Croquetas: from a Royal Delicacy to Last Night's Leftovers, Uncover Their History
Many traditional Spanish dishes, from empanadas to churros, have made their way across the Atlantic to the dinner tables of Latin America. But they don’t all get the same recognition.
Next to a show-stopping pan of paella con mariscos, for instance, the croqueta —a breaded, deep-fried ball stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables, with béchamel sauce or mashed potatoes to hold it all together — is comparatively humble.
And that makes sense. The concept behind the croqueta, after all, is to use up leftovers.
On a trip around the world, you’ll find some version of the croqueta in nearly every place you visit. Its origins are debated, but some food historians say that the dish was invented in Spain’s neighboring country of France. Consider the etymology: croquer is French for “to crunch.”
The croqueta didn’t always have such a modest reputation. In its early days, the croquette was considered a delicacy: in 1691, Louis XIV’s personal chef wrote a recipe with several variations, including truffle and ragout fillings.
It was another century before the concept made its way to ordinary kitchens, as cooks and housewives looked for alternative ways to use up leftover meat.
A la española
Spain mastered the form early on. Classic fillings include jamón serrano, chicken, bacalao, and shrimp. Modern restaurants experiment with more adventurous variations, like the croqueta de espinaca y piñón, or the croqueta de morcilla — an option that would surely be a hit in Argentina.
In today’s Latin American food scene, the croqueta appears most frequently in Mexico, where it’s often stuffed with tuna and potatoes (and in some cases, plantains, cheese, and black beans.)
In Brazil, the croqueta is called coxinha: stuffed with chicken, it’s a popular street food. South of the border, in Uruguay, you’ll feast on more traditional Spanish versions, like croquetas de papa or croquetas de jamón y queso.
How do you know the croqueta has officially made it? Last year, Chef Tomás Bartesaghi introduced a recipe for croquetas de arroz o MasterChef Uruguay.
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