croquettes

Greg Morrow on Facebook a few days ago:

I have a memory of either the TK Stone Jr High School cafeteria [in Elizabethtown KY] or (possibly) the St. James Elementary cafeteria [ditto] having a dish which I remember as “chicken croquettes”, which were sort of, I guess, minced chicken inside stuffing ball sorts of things.

Does anyone else remember this? I remember them as being delicious, though I suppose just about anything with spices and breading and chicken and salt is going to taste great to a hungry boy.

Lots of people remembered chicken croquettes, mostly with pleasure. And there’s some linguistic (as well as culinary) interest here.

I replied to Greg:

My 1946 Joy of Cooking has a master Rule for Croquettes, then specific recipes for chicken or veal croquettes [made with all chicken, all veal, or a combination; turkey and ham are other possibilities], sweetbread croquettes, salmon croquettes, lobster croquettes, ham and corn croquettes, oyster and chicken croquettes, rice croquettes, cheese and rice croquettes, walnut and rice croquettes, vegetable croquettes, mushroom croquettes, macaroni or spaghetti croquettes, egg croquettes, cheese croquettes, and potato croquettes filled with green peas. Croquettes were a staple of plain cooking.

Were and still are, though plain cooking has to be understood in a special way here; plain cooking involves familiar (and not “exotic”) ingredients, prepared using familiar techniques. That is, the concept is closely tied to cultural conventions. Plain cooking isn’t necessarily fast or simple, and though chicken croquettes are often described as an “easy” dish to make, in fact they require quite a few steps and a fair amount of time. Here’s a recent Joy of Cooking recipe (from here):

A classic croquette is a mixture of very thick veloute sauce and cooked poultry that is shaped, breaded, and deep-fried. This old-fashioned but extremely satisfying dish may be served with a sauce or a squeeze of lemon juice. Accompany the croquettes with a green vegetable and mashed potatoes or rice.

Servings: 4

  • 1/2 recipe Veloute Sauce …
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped skinless, cooked chicken
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 cups vegetable oil or 3 pounds solid vegetable shortening
  • Lemon wedges or cranberry sauce
  1. Prepare 1/2 recipe Veloute Sauce … using 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1/4 cup flour. Set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat: Stir in chopped onions. Cook, stirring often, until tender but still crunchy, 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the reserved Veloute Sauce and cook for 1 minute. Scrape the sauce into a large bowl and combine thoroughly with the cooked chicken, parsley, ground white or black pepper, thyme, nutmeg , and salt to taste. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the mixture and refrigerate until very cold and firm, at least 2 hours. [It’s crucial that the mixture be very cold and firm, and that you then work quickly in forming it into shapes, in step 6 below.]
  4. Spread bread crumbs and flour in an even layer on 2 separate plates.
  5. Whisk the eggs together in a wide shallow bowl.
  6. Drop a generous 1/4-cup scoop of the croquette mixture onto the flour and gently roll until the rough ball is evenly coated. Roll in the beaten egg, then transfer to the breadcrumbs and roll until coated on all sides. While rolling, shape the croquette into an oval, cylinder, or pyramid. Set aside on a plate.
  7. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make 8 croquettes.
  8. Heat oil or shortening to 375 degrees F in a deep-fryer or deep, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Gently drop 4 croquettes in the hot fat and fry until deep brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Fry the remaining croquettes in the same manner. Arrange on 4 plates or on a platter and serve with lemon wedges or cranberry sauce.

Classic poultry croquettes in cylinder form and in patty form (patties can be pan-fried rather than deep-fried):

(#1)

(#2)

Let’s review: You need cooked chicken or turkey (either leftover or cooked for this purpose), off the bone and then minced, ground, chopped, shredded, or at least diced small (a food processor is useful here). Then you need to make the velouté (which requires chicken or veal stock; see below), prepare the croquette mixture, chill it and shape it, then coat it, then fry it. That’s not a simple or brief procedure. (And deep-frying is something of a pain — but it is a familiar technique in many culinary traditions.)

Linguistic note, on the word croquette. From NOAD2:

a small roll of chopped vegetables, meat, or fish, fried in breadcrumbs: a potato croquette.

ORIGIN French, from croquer ‘to crunch.’

Another crunchy food:

A croque-monsieur … is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack. Typically, Emmental or Gruyère cheese is used.

The name is based on the verb croquer (“to crunch”) and the word monsieur (“mister”). The sandwich’s first recorded appearance on a Parisian café menu was in 1910. Its earliest mention in literature appears to be in volume two of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in 1918.

… A croque-monsieur served with a fried egg or poached egg on top is known as a croque-madame (Wikipedia link)
(#3)

Another linguistic note, on the verb mince. From NOAD2:

1 (often as adj. minced) cut up or grind (food, esp. meat) into very small pieces, typically in a machine with revolving blades: minced beef.

2 [no obj.] walk with an affected delicacy or fastidiousness, typically with short quick steps: there were plenty of secretaries mincing about.

