For the last round of deep fried goodness (probably for the rest of the year), I decided to experiment with a dish that migrated to Japan from France. After a weekend filled with failed experiments (mediocre bâtard and a disasterous clementine curd cake), it was nice to finally have something turn out.
This version has Spanish and Italian influences. At its core it’s filled with a rich Béchamel with bits of braised ham hock and sweet leeks. This is surrounded by creamy polenta encased in a crisp panko breadcrumb shell. When it’s fried, the core liquefies making a sauce inside a crispy creamy ball of polenta.
I used a ham hock that was simmered for several hours to convert all the tough tissue into tender collagen. This may sound like a lot of effort, but if you’re making soup the day before it’s no more work than dropping a ham hock into a pot of water for 4 hours. You could of course substitute some smoked ham or bacon, but then you’d miss out on all the melty bits of skin and connective tissue that really add character to the filling.
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2 Tbs butter
1/2 C chopped leek
2 Tbs flour
3/4 C milk or half and half
1/2 C finely chopped braised smoked ham hock
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt)
1/8 tsp pimentón (smoked paprika)
2 C milk
3/4 C polenta
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper
flour for dredging
3/4 C panko or breadcrumbs
Make the Béchamel and polenta far enough ahead of time to chill thoroughly. You’ll also need to have a ham hock that’s been simmered for about 4 hours or until tender.
For the Béchamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan and fry the leeks until tender but not brown. Add the flour and cook, stirring to saturate with butter, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk or half and half continuing to whisk until there are no lumps of flour and the sauce is the consistency of thick gravy. Add the chopped ham hock, salt, pimentón and white pepper to taste. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate until cold.
For the polenta, just put all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook, stirring continuously for 20-30 minutes or until the polenta is tender and very viscous. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate until cold.
To make the croquttes, rub some oil on your hands. Cup one hand and spoon some polenta into it, smoothing out to make a “bowl”. Spoon a small amount of Béchamel into the polenta then cover with another layer of polenta. Seal the edges and form into a puck shape with your hands. Lay on an oiled surface repeating until you’re out of polenta. Refrigerate until firm.
Heat a cast iron pan with about 3/4″ of oil to 375 degrees F. Prepare 3 bowls, one with flour, one with a beaten egg and the last with panko. Dredge each croquette in flour, dip in the egg then thoroughly coat in panko. Fry the croquette until the sides turn light brown, flip then fry the other side until the whole thing is golden brown. Drain on a paper towel lined wire rack and serve with a dusting of pimentón and tomato jam.