Croquetas are a breaded and fried snack food with various fillings that are extremely popular in Miami
Carlos Frias, the food editor at the Miami Herald, is my buddy and guide to all things delicious in his Florida home.
Two years ago, on my annual 15-year pilgrimage to Miami Beach, I interviewed Carlos in his newsroom for an episode of my podcast series “Sittin’ in the Kitchen“. He told me about a mouthwatering cornucopia of Cuban food in several local locations: El Palacio de los Jugos. I return to the newish one in South Beach every year to load up my plate with crispy-skinned roast pork, steamed yucca and fried plantain.
Armed with this valuable info and wanting to know more, this year I contacted him again before my pilgrimage to fun in the sun. I’d already read about his devotion to the finger food that’s hot and trending in the sunshine state, namely croquetas. Carlos raves about them in the lively video celebrating Miami and his favoured snack: “It’s the croqueta capital of the world.”
Wow, that’s some praise and I took his word for it.
Alec Fernandez is the founder and owner of Dos Croquetas specializing in a diverse array of superb croquetas, both sweet and savoury
Let’s start with the pronunciation of the word — in my phonetics: kroh-kehta. Then the definition and origin. A croqueta may be formed in tubes, ovals and balls. It’s a small snack consisting of a thick binder combined with a filling which is usually breaded and deep-fried. Called croquettes in France, I knew them growing up in Britain as rissoles served at our school lunch.
The binder is typically a thick bechamel sauce or mashed potatoes. The chopped filling may be ham, chicken, chorizo, fish, cheese with various vegetables and spices. Sweet croquetas may be filled with fruit and a pastry cream binder.
My research yields croquetas are popular in Spain, served usually as tapas, but their original source is France. Carlos, whose heritage is Cuban, represents his Latin community with a love of croquetas.
He says: “Halfway between Independence Day and Christmas is the most-Miami holiday worth celebrating: Croqueta Day.” He continues, “That salute was in honor of Sergio’s Cuban restaurant serving its 20 millionth croqueta.” They are a party food at Cuban family gatherings and there’s even a Miami bakery — Breadman in Hileah — making croqueta cakes. Andy Herrera, the inventor, calls it “a Cuban tiramisu, but instead of lady fingers, this three-layer round cake with whipped icing is armored with 100 crispy, golden brown croquetas.”
Frankarlo Hernandez makes an award-winning croqueta filled with bacon and chorizo cooked to order
A badge of honour among foodies: This year’s glitzy South Beach Wine & Food Festival, hosted by several high-profile celebrity chefs, even featured a Croqueta-Making Master Class.
The croqueta is versatile and lends itself to many incarnations. The kinds of croquetas you find in Miami range from traditional ham to a creative ethnic twist: a Korean croqueta with ginger soy dipping sauce (see below). You can map out a tour of Miami that will take you through a wide variety of neighbourhoods and lead you to a host of different croquetas. And that’s just what we did.
Armed with a rented car, a GPS and my hand-written itinerary, Ross and I drove from our South Beach hotel into the city of Miami. We had a list of about 10 recommended cafés and restaurants known for their croquetas. I had already tasted the version at Puerto Sagua – our favourite Cuban eatery on Collins Ave. in South Beach – and El Palacio de los Jugos, also in South Beach. Both were ho-hum.
We saved the best for last on our croqueta trek. Young founder and owner of Dos Croquetas Alec Fernandez started his cozy little shop because he heard people ordering “dos croquetas” (two croquetas) with their Cuban coffee at local take-out windows. His commissary churns out a variety of croquetas from the traditional ham to mac and cheese to Mexican corn to rice pudding. They fry them in peanut oil. I tried the last one and a couple of others – they were delicious. His explanation for why he got into croqueta business is sweet and simple: “Two things: They’re a quick snack and they’re a Miami thing.”
Btw, Alec noted that John Catucci, the charming Canadian host of two Food Network shows – “You Gotta Eat Here” and “Big Food Bucket List” – had been by. Dos Croquetas will be featured on the latter show in May, 2020.
This was the praise for croquetas on the wall of Palomilla Grill which serves a delicious ropa vieja (old rags) version
Doce Provisions, a little sit-down eatery, won an award for their chorizo croqueta at Croqueta Palooza. Small and cooked to order, they pack a punch of flavour.
I wanted to go back to Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop for a full meal. Packed with a mixed crowd from construction workers from well-dressed millennials, this lively spot is famous for its Cuban sandwich and cafe con leche. Their croquetas come in ham, fish and guava. I took out a selection of them — it was a long wait at the window — and all were good and freshly made.
Sakaya Kitchen yielded a Korean take on the croqueta theme. Minced pork is the main filling. Crisp, small and rectangular, they come with a spicy dipping sauce.
Carlos recommended the family-owned restaurant Islas Canarias but we didn’t make it – we were too full of croquetas. We missed a couple of others too. Maybe you can check out Versailles Bakery, Chug’s and Sergio’s and report back before my annual pilgrimage next year.