Friday, 12 January 2018

Dreaming of Serrano Ham and Cheese Croquettes and Zombies

I am never quite sure when the cut off date for greeting people with 'Happy New Year' actually is. Do you get the whole of January to shoehorn it in? Or should that salutation be all done and dusted in the first week? It is arguable that you should continue saying it throughout the year. Especially when meeting people that you haven't seen in a lot time. It is important to let people know that you care. Just make sure that they know, that you know, what year it is. Because if you start banging on with - 'And I hope that your 2007 is a good one.' Well, people are going to really think that you've lost the plot.


So, anyway. Here we are in 2018 and as always, everyone has gone galloping off with all those good intentions. To be fitter, happier, more productive and I am not immune to that pervading sense of guilt that I really should be doing something better. Like working harder at this blog for instance. This poxy food blog! That I love and care about. That I pick up and stroke and then put down, and forget about for a month or so. Before clicking on again once more. To have it stare back at me, shaking, unloved and whimpering - 'What did I do wrong?'

The hard thing though is keeping at things when you are writing for other people. This is my third treatment along the theme of New Year, New Me. Jesus, what more can I say on the subject! But plough on I will. For Food Urchin has brought me a load of opportunities over the years. Many that you have not heard about. Because I am a lazy sausage. But I weally, weally, weally want to make that a thing of the past and use FU as the platform it is supposed to be. Which is a fun place to come and read about food and drink through my eyes, maybe learn a thing or two (maybe) and simply escape from the increasingly strained vibe that is out there.

One thing that I have been working on, that has sort of evolved by accident, is FU Dreams. Just recently I have been posting little ditties on Twitter, normally in the morning, giving a brief breakdown of last night's dream. Now, the cynic in you will read them and think - 'OK Dan, aren't we just letting our imaginations run riot here, with these supposed scenarios, these nightly interludes. Isn't this all just a bit... needy?' Well no, not really. Because in all seriousness, these are the sort of dreams that I do indeed have. Honest.

And right now, a lot of you are thinking (if you've read them) - 'Christ Dan, you need help! Or need to stop eating cheese before bed at the very least.'

I do use a certain degree of artistic license, certainly. But the spark usually comes from an episode or interaction with something food related the day before. Something simply happens, that kicks off the dream. And thankfully, they always seem to segue into something entertaining. At least I hope they do. So do keep your eyes peeled, as there will be more. And besides its CONTEEEEEENT.

A fine example of this 'connection' came with I took charge of a huge lump of Gran Reserva Serrano, or a whole leg of jamon, just before Christmas, delivered by unearthed. With eyes wide open, I unpacked it and set up the stand and placed the award winning beauty atop, making sure to screw the thing in tight. I then stood pack in quiet contemplation, to ponder upon it's magnificence for a while. Then the horror struck me. I was going to have to slice the beast up and from experience, I knew that it was quite an art to get those perfect thin slithers. You need a steady hand and a decent ham slicer really. I had neither. So I went to bed, rather worried and was visited by this vision:

I really did dream this. It was not a patch on The Walking Dead. It was real and I got more and more panicked as the dream went on. All because of an inner release of self-doubt and lack of confidence, a crisis within the ego, a breakdown of the id, a psychological smashing of the...odd.

Thanks for that unearthed. Thanks a lot.

As for the serrano itself, well, it was delicious, with an almost cheesy flavour, like a nutty Comte. So in the end, I put aside all conjecture, apprehension and personal hang ups about slicing it perfectly and simply went at it.

Collectively, we only made a small dent on it really, taking nibbles off here and there and the occasional complimentary plate of shaving and chunks. I have now fully deconstructed the leg into portions and put it all in the freezer; for pies, soups and stews for the rest of winter.

I did make some lovely croquettes with some of the leftovers the other day though. An easy recipe that I've shared at the end of this post.

I haven't posted the ensuing dream yet though. Where I served some of the very same croquettes to Salvador Dali, at a pop-up, on a riverboat, on the Thames. He wasn't very happy with them. He became very angry with me and with those fierce eyes of his and an an unwavering, pointy finger, he suddenly banished me. Straight into The Persistence of Memory. It took me ages to wake up from that one and I don't think I am ready to fully talk about it yet.

One day I will, because it's funny.

Happy New Year and sweet dreams.

Serrano Ham and Cheese Croquettes - makes 20


Knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

50g plain flour

250mls whole milk

1 bay leaf

150g Serrano ham, blitzed into small ham-like breadcrumbs (start off by chopping the Serrano into small cubes)

75g Cheddar, grated

75g Parmesan, grated

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Smoked paprika

Black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

50g plain flour

150g stale sourdough breadcrumbs

Oil for frying


Take a saucepan and place it on a medium heat and then add the butter. Once melted, add the onions and stir, then cover and drop the heat and leave to cook for 10 minutes or until the onions have become very soft and translucent. It pays to give it another stir every now and then.

Whilst the onion is cooking, pour your milk into another saucepan, add the bay leaf and slowly bring to a simmer, so that the bay leaf can infuse.

Once the onions are ready, add the flour and crank the heat up a touch and mix to form a roux. Make sure you cook the flour out and when it is nice and biscuity in colour, begin to add the warmed milk (oh and take that bay leaf out).

Pour and continually mix until all the milk is gone and everything starts to thicken. Then add the Serrano, cheese, mustard, paprika and black pepper and mix so that the cheese melts.

Take off the heat and leave to cool and then pour the sauce into a bowl and pop into the fridge for a couple of hours.

When ready, take the bowl out and take a tray and spoon out a heaped teaspoon. Form each croquette (actually, should I be saying croquetas here?) by rolling with both hands to create an oval shape. Move quickly. A splash of water on your hands will also stop sticking.

Once done, place back into the fridge for another 30 minutes before going through the process of flouring, egging and bread crumbing. One hand for dry, one hand for wet.

After breading, place them back into the fridge whilst you get your oil on the go. I use a saucepan, filled two thirds full on the hob but if you have a deep-fat fryer, even better.

Heat the oil up to 180°C and take your croquetas (!) out and fry in batches of 4 or 6, depending on the size of your saucepan. Fry for just a minute or so, or until they become crisp and golden and drain on kitchen towel.

Enjoy with a simple tomato sauce, made with a touch of chilli and tons of garlic.

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