Croquettes―small fried rounds or cylinders of meat, fish, and/or vegetables―are consumed on almost every continent in various forms. There’s Japan's korokke, which consists of mashed potato shaped into oval patties, coated with panko breadcrumbs, and drizzled with tonkatsu sauce once fried; Brazil’s teardrop-shaped coxinha, which contains a tender filling of shredded chicken; and there are Spain's croquetas, made from a thick bèchamel sauce that’s studded with jamón, salt cod, or chicken. Developing a recipe for basic potato croquettes sounded like a piece of cake: Take some mashed potatoes, toss them in breading, and fry until golden brown and crispy. Like many things in life, the simplest things are often the hardest. Developing this recipe proved to be one of these instances.
Historically, potato croquettes (or croquettes de pommes de terre in French) rely on pommes duchesse―seasoned potatoes mounted with butter and egg yolks―much like traditional recipes for pommes dauphine. Newer croquette recipes don’t stray too far from tradition: Make mashed potatoes, add seasoning and a binder, and bread it à la Anglaise (a fancy-sounding term for the standard breading sequence of flour, beaten eggs, and then breadcrumbs). My first tests using russet potatoes left a lot to be desired. I attempted to jazz it up with cream cheese (a move that made them dense), sour cream (which just made them taste tangy), and different types of shredded cheese (all of which ruptured through the breading and burnt), amongst other things―none of which were fruitful. Taking inspiration from Spain's croqueta, I whipped up a small batch of thickened bèchamel sauce, made with a higher proportion of butter and flour, and mixed in my potatoes. Once fried, that test came closest to my ideal: rich potato croquettes with soft, creamy centers.
Switching to Yukon Golds proved to be another improvement; their fuller flavor and tendency towards creaminess pairs well with bèchamel. To make the mash, I simply season boiled and mashed Yukon Golds with melted butter, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper for a little bit of kick (which I’ve made optional in the recipe below), then fold in the bèchamel sauce. I like my potato croquettes as-is, but you can easily add spices, like cumin or paprika, for warmth and complexity, finely chopped chives or parsley for bright freshness, and cubed cheese―gruyère, mozzarella, or cheddar―for that gooey factor (just be sure to tuck a cube or two into the center of each croquette, as opposed to folding shredded cheese into the mixture, to avoid blowouts and burning).
Once the filling’s made, you can start to shape. I call for small rounds for the sake of convenience; it's faster than coaxing each individual spoonful into a neat cylinder, though you can certainly make them into logs if you want. After shaping, a stint in the refrigerator chills and firms up the rounds, helping the croquettes keep their shape during the breading process. I found that using panko breadcrumbs that had been finely ground in a food processor produces golden, crunchy croquettes.
Finished with a sprinkle of salt, these crisp, creamy potato croquettes are a delight when served warm as an appetizer, a side dish, or by themselves as a late afternoon snack paired with wine or a cold beer.
For the Béchamel: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour and whisk to form a paste. Lower heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until raw flour smell is gone but flour has not browned, about 1 minute. While whisking constantly, slowly pour milk in a thin, steady stream until all of it has been added, and continue to cook, stirring often, until béchamel is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Transfer to small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing plastic against surface to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside.
For the Potato Croquettes: In a 3-quart saucepan, combine potatoes, water, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender and offer little resistance when pierced with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, then transfer back to now-empty saucepan.
Set saucepan over low heat, shaking saucepan constantly, until moisture has evaporated from potatoes, about 1 minute.
Pass potatoes through a ricer into a medium bowl, then allow them to cool slightly, about 2 minutes. Using a flexible spatula, stir in butter and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper (if using) to taste. Stir in béchamel until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.
Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon, scoop potato-béchamel mixture onto prepared baking sheet; you should have 28 portions. Using your hands, roll each portion into a ball between your palms (dough should be soft but not sticky) and return to prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 and up to 12 hours.
Position bowls with flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs next to prepared baking sheet. Working with one ball at a time, roll ball completely in flour, transfer to beaten eggs and roll to coat on all sides, then place in breadcrumbs, turning to coat completely. Return to prepared baking sheet and repeat breading process with remaining balls. Transfer baking sheet with breaded croquettes to refrigerator.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 200°F (95°C). Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and line with paper towels. In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat to 340°F (170°C). Working in batches of 7, carefully add breaded croquettes to hot oil using a spider or slotted spoon. Fry, turning pieces as they cook, until golden brown on all sides, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer croquettes to prepared wire rack, season with salt, and transfer to oven to keep warm.
Return oil to 340°F (170°C) and repeat frying with remaining breaded croquettes, continuing to work in batches of 7. Transfer croquettes to a serving bowl and serve immediately.
Potato ricer, rimmed baking sheet, wire rack, colander, spider skimmer or slotted spoon, Dutch oven, instant-read thermometer, 1 tablespoon cookie scoop
Make-Ahead and Storage
Bechamel can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Potato croquettes are best enjoyed immediately.