Valerie O’Connor shares her family recipe for home-made croquettes — the perfect Christmas gravy-train.
I’m devoting my entire page to one recipe this week, probably because the recipe is for the single most important food feature on the biggest food day of the year. It’s for potato croquettes.
Making these used to be my responsibility at my parents’ house, but now it’s the bit my brother does, sitting at the kitchen table on Christmas Eve before hitting the local pub. The croquette is my single, most favourite thing on my dinner plate, yes, even beyond the delicious ham or the turkey, which, to me is really only a means to make gravy.
These croquettes are very simple in terms of ingredients, but can’t be underestimated in terms of what they give back. They are crunchy pillows of yielding, puffy potato. They are the soaker-upper of all the flavours on your plate.
The croquette must be ignored until you’re almost at the end of your meal, but not until you are too full to enjoy it. With bits of salty ham, some sprout smidgins, maybe a little braised red cabbage, sausage stuffing crumbs, all lolling in a tasty pool, the croquette sits there innocently gathering up a little taste from here, a flavour from there.
When you cut through it, still crunchy on the top, and deliver it into your lucky mouth, the sensations of your whole dinner will be together in that one moment. Savour it. It’s a bit like the everlasting gobstopper from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the 1971 original; we don’t talk about the remake), but savoury, which is always better as there’s still time for desert.
So, for the recipe, it’s really worth going to the trouble of making these. You can do them anytime and freeze them by wrapping them on a plate, in cling film, or parchment and then cling film, and then you can just deep-fry them on the day.
The recipe I’m writing is for 1kg of spuds and you can argue until you’re blue in the face about which potato you want to use but everyone goes mad for Maris Pipers at Christmas and who am I to argue? You want something that’s not crazy floury but not waxy either. There’s no onion, no nutmeg, no quinoa, no kale, just potato.
The croquette is the vehicle for the flavours, the good body with a tight dress on, it only needs to be its naked self.
So this is all about a system: Flour, egg, breadcrumbs, in that order. Once you mash your spuds, set out the three bowls on the table and a large chopping board for rolling the spuds. I shape all the croquettes from the potato, one after the other and set them aside on plates, then follow by dipping them into the flour, then set aside again, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs.
It’s messy, for sure, and you will get goo all over your hands but so what? Drink some wine while you’re doing it and you won’t even notice.
You can double or triple these quantites — this lot will make about 12 average sized croquettes 1kg/ 2lb floury spuds, steam them so they keep their shape and don’t make potato soup 25g/ 1oz butter 2 whole eggs — cracked into the bowl and whisked lightly 50g/2oz plain flour (or gluten-free is you do gluten-free) 100g/4oz breadcrumbs — you can use any kind you want here, white, sourdough, or gluten-free Salt and pepper Oil for deep frying
Steam the spuds. Put a tea towel over them and under the lid of the steamer when they are done, and leave them cool a bit before mashing. This will absorb the excess moisture.
Mash the potato using just butter and salt and pepper. Adding milk will make them far too runny plus they will go off too fast. You want a fairly dry mash.
Lay out the bowls in a row on the table, containing the flour in the first, the egg in the second, and the breadcrumbs in the third. If you run out of one or the other, don’t freak out, just top it up.
Sit down and get comfy. Spoon an amount of spud about the size of a small bird in your hand and, using your other hand, roll it into a short, fat sausage. Tip the ends off the chopping board to flatten them. It’s all about a light touch here.
Line the shaped spuds up and use up all the mash to make as many as you can.
Now dip each one into the flour, dipping the ends in too. It’s important that the whole croquette is covered.
Repeat this with the egg — this bit will be dribbly and messy — and then do the breadcrumbs. Lay them on plates in a single layer.
At this point, you can freeze the croquettes or keep them in the fridge overnight, wrapped loosely in cling-film.
Timing is everything on Christmas Day so at least half an hour before you are ready to sit down to eat, heat up some oil in a pan. This is the one time I will concede that deep frying really is the best.
Put a few croquettes into the frying basket (not too many as it will cool the oil down too much) and lower them in.
About five minutes should do it to cook them, watch that they don’t fall apart, but they shouldn’t.
Handle them carefully, putting them onto some kitchen paper on a plate in a warm oven. Keep going until you have fried them all.
Some folks might prefer to bake these in the oven, in that case heat the oven to 200C and put the croquettes onto a roasting tray, drizzling them with olive oil, rapeseed oil, or melted coconut oil and bake them for 20 minutes.
Frying, and better yet, deep-frying, results in better croquettes, though. You can shallow fry in goose, or duck fat for added flavour and finish in the oven. Croquettes know no bounds in terms of added flavours, but when they are doused in delicious, meaty gravy you just won’t need to.
In this case, why mess with tradition?
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