Let's Talk Croquettes and Variations
Using the loose definition of "croquette" as a small roll or cake of chopped or minced food, often potato-based, that is usually fried, and noting that (American) Thanksgiving is a recent holiday often leaves people with left-over mashed potatoes, I figure now is a good time to talk about croquettes, including variations and similar items that not everyone would call a croquette.
I have read a lot of variations on the recipe. See Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croquette) for some of the world's variations. Here are some of the differences:
Shape: Mainly balls, cylinders, and disks, but also squares or ovoid shapes.
Potato or not: Non-potato croquettes seem to mainly use a bechamel sauce to bind things
Breading: Most recipes use some sort of breading, but I've seen some that don't
Cooking method: Frying ranges from sauteing to pan-frying to deep-frying. Certainly, there are people out there who would devise some sort of baked croquette because they eschew frying for health reasons.
Filling: Just plain potato or including vegetables, meat, seafood, or pretty much everything you have.
I don't think I've ever made croquettes as anything other than a way to utilize leftovers. I usually decide what shape and cooking method I will use as I'm mixing ingredients things.
Right now, I'm thinking about mixing leftover mashed potatoes with some extra ricotta and spinach mix that I used to make lasagna for a vegetarian Thanksgiving guest. I wonder if I can toast some leftover stuffing and get it dry enough to cumble and use as a breading. I might use the ricotta for wontons and add chopped turkey gizzards or chorizo to the potato instead.
And now I'm wondering as I type this if I can make a flat potato cake firm enough to serve as a sort of bread for a turkey or ham sandwich (inspired by the KFC Double Down in terms of using non-bread items as bread). Gah, it's impossible for me to cook every idea that floats into my head.
So, I ended up combining mashed potatoes with the ricotta-spinach mix that I had used in lasagna. I eyeballed about a three-to-one ratio of potato to ricotta. I decided to shape them into long cylinders and fry them in about half an inch of oil as sort of a play on fried cheese sticks.
My family liked the flavor. The main mistake was that I should have added something such as a beaten egg to bind it a bit more so that it will hold its shape better. I could also play around with seasoning the bread crumbs I used.
Yum. One of our Christmas staples is Gourmet Magazine's Potato-Caraway Croquettes. I have searched the Epicurious website to provide a link, but it isn't there. It is basically boiled, chilled, shredded potato bound with bechamel and egg, flavored with onion and caraway seeds. Shaped into logs, breaded with flour, egg, and panko, chilled, then pan-fried. Very special and delicious.
My mother used to make 'Turkey Teepees'. That's what she called them. They were turkey croquettes made with with chopped turkey, sauteed onions and carrots, leftover gravy and bread crumbs. She would form them into cone shapes (or teepees) and then the usual egg wash and more bread crumbs and then fry them. She served them with creamed peas but never could get any of her kids to eat that, they ate them plain. She stopped making them when she made a recipe for turkey filled crepes that used a similar filling and a gravy instead of the creamed peas and liked it better because it did not involve a big kettle of oil.
I make turkey or chicken croquettes with a bechamel sauce, egg, minced leftover meat, and stuffing. I usually add curry powder, and pan-fry it in patties. Make a cream gravy from the drippings plus leftover gravy. I really prefer this to the original roast poultry meal. Once I tried baking the formed patties but found them too dry. Then again, I may have overbaked them. They really only need to solidify the egg binder and brown the exteriors. I have not put potato in them. Leftover potatoes and meat turn into hash in my kitchen.
A friend's mom in deep east Texas is a wiz in the kitchen, and she makes incredible croquettes from her home grown summer squash. I have never heard of them elsewhere, so they may be her invention. Ingredients are grated squash, a minced onion, egg, flour, salt, and a generous portion of cayenne, dolloped into an inch or so of oil, turned a few times until golden, they are addictive. Mine turn out pretty good, but not as good as hers.
I know there's something of a gray line between a croquette and a fritter, which is what the squash ones sound like to me. I think of croquettes as being formed into one of several intentional shapes, usually including meat, poultry, or seafood. Most fritters are more amorphous blobs plopped into the frying oil, and are vegetarian. I know, there are clam fritters but in general, in the northeastern US at least, those seem to be the parameters.