Will it be Croqueta? Miami pushes the boundaries of a favorite snack.

MIAMI — Breakfasts at a bakery here start with shots of robust coffee and a beloved cigar-shaped appetizer. These golden appetizers run...


MIAMI — Breakfasts at a bakery here start with shots of robust coffee and a beloved cigar-shaped appetizer. These golden appetizers run out faster than cakes at parties. And every week, restaurants produce thousands of them.

Croquetas are as ubiquitous as the Cuban sandwich. They are eaten anytime, as a snack, party staple, or breakfast. Made with béchamel and chopped ham, chicken or fish, the cylindrical bites are rolled in breadcrumbs and then fried.

“Something as little as croquetas is such a cultural movement,” said Jonathan Andrade, who is responsible for making croquetas for Canary Islands and Croqueta County, often considered by fans to be the “gold standard” of classic food varieties.

While Spanish and Cuban immigrants brought croqueta to Miami, today’s chefs are taking the basic framework of croqueta and adapting it to reflect the county’s growing cultural diversity. So many bakeries and restaurants now have remarkable croqueta – with innovative flavors like ham, bacon and Gouda cheeseWhere short rib — that it is even difficult to list them all.

Croquetas are also a symbol of local heritage. They are put Tee-shirtscelebrated at an annual festival and popularized the social networks. Croquetas are one of the hallmarks of Cuban cuisine, a mark of celebration and a cherished take-out item among the region’s rush. Croquetas are so respected in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the counties have even declared a Croquette day in 2020.

Islas Canarias, named after the Canary Islands where Mr. Andrade’s great-grandparents were from, was opened by his grandparents in 1977. Over the decades, the restaurant has perfected a recipe from the great -grandmother of Mr. Andrade.

But when her sister, Eileen Andrade, traveled to South Korea in 2013 and discovered her cuisine, it opened up a world of possibilities. In his other restaurants, Finka table and faucet, 1931 by Amelia and Barbakoa by Finkathe siblings experiment with flavors like pork kimchi mojo, shrimp jambalaya, buffalo cauliflower and a Sandwich Elena Ruz.

“It kind of paved the way for thinking outside the box and being creative,” Andrade said.

Croquetas have a long history of processing, so their origins can be somewhat difficult to trace, said María José Sevilla, the author of “Delicioso: a history of gastronomy in Spain.” Something similar was created in the 17th century in France, shaped like a small ball and filled with common ingredients. Then in the 19th century, bechamel was added and the dish began to be known as croquettes. They took on a form similar to what we know today, and their recipes began to be written down and published.

Croquetas reached Spain in the 19th century and eventually spread to its colonies like Cuba. And with the availability of ingredients over time, it became a treat for the wealthy and made its way to the poor in the 20th century. This is where croqueta began to thrive, she says, due to its use of leftovers.

Over the past 20 years, Spanish chefs have made innovations similar to those that have taken place recently in Miami, Ms Sevilla said, taking their family recipes and revamping them to create light and crispy croquetas that almost melt in the mouth.

“It has become one of the trendiest and most popular foods in Spain,” Ms Sevilla said. “Ultimately, these beautiful foods evolve through the hands of home cooks, chefs. They make the most extraordinary and diverse croquetas.

Miami’s first croqueta bar, Dos Croquetas, opened in 2019. The menu includes classic flavors like ham and chicken, plus assorted sauces, but staff encourage customers to try newer versions like creamy spinach, bacon cheeseburger, Buffalo chicken or the labor-intensive 305, with picadillo and maduros, which takes eight hours to make. The croqueta medianoche (which inspired Mr. Andrade to make his Elena Ruz-sandwich version) incorporates all the elements of the sandwich, like pork and pickles, into every bite.

“Our goal is to take people away from traditional flavors,” said Alec Fernandez, who estimates they sell about 17,000 croquetas a week. “It’s the ultimate respect to transform this old-school item, to modernize and evolve the way people perceive a croqueta.”

Vicky Carballo, Mr. Fernandez’s aunt, who largely develops Dos Croquetas offerings, said she is focusing on surprising depths of flavor because “we are entering a market with croquetas on every corner.

Other places like Vegan Cuban cuisine, which opened in 2020, fills a need for croquetas to meet a vegan lifestyle. Lismeilyn Machado, who learned to make croquetas with her family in Cuba, sells about 4,000 croquetas a week with her husband, Steven Rodriguez, in their small restaurant. Gradually, she replaced each of the most important ingredients in the croquetas with vegan alternatives like cashew cream and a soy-based ham. A garbanzo croqueta is made with chickpeas and cassava flour to cater for people with food allergies.

At first, they rolled each croqueta by hand. But after just six months, demand was so high that they got a machine to help automate the rolling and breading process.

“As long as you put in the Cuban spices, it’s going to taste delicious,” Ms. Machado said.

In Miami, the easiest way to see the breadth of croqueta creativity is with a contest held in December, Croqueta Palooza. In 2014, its first year, “it was a bit like a giant ham croqueta festival,” said Sef Gonzalez, the festival manager who also runs a blog called Beast Burger. But over the years, the offers have become more and more innovative.

“Chefs go there with the mentality of ‘I’m going to put on my best croqueta,’ but others go there and they want to show what they can do with croquetas,” he said.

Croqueta Palooza served as the reason for launching these new flavors, several chefs said. “It’s good to have healthy competition,” said Mr Andrade of Islas Canarias.

No one has pushed the boundaries of croqueta like Miami Bread Man, which serves mini croquetas on a vanilla layer cake. Andy Herrera, the owner of the bakery, was inspired by a piece of cake at a party touched by a croqueta. He thought sweet, savory, and smoky flavors went well together, and when a customer challenged him to make a different cake, “croqueta cake was born.” In addition to selling around 1,200 croquetas a day, the bakery bakes at least three of these cakes a day. The bakery even made wedding croquetas and quinceañera cakes.

“The only thing I can tell you is that after owning a bakery, it’s amazing how many croquetas people eat,” he said. “It’s quite breathtaking.”

Recipe: Ham croquettes



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