8 & $20: Saffron-Tomato Chicken Croquetas

This tapas-bar staple makes for a party-friendly snack and a good companion to bubbly
8 & $20: Saffron-Tomato Chicken Croquetas
Sparkling wines work particularly well with fried foods, but a Spanish Albariño also provided a refreshing contrast. (Greg Hudson)
Dec 19, 2017

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal—or a platter of party appetizers—from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

The most festive time of the year is upon us—and parties with friends and family can feel nearly constant. If you’re hosting one of your own, you’re going to need a few surefire appetizers up your sleeve to feed all those hungry guests.

Croquetas (or croquettes, if you prefer to go French) are always a crowd-pleaser. These crunchy fried rolls can be filled with a wide array of ingredients, making them extremely versatile. I flavored these with sun-dried tomatoes and saffron; I loved the exotic notes these brought to the mix, but feel free to experiment.

If you’re savvy, you can also make the prep do double-duty for you. You need a couple of cups of shredded chicken for this version—but that’s not a whole chicken. If you’re planning on having a party over the weekend, roast a chicken for dinner a few days before, then save some to use in the croquetas later. To save yourself even more time, pick up a rotisserie chicken and separate what you need for this recipe. (And if you have leftovers from the party, croquetas can make a great lunch or light dinner served alongside a salad.)

You can also do two-thirds of the work the day before your party. Make the chicken-béchamel mixture and shape the croquetas ahead of time. Roll them in flour and store them in the fridge. Pull them out of the fridge a little before your party and let them come up to room temperature, then continue where you left off: Dip them in whisked eggs followed by ground almonds (or breadcrumbs) and fry them up. If you need to keep them warm for a bit, just set them on a pan in the oven at 200° F until you’re ready to serve.

The croquetas are really tasty as is, but if you’d like to take things up another notch, make a really simple dipping sauce by mixing mayonnaise, lemon zest, smoked paprika and salt, all to taste. (This dipping sauce worked with the wines as well.)

I was sure these croquetas would be wine-friendly, and that proved true. I decided to try them with an Albariño from Spain's Rías Baixas region and a traditional-method sparkling wine from the United States. Both made great matches, and I suspect these croquetas would also pair well with lighter red wines.

The juicy, refreshing Albariño became even more pleasantly fruity alongside the croquetas, showing notes of white peach and ripe citrus. The bubbly was a step up, though, giving the food an extra lift; in particular, the sparkler's toasty notes resonated with the spices in the croquetas, bringing out the saffron. Go ahead and reach for the bubbles—’tis the season after all!

Saffron-Tomato Chicken Croquetas

Pair this with a value sparkling wine such as Gruet Brut American NV (90 points, $17) or a fresh, fruity Spanish white such as Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 (87 points, $15).

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 95 minutes
Total time: 105 minutes
Approximate food costs: $16

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • Saffron, generous pinch
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/4 cups flour, divided
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups shredded chicken
  • 1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup ground almonds (or breadcrumbs)
  • 2 to 3 cups cooking oil, such as canola, for frying

1. Gently warm milk over low heat with a generous pinch of saffron. Set aside.

2. Melt butter over medium heat in a large pot. Once almost melted, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add 1 1/4 cups of the flour and mix until thoroughly combined. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until the mixture has begun to take on a golden to lightly brown color. Add in the saffron-infused milk as well as a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir continuously until the béchamel sauce is thick and smooth.

3. Mix in the chicken and the sun-dried tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. The mixture should be really thick (similar to mashed potatoes) so that it can be molded. If it seems too thick, add another splash of milk; if it seems too sticky, continue to cook the mixture for another couple of minutes. Remove the mixture from heat and allow it to cool.

4. While the mixture is cooling, set up 3 bowls containing the remaining cup of flour, the whisked eggs and the ground almonds (or breadcrumbs), respectively. Once the mixture is cool enough for you to handle, work tablespoonfuls of the chicken mixture into little cylinders. Dip each into flour, followed by the eggs and ground almonds. Repeat until you’ve worked through all of the chicken mixture.

5. Heat cooking oil in a deep pan or deep fryer set to 375° F. Add the croquetas to the frying oil in small batches. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the croquetas have achieved a golden-brown color. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle right away with a little bit of salt. Repeat until all the croquetas are cooked. Serve warm. Makes 32 to 34 croquetas.

Cooking Pairings Sparkling Wines Recipes

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