With only a handful of ingredients, my mother-in-law’s traditional Spanish ham croquettes recipe is the best I’ve ever tried. In only 30 minutes you can whip up a batch of croquette dough too. It’s easier than you might think!
I still remember my confusion the first time someone explained that Spanish ham croquettes don’t have cheese in them. I couldn’t imagine how they could be so creamy and delicious without it!
But the magic is real, and this easy croquetas de jamón Serrano recipe proves that the true trick to Spanish ham croquettes is time, patience, and a great arm for stirring the bechamel sauce!
Everyone likes croquettes even if they don’t know it quite yet. Wikipedia defines them as small fried food rolls and who in their right mind could find something wrong with that?
There is a croquette for everyone, vegetarians included, and Spanish people love to experiment with different ingredients. I’ve seen everything from wild mushroom croquettes (delicious!) to chocolate croquettes (not so much).
What Makes Perfect Spanish Ham Croquettes?
But true to every Spaniard’s heart is the classic croquetas de jamón Serrano recipe (Serrano ham croquettes). Their creamy filling is bursting with flavor and leaves many wondering whether they’re eating ham flavored mashed potatoes or some delicious melted cheese and ham concoction.
The answer is neither. The truth is much more simple, although a little less glamorous perhaps.
Being a traditional poor man’s food, ham croquettes are basically a fantastic bechamel sauce (olive oil, butter, flour, and milk) enriched with leftover scraps of Serrano ham and deep-fried to crispy perfection.
The result should never be oily, or cold in the center. When done well, they’re impossibly light and you’d never guess that flour was the main ingredient!
Now that you know the secret, there is no excuse not to make these ridiculously easy and extremely tasty tidbits of Spanish goodness. The following is my favorite version of my mother-in-law’s croquetas de jamón Serrano recipe and it will not disappoint!
Vegetarians, I’ll take care of you too– check out my vegetarian potato croquettes recipe!
Key Ingredients: Serrano ham, butter, olive oil, onion, flour, milk, salt, nutmeg, bread crumbs, egg.
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
- Serrano Ham: In Spain, we make these croquettes using cured jamón — either Serrano (most common) or Iberian. Read about the differences here. You can substitute the ham of your choice — prosciutto works well but any high-quality ham will be delicious.
- Butter: While some recipes use only olive oil, I think that the butter makes the filling much more light and creamy. I’d recommend a mix of butter and extra virgin olive oil as my recipe instructs, but you could do 100% oil or 100% butter if you prefer.
- Oil: Use the best quality you can — preferably extra virgin olive oil. In Spain, we also fry our croquettes in olive oil, but any neutral frying oil will do if you must substitute.
- Flour: I have never experimented using different flours (or gluten-free ones) but I have heard of people being successful with a good GF blend. If you try it, leave us a comment below!
- Onion: Traditional croquetas always incorporate onion. You could substitute shallots or leeks.
- Milk: Use whole milk, preferably at room temperature. This is not the recipe to try to cut calories!
- Bread Crumbs: Use the bread crumbs of your choice. I personally love making croquettes with panko bread crumbs — they get super crispy!
Spanish Ham Croquettes: Step by Step
The dough for ham croquettes is really easy to make. You just need about 30 minutes and a strong arm. Let’s go!
Steps 1-2: Start by heating the butter and oil in a heavy pan. When fully melted and hot, add the onions and sauté for about five minutes — until just starting to color.
Steps 3-6: Next, add the nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Mix and then add the diced Serrano ham and cook for no more than a minute. Add the flour and sauté, mixing constantly to cook the flour as much as possible without burning it. Once it is browned a bit (photo 6) it’s time to add the milk.
Steps 7-8: Now begin to add the milk, little by little, over the next 15-20 minutes. Every time the mixture gets dry, add some more milk. Stir constantly, and once the dough is creamy and thick (photo 8) it’s ready to cool.
Steps 9-10: Pour the croquette dough into a large bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Cover it with plastic wrap (directly on the dough) and store it in the fridge for at least four hours (but ideally overnight). When it’s cool, take it out of the fridge and make little croquette logs using a metal spoon for help.
Breading & Frying
When the dough is completely chilled and you’ve formed your croquette logs, it’s time to bread and fry them!
Steps 1-4: First, prepare flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs in separate bowls. This is a simple three step breading process: cover in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Place on top of wax paper if you wish so they don’t stick.
