- 100g cured Spanish ham, preferably in 1 chunk and preferably jamón ibérico
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 60g unsalted butter
- 1 small leek, dark-green part removed and light-green and white part finely diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (Optional – TFD addition)
- 60g plain flour
- 500ml whole milk, hot
- Nutmeg, to grate
- 2 free-range eggs, beaten
- 150g panko breadcrumbs
- 15g manchego cheese, finely grated
- 10g zamarano cheese, finely grated (TFD addition to recipe – if unavailable, use manchego)
- 1 liter olive oil
- Dice your ham as finely as possible.
- Put the pieces of ham in a saucepan with the milk and heat over low heat for about 15 minutes. In this way one will get juicier ham and ham flavored milk. Strain out ham and reserve.
- Heat the oil and butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and, when the butter melts, add the leek and and fry gently for a minute, then add half of the ham and cook until the leek has softened, and the ham fat has begun to melt.
- Turn the heat down, gradually stir in the flour and the optional thyme and cook gently, stirring regularly, until it loses its raw flavor – this should take about 8–10 minutes.
- Gradually stir in the hot milk, beating it in well, until you have a smooth paste. Cook for another 15 minutes until it has the consistency of smooth mashed potato, then fold through the rest of the ham and season to taste with a grating of nutmeg and some black pepper (you won’t need any salt).
- Put the béchamel in a bowl and allow to cool, then cover, pressing the clingfilm on to the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
- Put the beaten eggs into a bowl, and the breadcrumbs and cheese into another. With floured hands, roll spoonfuls of the mixture into cylinders and dip these into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs until well coated.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan to 180C, or until it begins to shimmer. Prepare a plate lined with kitchen roll. Fry the croquetas in batches for a couple of minutes until golden all over, then lift out with a slotted spoon and serve at once.