- Make breadcrumbs the day before you want to make croquettes if you don’t have any bought panko. Remove crusts from the bread. Blitz into large crumbs in a processor or with a hand blender. Spread across a baking tray. Leave out in a dry cool place overnight so they become extremely crisp.
- Pour the milk into a large heavy bottomed pan. Peel the onion/shallot. Add it to the pan with the bay leaf and peppercorns. Sit it on the hob on a medium heat and bring to the boil This happens quickly so don’t let the milk boil over.
- Remove the pan from the hob as soon as it boils. Set aside for at least 20 minutes, which is long enough to let the flavors infuse into the milk.
- Meantime, snip the ham into small bits with kitchen scissors. Add one-third to the infusing milk after 10 minutes. Set the rest aside on a covered plate until you need them.
- Strain the hot milk through a sieve into a mixing bowl. Remove any bits of ham from the mix, Discard the onion, peppercorns and bay.
- Return the hot milk to the same pan or a clean one if you think it needs it. Put it onto a very low heat. Get a large ladle or something you can use to add hot milk to the sauce when the time comes.
- Find another large pan heavy based pan to make the sauce and put it on the hob on low heat.
- Add the butter to the empty pan. Put it on a very low heat so it melts easily without colouring. Once melted, add the flour. Stir the two into a ‘roux’ paste using a wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes or until you achieve a fragrant pale brown biscuit mix. Keep stirring as the mix forms itself into a thick pale brown ball. Keep stirring. Remove from the heat and prepare to add the hot milk very gradually to make your thick sauce.
- Add the hot milk to the roux a bit at a time (I use a ladle) whisking continually with a balloon whisk or wooden spoon. It will thicken up fast. Add the mustard and lemon juice.
- Return the pan to the heat once all the milk is in. Allow the mix to boil for a minute or 2 to then reduce the heat to low and allow the thickening sauce to simmer for 5 minutes or a bit or more. Keep beating or whisking to keep it smooth and avoid burning. Add the grated cheese and beat so it melts in. Add all the snippets of ham and the seasoning. Taste the sauce and adjust, adding more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Return to a low heat, beating. Once the sauce is really thick pour or spoon it into a large cold plate. Leave it tool down in a cool place (1-2 hours at least).
- Now to shape, coat, set then fry the croquettes. COAT: Get four large plates. Scatter extra flour over one.. Crack the eggs onto the second and whisk to amalgamate with a fork. Scatter panko (from the pack or your own) over the third.
- Use your hands, one large tablespoon or two dessertspoons to scoop and shape a piece of the cold mix into a croquette that’s about 3 inches long 1 inch thick. Roll it gently in the flour, dip and roll it into the egg and then roll it I panko until fully coated. Place it on the forth plate and repeat with all the mix until you have 16. Rest them in the fridge for at least one hour (or up to 24). Pre-heat the oven to 180C to keep the food warm. Cover a baking tray with kitchen paper.
- Prepare to deep-fry the croquettes following all the usual safety rules. Never leave the pan unattended. Don’t fill more than one third full with oil. Cook the food in small batches so the oil doesn’t overflow.
- Put the oil into a deep wok/deep pan or deep frying. Get the temperature to 170C – using a thermometer to monitor the heat. If you don’t have one, a small cube of bread dropped in the oil will crisp up in 20 seconds. Adjust as you go along so you don’t burn them or end up with soggy croquettes.
- Gently add 3-4 croquettes to the oil at the right temperature using a large slotted or wooden spoon. Cook for 3 minutes, turning, Once you can see they’re crisp, golden done, remove carefully and put them to rest on the kitchen paper on tray in low oven. Repeat with the remaining croquettes.
- Serve on a board or dishes or tapas plates. Sprinkle with grains of sea salt. Serve with chunks of lemon and bowls of aioli. These add a crisp element to a tapas platter – meatballs in tomato sauce, sherry and chorizo, bread, meat platter, patatas bravas etc