There are many reasons to visit Spain, the wonderful beaches and pristine waters beckon sun worshipers to overstay the limitations of their holidays and the vibrant nightlife can make seeing the sun rise after an entire night on the town a lure that very few can resist. The architectural beauty of small towns and the friendly locals simply make everyday worries seem far away and completely inconsequential.
But there is one thing that any visitor to Spain should make part of their essential Spanish experience – and that is to immerse themselves in Spanish cuisine.
The sheer variety of the foods available to those traveling to the country is enough to bewilder even the most well traveled gourmand.
However the foodie experience in Spain need not involve complex dishes – in fact some of Spain’s most famous culinary delights can be found in the tapas bars across the country.
Anchovies in vinegar or thinly sliced melt in the mouth Iberico ham beg for something even more indulgent – something creamy and warm. It is then that the menu offers up a delight that should not be ignored – Croquetas.
These crunchy delights are the perfect accompaniment to other traditional Tapas offerings. A Spanish version of the French croquette these bite sized morsels are usually provided in helpings of two to four per plate. They are oval in shape with an exterior of fried bread crumbs and an ultra rich, creamy béchamel filling.
It is here, at the center of each Croqueta that things get really interesting. there are a myriad of different fillings that are tailor made to satisfy everyone’s taste – no matter what flavors they prefer.
Most commonly the filling is flavored with jamon (Spanish dry cured ham), chicken or one of the most well known of Spanish specialties – codfish (flaked to perfection).
However, many restaurants have taken the humble yet delicious Croqueta to new heights. With house specialties that can range to fillings flavored with wild mushrooms, cuttlefish prepared in its own ink, artisan cheeses or another Spanish specialty, morcilla (a type of blood sausage)or the well known chorizo sausage there is ample opportunity for culinary exploration.
Usually served on their own (why mess with perfection) they can also be elevated by being placed on a slice of baguette. This style of serving is usually found at ‘pinxto’ bars which by and large follow the Basque school of culinary inspiration.
The Spanish Croqueta draws its inspiration from the French croquette, which in turn has its origins in rural Provence. The sheer deliciousness of this humble food item saw it re-imagined in countries across Europe and the Mediterranean.
Part of the attraction of this delightful tapas type snack was that it allowed for the use of scraps that might have otherwise been discarded. Another was the sheer versatility of the recipe. Although the basic cooking style may vary from country to country the sheer diversity of the fillings is staggering.
In Hungary they are known as krokett and are made with eggs and potatoes with the slightly odd addition of nutmeg. Tourists visiting Belgium will come across kroketten with fillings of shrimp or various types of cheese. Visit the Netherlands and one of the countries favorite snacks – krokets are available filled with beef, ragu in peanut sauce or veal. In Italy you might be offered crocchettes with mashed potatoes or an eggplant filling.
But it is the tapas experience in Spain where the local Croquetas come into their own. Pair the experience with some wonderful Spanish wine and you have the makings of the culinary treat of a lifetime.