For chef Alex Bujoreanu, inviting his guests at R.AIRE at The Hampton Maid to experience his authentic tapas menu is about bringing them into the familial way of dining that he grew up with in his native Spain. For him, everything tastes better when the meal is about sharing.
“From my point of view, tapas is the most fun way to have dinner,” says the award-winning chef from Lleida, Spain. “The door was always open at my house growing up. Friends and family would share multiple dishes with a variety of flavors meant to inspire conversation.”
Croquetas de jamón, or ham croquettes, is a tapas staple you can find offered throughout Spain, and, lucky for us stateside, on R.AIRE’s menu in Hampton Bays. Lightly breaded and fried to golden, these fritters of chopped jamón Serrano combined in a nutmeg-kissed béchamel are a delicious starter to any European-style meal (and they go fast!).
Bujoreanu updates this classic recipe by using duck fat instead of butter, a “natural fat with friendly cholesterol that pushes the flavors more.” He creates a quick roux, adding ham and cold milk (“has to be cold,” he advises) freshly ground nutmeg, and then refrigerating to thicken and rest for 24 hours.
The main ingredient? Jamón Serrano, which is at the heart of Spanish culture and cuisine. On a recent trek to Barcelona, Bujoreanu visited the famous Mercat de la Boqueria in Ciutat Vella to sample cuts of the slow-aged ham made from a hind pork-leg cut that is rustically displayed in butcher stands throughout the market.
“Jamón Serrano is firmer with a consistent texture,” adds Bujoreanu. “It’s in the aging process, cured in sea salt for 12 months, adding to its flavor.” With no cooking required, these hams are carved into thin slices and added to charcuterie boards or, in this case, chopped finely and added to croquetas de jamón.
Paired with a Spanish wine and a simple garlic aioli (with a kick of smoked paprika) this recipe is perfect for a summer entertaining evening, and may even help put the kids to bed early:
“My mom would make these for dinner to calm us down,” recalls Bujoreanu. “Nutmeg is comforting and can make you a bit sleepy.”
Try it with a chilled dry fino sherry or, if you want to stick to the local theme, Palmer Albariño, a white Spanish grape that does well in our maritime climate.
Chef Alex Bujoreanu’s Jamón Croquetas
- 4 oz jamón Serrano, diced
- 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour1
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- canola oil, for frying
- 1 large egg
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- salt to taste
For the croquetas
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add jamón and cook an additional 2 minutes.
- Add 1 cup of flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes. Gradually add milk and stir consistently until the mixture thickens.
- Puree the mixture with a hand blender for 2 minutes. Chill mixture in the refrigerator until cool enough to handle. Once cool, roll dough into a ball using a tablespoon scoop and place balls onto a cookie sheet.
- Prepare to bread the balls by placing the remaining flour on a plate, whisk the eggs in a shallow bowl and put breadcrumbs on an additional plate. Place each ball in the flour, then in the eggs and finally the breadcrumbs, coating thoroughly. Place back on the cookie sheet and put into the freezer overnight.
- Heat the canola oil over high heat. Fry croquetas until golden brown. Serve with garlic aioli.
- Using a hand blender, puree the egg and garlic. Slowly add in the olive oil to emulsify, add smoked paprika and salt to taste. Set in the refrigerator to chill until ready to use.