menus, and surprisingly absent from most home kitchens. I have encountered platters of croquetas at funeral receptions, at house parties, as treats for school classes in lieu of pizza parties, and more. To visit Miami without having at least one croqueta de jamón (alongside pastelitos de guayaba, the other party-platter staple) is to misunderstand the nature of this place and the culinary influences that define it.

Essentially a filled fritter or fried dumpling, croquettes are a cross-cultural phenomenon. The name is French and the most influential examples are French and Dutch, but versions are found from Russia to Brazil, each offering a different interpretation of the concept. One Latin American implementation is the papa rellena, which stretches the concept to the point that calling it a croquette feels wrong. The croqueta de jamón, from Cuba and Puerto Rico, is a much more classic croquette, consisting of a ham-based filling, breaded and fried. Often served cold or room-temperature, these crunchy, creamy appetizers rarely disappoint.

This recipe provides a more decadent version of the croqueta de jamón than is typical, using pancetta instead of ordinary diced ham as its base, helping to justify the labor involved in producing them at home. Because it involves a long rest and extensive prep time, it is best done well in advance of when it is needed, ideally on a previous day. It produces 18-20 croquettes, with 3-4 providing lunch for one person.

Equipment

You will need a food processor, a medium saucepan, a whisk, a wooden spoon, a bowl, wax paper, a bowl for beating eggs, and a plate for breading. You will need a stove or other preferred source of bottom-up heat. Finally, you will need a deep fryer or a large pot filled with hot oil.

Ingredients

  • Butter, ¼ cup
  • Milk, 1 cup. 2% milk worked for me.
  • Eggs, 2
  • Diced pancetta, 1 pound or 450 grams
  • Badía sazón (or another seasoning mix of similar composition) with annatto or saffron, 1 tablespoon
  • Corn masa, 1/3 cup. Substitute your preferred flour.
  • Nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Dry cooking wine, 1 tablespoon
  • Breadcrumbs, 1 cup or as needed
  • Oil for frying

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free if the breadcrumbs, flour, and pancetta used with it are gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is relatively low carbohydrates and high in protein and fat.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is optimized to reduce FODMAP content. Lactose-free milk can be used in this recipe without incident.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute, vegetable fat, and water instead of milk and adjust cooking times accordingly. Because this recipe is meat-heavy, the resulting adjustments may be substantial.

Preparation

  1. Bring the butter, milk, and eggs to room temperature. This takes about 20 minutes.
  2. Grind the pancetta into a fine paste in the food processor.
  3. Melt the butter in the saucepan at medium-low heat and add the sazón.
  4. Slowly whisk in the milk, corn masa, nutmeg, and black pepper. The result will be a thick roux.
  5. Add the cooking wine and ground pancetta to the sauce and mix slowly until all ingredients are uniformly combined. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for five minutes.
  6. Transfer the results to a bowl, let it rest until it reaches room temperature, and refrigerate for two hours. This is necessary to firm and harden the mixture so that it holds its shape during subsequent steps.
  7. Lay out a sheet of wax paper. This will be where you will form the croquetas from the filling.
  8. Pour the breadcrumbs onto a plate and set aside. It can be helpful to do so in stages as they get spent rather than all at once. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat until uniformly mixed.
  9. Remove the filling from the refrigerator and form it into log or cigar shapes approximately 7 cm long and a little over 1 cm wide. It is helpful not to make them too large in either dimension to help them hold together when handled.

    Croqueta filling taking shape.
    Some of mine are thicker than is ideal.

  10. Dip each croqueta in egg and then roll it in the breadcrumbs until it is uniformly covered and no more wet egg is visible. Set aside on the wax paper until all are completed.
  11. Heat the fryer oil to 170°C / 338 °F.
  12. Fry the croquetas for three to four minutes, turning if necessary. Do not overload your fryer or the temperature will drop, impeding frying.
  13. Drain on a paper towel and allow to cool before serving.
Croquetas fresh from the fryer. These are lighter than normal due to using rice-based bread crumbs.
Done with rice-based breadcrumbs for gluten-free success.

Always a hit and always treasured, croquetas are a party favor your guests will not soon forget.

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Croquetas de Jamón, Alyssa Style
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