How I adore croquettes. Of all shapes and sizes.
No, I do not mean croquetas, those beautiful, flour-based morsels found at the likes of London restaurant group Barrafina – some of the best in London – or in the south of Spain, where a couple of months ago I was skiing on the Sierra Nevada. Après ski is usually about rosé, raclette and truffle pizza but in Spain it is more about croquetas and San Miguel after shooting down a mountain in a t-shirt.
You are less likely to find croquetas (or mountains) in Henley, Oxfordshire, but luckily there are plenty of potato-based croquettes instead.
Today, croquettes still remind me of quite majestic golden potato logs my mum used to feed me from the freezer with baked beans. In this case we’ve moved yet further away from the Spanish tapas phenomenon. That said, the concept of deep-frying carbohydrates, maybe with crab or ham and cheese, remains formidable and connected. Both are classic beer food, moreish beyond reason.
It is in Henley, more famous for its regatta and its red-trousered men, where you will find the chicken, ham, and mushroom croquettes featured here. These are the work of Ryan and Liam Simpson-Trotman who, despite being married, manage to operate Orwells – an 18th-century pub popular with locals and more recently a true culinary destination. Both worked in the kitchen for years, although staff shortages recently forced Ryan on to the floor where, as it turns out, he’s in his element.
Orwells is seasonal and local produce is championed. Croquettes are refreshingly simple, detached from the relentless tirade of sustainability. All that is required is a bit of good ham, a wedge or two of cheese and the patience to mould and sculpt before frying. Economically speaking, they’re affordable too, which is as topical as anything else.
So batch-cook a mountain, put however many in the freezer that it will allow, and pour yourself a glass of San Miguel. Or rosé, if in Henley
CHICKEN, HAM AND MUSHROOM CROQUETTES, SERVED WITH WATERCRESS AND A MUSTARD DRESSING
For the croquettes:
200g pre-cooked chicken, diced
200g pre-cooked thick-cut ham, diced (can be smoked ham if preferred)
300g diced button mushrooms
20g butter unsalted
40g plain flour
200ml whole milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely diced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tsp finely chopped parsley (flat or curly leaf)
1 tsp chives 1 clove garlic
60g good quality mature cheddar
30g cheddar curds or grated mozzarella
2g freshly ground black pepper
10g fine table salt, or salt to taste
For the coating
3 large eggs
50g plain flour
150g panko breadcrumbs
Fryer oil of your choice; sunflower or vegetable
For the salad
1 packet of watercress
For the dressing
100g of Dijon mustard
2g table salt
50ml rapeseed oil
To make the croquettes, add the butter to a saucepan on a moderate heat. Sweat off the shallots, then add the garlic and the mushrooms. Continue to cook for 3 minutes.
Once the shallots and mushrooms are soft, add the flour and stir in well, allow to cook out for a minute, then add the milk gradually while maintaining a moderate heat. Once the mix has thickened, add both cheeses and stir continuously until melted. Finally add the chicken, ham, Dijon, herbs, pepper and salt. Stir well and allow to cool.
This recipe can be done at least 3 days before and left in the fridge. If you do have some mix left over, you can freeze it or use it again in the week.
Take the cold mix and form into 12 individual balls, that’s 3 per person. If you have any left over you can save it or serve more.
Now we can coat the croquettes. Whisk the eggs with the water in a bowl and set aside. Pop the flour in a separate bowl and the breadcrumbs in another separate bowl.
Place the croquettes in the flour, coat well, then in the eggs, coat well, then in the breadcrumbs, coat well then repeat this process one more time and keep in the fridge until you are ready to fry. When you are about to prepare the garnish, heat your fryer to 190c or if you don’t have a fryer, use a deep, thick pan with a temperature probe.
Place the watercress in a bowl, wash and dry, then set aside to serve. To make the dressing pop the mustard in a bowl, add the water and salt then gradually whisk in the oil. If you have a stick blender use this, or pop it into a normal food blender.
Now fry off the croquettes until golden brown and hot – this should take around 2 minutes. Dress the salad and serve with the salad, drizzling the dressing over the croquettes.