Steps 5-6: Finally, it’s time to fry your croquettes! Heat olive oil in a heavy frying pan and once hot (but not smoking) add the croquettes. Turn them mid way to ensure they brown evenly on all sides. They should take about five minutes to fry. Remove and resist the urge to bite in right away (you don’t want to burn yourself!). After about five minutes give them a try!
Recipe Tips & FAQs
- If you don’t have time to chill the dough, spread it in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Then put it in the freezer for about half an hour. This is the quickest way to cool croquette dough.
Jamón Serrano is a type of dry cured Spanish ham. It’s one of the most popular types of ham in Spain, in part because it is less expensive than most Iberian ham (jamón Ibérico).
Croquettes in Spain are fried bechamel sauce fritters. They are a way to stretch leftovers by mixing them with creamy bechamel sauce (flour, butter/oil, and milk). Ham croquettes are the most popular variety in Spain, but others include chicken croquettes, mushroom croquettes, and spinach and pine nut croquettes.
Ham croquettes can be made well in advance. After making the croquette logs and breading them, you can keep them in the refrigerator for 24 hours (uncooked) and in the freezer (in an airtight container) for up to three months.
Once cooked, leftover croquettes will last in the fridge for up to three days. You can reheat them in a hot oven (350°F/170°C) for about 10-15 minutes.
Wondering what to serve with croquettes? Options are endless! Let me tell you about how we eat croquettes in Spain.
- On their own! You’ll often see croquettes as an option on a menú del día for your main plate. Depending on the size you usually get 3-6 croquettes (often with french fries) as your main meal. They’re popular on kids menus too!
- As a starter. Croquettes are often served as an appetizer when dining out with a group of friends. They’re especially common in Spanish rice restaurants (arrocerías) where you’ll get a croquette or two per person before the paella comes.
- As a tapa. Croquettes are a common tapa and one I always order when tapas hopping. When eating tapas for my meal I order 2-5 (depending on their size). Read more about what tapas are here and get a list (with recipes) of the top 30 Spanish tapas here.
More Spanish Croquettes Recipes
If you love these ham croquetas, I know you’ll love these ones too!
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Croquetas de Jamón Serrano Recipe – Traditional Spanish Ham Croquettes
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter (60 g)
- ¼ cup olive oil (60 ml)
- 1 scant cup flour (just under one cup — 120 g)
- 1 medium onion very finely diced
- ¼ gallon whole milk at room temperature (1 liter)
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- ½ pound jamón serrano diced into small pieces (225 g)
- flour for breading
- 2 beaten eggs
- bread crumbs for breading (try Panko for non-traditional extra crispy croquettes!)
- Melt the butter and warm the oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat.
- Add the diced onion and sauté for a few minutes, until it just starts to color.
- Add a pinch of salt and the nutmeg. Don't add too much salt as the Serrano ham is already salty.
- Add the diced ham and sauté for 30 seconds more.
- Add the flour and stir continuously, until the flour turns a light brown color. You must not stop stirring or the flour will burn!
- When the flour changes color, add the milk little by little, always stirring until you incorporate the entire amount. It should take about 15-20 minutes to add it all.
- Turn off the heat and let the dough cool to room temperature.
- Butter the sides of a large bowl and place the croquette dough inside, covered directly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
- To make the ham croquettes, shape them into little logs (or use a pastry sleeve if you have one.)
- Next, while heating a pan full of olive oil on the stove, pass the croquettes through the three step breading process. First, cover them in flour, then in egg, and, finally, in the breadcrumbs.
- Fry the ham croquettes in the hot oil for about five minutes (making sure to turn halfway so they brown evenly) and then let them cool for a few minutes before enjoying!
- The trick to creamy croquettes is to add the milk very slowly and to stir constantly.
- You can substitute prosciutto or Iberian ham for the jamón Serrano — or any other high quality cured ham.
- You can easily freeze the breaded prepared croquette logs. They’ll last for three months in the freezer.
- If you have leftovers, they’ll last up to three days in the fridge. To reheat, place in a hot oven (350°F/170°C) for about 10 minutes.
Update Notice: This post was originally published on October 12, 2011 and was republished with new text and photos on March 15, 2021.
Easy, quick, cheap, and impressive… did you try these delicious Spanish croquettes yet? What are you waiting for!?
What is your favorite croquette filling?
Photography by Giulia Verdinelli