Last month, Núria, from Spanish Recipes won the Royal Foodie Joust, hosted by Jenn, the Leftover Queen! It was even more fun for us watching, because it was our ingredients selected for that Joust — Red, White, and Green. Núria won with a mouthwatering Piquillos Stuffed with Cod.
This month, the ingredients Núria selected were rice, tomatoes, and bacon. I have childhood memories of my mom making croquettes when I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old. I remember I liked them a lot and would ask her to make them when she asked me to pick something for dinner. I haven’t thought of that in a while, though, but when I decided croquettes would be a great combination of the ingredients, I remembered them again. Strange what memories lurk in the brain, only to resurface 35 years later…
I made stuffed herbed rice croquettes with oven roasted tomatoes, bacon, and cheddar cheese. served them with a basil sauce aurore, which is a béchamel with tomato paste, with some fresh basil from the garden.
I found some lovely red, vine-ripe, Florida tomatoes (now salmonella free!). Normally, oven roasted tomatoes use plum tomatoes, but these were so red and meaty, I thought they would be interesting to try. I rubbed them with a teaspoon of olive oil, sprinkled some kosher salt and black pepper, and threw them in a 375 degree oven for an hour.
While they were roasting, I made 2-3 cups of white rice (I used an arborio made with chicken stock and some white wine), and I fried up three strips of bacon, cut in half.
A little bacon porn….
Meanwhile, we submit our photo of our winning apron and mug. I wanted Christey to hold the mug, since it was her photo and food styling that won the “Best Picture” prize of the Joust, but she wanted to remain behind the camera.
For the sauce aurore, I started by mincing a shallot and browning it just slightly in a bit of olive oil
I added a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and browned that a bit, too. Browning the paste creates a wonderful sweet, meaty aroma that will translate into the sauce. It doesn’t have to brown for long, just enough for the tomato aroma to jump out of the pan. Then, I added 2 cups of milk, stirred the paste into the milk vigorously, and brought the mixture to a very light simmer.
I added 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of roux (flour and butter sizzled into a paste) to the sauce and stirred it in while simmering gently. The sauce should thicken pretty quickly.
For the breadcrumb coating on the outside of the croquettes, I made a couple pieces of toast, tore them up, and pulsed them in a food processor with some kosher salt and pepper.
I’m growing some herbs on my kitchen windowsill, so I chopped some chives and thyme, and added it to the cooled white rice, along with an egg to bind everything together.
When the bacon and roasted tomatoes had cooled, I chopped the bacon, then peeled the skin off the tomatoes and seeded them. I cut the tomato meat into chunks mixed with the bacon, and had some cubes of cheddar standing by.
I finished setting up my breading station by beating an egg, and putting it next to a plate of plain flour, and the breadcrumbs.
Now is time for assembly! I took a roughly golf ball sized ball of rice and flattened it in my hand, making a little impression in the center. Cupping the hand a bit helps, as is keeping the hands very wet with water. I put the tomato/bacon mixture in with a chunk of the cheddar, then pulled up the edges and formed the croquette, with the stuffing completely inside.
For breading, the croquette gets rolled in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.
I had to wash my hands after every croquette because I wanted to make sure I got every bit covered (it’s a lot easier to do this with cutlets than a ball of rice!), but then again, wet hands really do make stuffing the croquette a lot easier.
I set up my deep fryer to 350 degrees, and fried three croquettes at a time — these rice balls are heat sinks, and you don’t want the oil to get too cool, or they’ll get greasy. Unlike a lot of fried foods like shrimp tempura, these croquettes won’t bob to the surface when they’re ready. They might float a bit, but they’re heavy. On the other hand, everything in them is already cooked, so really, I was shooting for crispy brownness on the outside, and enough heat on the inside to melt the cheddar. Maybe 5 minutes a batch, give or take, and there will be some carryover heat once they’re removed.
For the final touch to the sauce aurore, I cut strips of basil at the last minute and added them to the sauce, along with some kosher salt and the juice of a lemon.
A minute or two of warming to let the basil flavor melt into the sauce, and we were ready to serve. Plating was three croquettes, with a lot more sauce than we picture here!
Deconstruction: The sauce was lovely — sort of like a creamy tomato basil soup. I could probably have eaten the sauce with a spoon. The croquettes turned out really well — the cheddar had melted, and the salty bacon meatiness matched the sweet elegance of the roasted tomatos. The outside of the croquettes were nicely crunchy, and the herb rice in the middle, mixed with the center, gave a great textural and taste contrast.