PHRASES  not mince words (or one’s words) speak candidly and directly, esp. when criticizing someone or something: a gruff surgeon who does not mince words.

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French mincier, based on Latin minutia ‘smallness.’

There are two sense developments from mincier here: small pieces or small steps. (I’d hoped to find a good video clip of a mincing gait, typically associated with effeminate men, but without success.)

Then a note, culinary and linguistic, on velouté sauce. From Wikipedia:

A velouté sauce, …, along with tomato, Hollandaise, Béchamel and espagnole, is one of the sauces of French cuisine that were designated the five “mother sauces” by Auguste Escoffier in the 19th century… The term velouté is from the French adjectival form of velour, meaning velvet.

In preparing a velouté sauce, a light stock (one in which the bones used have not been previously roasted), such as chicken or fish stock, is thickened with a blond roux. Thus the ingredients of a velouté are equal parts by mass butter and flour to form the roux, a light chicken or fish stock, and salt and pepper for seasoning. The sauce produced is commonly referred to by the type of stock used e.g. chicken velouté [or fish velouté].

Some recipes for croquettes use Béchamel sauce rather than velouté. From Wikipedia:

Béchamel sauce …, also known as white sauce, is made with a roux of butter and flour cooked in milk. It is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine and is used in many recipes of Italian cuisine, for example lasagne. It is used as the base for other sauces (such as Mornay sauce, which is Béchamel with cheese).

… The marquis de Béchamel was a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to Louis XIV.

Velouté is made with stock, Béchamel with milk. Either can be used to bind the other ingredients in making croquettes.

For that matter, some croquettes could be bound with a brown sauce:

In classical French cuisine, a brown sauce generally refers to a sauce with a meat stock base, thickened by reduction and sometimes the addition of a browned roux, similar in some ways to but more involved than a gravy. The classic mother sauce example is espagnole sauce as well as its derivative demi-glace (Wikipedia link)

In cooking, espagnole sauce … is one of Auguste Escoffier’s five mother sauces that are the basis of sauce-making in classic French cooking.

The basic method of making espagnole is to prepare a very dark brown roux, to which veal stock or water is added, along with browned bones, pieces of beef, vegetables, and various seasonings. This blend is allowed to slowly reduce while being frequently skimmed. The classical recipe calls for additional veal stock to be added as the liquid gradually reduces but today water is generally used instead. Tomato paste or pureed tomatoes are added towards the end of the process, and the sauce is further reduced. (Wikipedia link)

Demi-glace is a rich brown sauce in French cuisine used by itself or as a base for other sauces. The term comes from the French word glace, which used in reference to a sauce means icing or glaze. It is traditionally made by combining equal parts of veal stock and espagnole sauce, the latter being one of the five mother sauces of classical French cuisine, and the mixture is then simmered and reduced by half. Common variants of demi-glace use a 1:1 mixture of beef or chicken stock to sauce espagnole; these are referred to as “beef demi-glace” (demi-glace au boeuf) or “chicken demi-glace” (demi-glace au poulet). The term “demi-glace” by itself implies that it is made with the traditional veal stock. (Wikipedia link)

 

4 Responses to “croquettes”

  1. Greg Morrow Says:

    Thanks for the followup, professor! I’m going to have to take a weekend afternoon and essay one of the many croquette recipes out there. A lot of them are a lot simpler than the classic French. Good notes on the word origins — I hadn’t quite put it together that croquette and croque-monsieur are the same thing, though of course it’s obvious seeing them next to each other. (I have found croque-monsieurs to be unpleasantly greasy, at least at the local quasi-French cafe chain restaurant.)

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Cornelia Wyngaarden on Facebook:

    Croquettes, we used get them from a heated automat. My uncle used to make the best beef croquettes because he had some secret recipe that involved a lot of black pepper. You can get croquettes in any bar in Holland split open on a bun with strong mustard the perfect bar food. I miss them but not enough to experiment making them. The ones sold here [Corry lives in Vancouver, but her comment probably applies to North America pretty generally] are hopelessly stingy tasting and too small to be taken seriously. All Dutch ex-pats miss them and get homesick about them.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Victor Steinbok on Google+:

    After six years, I still haven’t quite recovered from McDonalds McCroquette.

    Croquette is one of the national fast foods in the Netherlands. They can be shaped as cylinders (roughly the size of half a small corn cob), balls (large or small), patties or ovoids. The filling is largely a combination of potato and peas and something else that determines the flavor (chicken, fish, sausage, curry). They can be fairly dense or filled with thick sauce like a chicken pot pie.

    The McD version was a fairly thin patty with lots of breading holding liquid goo inside. It was extremely low cost (1 euro as default, sometimes less), served on a bun, like a hamburger. Nondescript flavor, if there was any, and no distinguishable solid texture inside. I don’t believe it was a successful campaign.

    A curry croquette sounds especially yummy.

  4. John Says:

    Codfish croquettes are a mainstay of Spanish, Portuguese, and Caribbean cooking.

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