In Spain, golden shallow-fried croquetas are served in tapas bars to the diner’s delight. They may be made of any number of things: salt cod, shellfish, Serrano ham, potatoes or cauliflower. Sometimes spherical, sometimes cork-shaped, the best are small enough to devour in two bites.
What differentiates the Spanish croqueta from the sometimes-stodgy canned salmon croquettes once popular in the United States has mainly to do with texture. Not only is the croqueta’s exterior beautifully crisp, but its interior has a lovely creamy consistency. This is primarily because of the binding. Rather than relying on bread crumbs or crumbled saltines to bind the filling, as is common with American-style fish cakes, croquetas are typically held together with a well-seasoned white béchamel sauce.
The process is not difficult, but it is a bit of a production. The savory croquetas are composed of crab meat, roasted red peppers, scallions and a good pinch of cayenne; freshly made béchamel is gently folded into the mixture, which then must be chilled until it is firm. This takes an hour or more, but if you prefer to make your life easier, it may be assembled a day ahead.
Once the crab mixture is cooled and ready, it is formed into little balls, which are dipped in flour and beaten egg, then rolled in bread crumbs. The entire process can be completed well in advance of serving.
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When the guests arrive, heat the oil and begin frying the pieces in batches, holding them in a warm oven until you have enough to pass. The recipe makes about 24 one-ounce croquetas; size them down to half-ounce spheres if you wish. You’ll have twice as many to fry, but they’ll cook more quickly. A neutral vegetable oil is fine, but olive oil gives them an authentic flavor.