Tilapia : Croquetas de Pescado : Fish Croquettes : Simple Tartar Dip

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This is one dish I’ve always wanted to try but I always had my aunt Mirenxtu make it for me when I went home to visit. Since I moved to LA I’ve waited for the next opportunity to visit home to taste her wonderful fish croquetas! but the time has come , I need  to fend for myself! It is hard work and very well worth it. My aunt makes it look easy, but it takes coordination and preparation. You could spend hours cleaning up the mess unless you took the time to prep.  Croquetas or croquettes are made in many countries around the world and go by all sorts of names. I would love to know where they came from, because they are delicious and ingenious. The spanish preparation, at least the one I’m familiar with includes the making of a béchamel sauce that serves as the base, plus the addition of some kind of protein, in our case fish, tilapia, a wonderful light white flaky fresh water fish, very affordable, and I find it perfect for a quick weekday evening meal. This mix of béchamel and protein then gets dusted in flour, soaked in beaten eggs, then breaded and fried or deep fried. Still here? ok, let’s go over this in more detail but you’ll see how easy this actually is, just stay organized and you’ll survive!

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Ingredients (makes about 8 croquettes):

Croquettes:

150g tilapia
15-20g butter
15-20g olive oil
10g shallots (or onions)
1 garlic clove
15g finely chopped parsley (I usually add this to taste)
50g AP flour
250g whole milk (1 cup)
panko bread crumbs (thinned in a food processor)
1 beaten egg
150g AP flour for dusting
1 tbsp of dill pickle brine
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Tartar dip:

2-4 Tbsp Mayo (if you can make your own, more power to you)
a few baby dill pickles (or any pickles really, you decide)
some fresh dill, a couple of fronds is probably fine
pepper to taste
1 tbsp white wine or rice vinegar

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Measure and combine both olive oil and butter, you can use only butter or only oil if you prefer. I like this combination though. The best of both worlds! Remember, we are getting ready to prepare a béchamel sauce, once you’ve measured your ingredients, make sure everything is ready in front of you, avoid chopping or peeling..etc while cooking takes place.

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Heat up your sauce pan and add the oil and unsalted butter, medium high and melt and whisk together. Don’t let the oil burn, if you see any smoke, remove from the heat and give it some time and lower the heat a bit. If you see a lot of smoke, start over, that oil will taste rancid and ruin you beautiful croquettes. Be ready to add the chopped shallot, which we want to caramelize a bit.

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Cook the shallot for about 5 minutes, until you see it turning a nice golden brown… by now the smell coming out of your pan will make you hungry, and it gets better… add the flour and cook, stirring constantly and cooking for about 5 minutes until this roux turns a nice light golden color, by now the smell is really incredible. You can remove the pan from the heat and allow to rest a bit.

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Add the milk (whole milk please) slowly into the pan. You can heat up the milk so the temperature difference between milk and roux isn’t as much, this way the milk won’t spatter or bubble as much, but be careful and add the milk slowly while whisking. I added cold milk slowly and worked perfectly well. The béchamel thicken up slowly and turn creamy and extremely appetizing. Add more milk slowly, keep checking. You don’t want the sauce runny, it should retain its shape but not be too dance either, we want it creamy creamy… remember, this is the base for the croquette, when you bite on the crunchy outside, you  should then experience the soft and delicate interior filling. So aim for that! You can add more milk but it is impossible to remove so keep that in mind. If your sauce becomes runny, you could cook off some of the water in the milk and save the sauce this way.

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Season your fillets generously with salt and pepper. Pan fry the fish is something you can do ahead of time, which I did. You can actually do it the night before and keep the fish in the fridge. Croquetas are a fantastic way to rescue leftover food, fish, chicken, ham, beef, veggies… anything that can be found left behind could be easily turned into something delicious by making croquettes.

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I like getting a nice browning on the fish for adding rich flavor to the croquettes. Don’t overcook the fish, we don’t want dry fish in our mix, just cooked until done and moist and flaky, but not raw in the center either. Tilapia is an easy fish to cook, but it is easy to overcook it too, so be nice to it!

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I let the fish rest a little bit then added them to sauce pan whole, this fish is so flaky you don’t need to shred it by hand, just stir it in, give a few nice strong turns with your spatula or a wooden spoon and incorporate it into the sauce. Add some salt, some pepper, a generous amount of chopped parsley.

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You can see how the content of the sauce pan is something very similar to a crab cake batter… at this point I had to control myself, I could have eaten all the batter before making the croquettes, it is delicious this way. I added some of the brine from the pickles jar. Works great, brings some sharpness into the batter. Taste and adjust to your personal taste, just use my ingredients list as a guide, specially when it comes to seasoning. Pour the batter on a flat plate and allow to cool in the fridge, this will stiffen it up and make the croquettes easy to shape and handle. Very important.

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I used panko crumbs, they are a bit too big for my taste so I processed them down to a nice smaller size. Any bread crumbs would work really, leftover croutons work great, any steal bread too, just make sure it is dry dry dry, if you have fresh bread, cut it into thin slices, and throw it in the oven at 300 until crispy and dry, but don’t let them brown. Then cut it into croutons and use your food processor or hands to get the desired size.

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Setup your assembly line, get your batter, some flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs ready…. I won’t lie to you, this part gets pretty messy pretty quickly, there are no photos to document it because I take the photos myself and my hands were caked in flour and breadcrumbs and eggs… and so was my work area.. but I still did it, because if these croquettes turn out to be even remotely as good as my aunt’s the sacrifice would be absolutely worth it.

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Here they are, all breaded and ready to dance.  I was so excited to get to this stage. Actually took a break, from cooking that is and cleaned up the kitchen. Keeping organized in the kitchen is hard but it is a must, specially when making dishes that require a lot of steps.  Keep the kitchen sink clear, it is pretty easy to pile a lot of stuff in it and when you need use it, you can’t, like say, draining your pasta water… I try as much as I can to keep the sink empty.

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The frying begins. Get your pan hot with plenty of olive or vegetable oil. Medium heat, there’s no rushing this browning, and remember that the inside is already cooked. And they brown fast too. I add the croquettes clockwise to the pan and turn them in the same order I added them, so they brown evenly. This is a great thing to keep in mind. Specially if you’re searing scallops. Fry as evenly as possibly. Deep frying would give you the best result, but I don’t have a deep fryer and deep frying on the stove is a bit tricky and not the safest. You can really shape these guys anyway you want. Fish cakes could be easier to fry actually, give it a try… they won’t be called croquettes though, I have to warn you!

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Finally, the hard part is over! And with the croquettes nice, crunchy and golden resting on a bed of kitchen towel you can focus on the next task. The tartar dipping sauce. I can’t think of anything easier to make. Specially this one here, I have only the basic components. I wanted to keep this dish simple and fun. So here we go, get your things ready, all your ingredients out!

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Finely chop the baby pickles and the dill. Really, that’s it.

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Mix the chopped dill and baby pickles with the mayo, add a splash of white wine or rice wine vinegar, taste and adjust the components. Add some pepper but you probably won’t need to add any salt.

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And that was it. I like croquettes warm or cold out of the fridge, they make really nice party food, but can also be presented as an elegant appetizer. They are found in spain at any bar and served as tapas.

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Hope you enjoyed todays how-to on croquettes. I would love to know what you think, and definitely share your opinion, ideas, improvements. I always welcome that. Until the next recipe! Take care!

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