Now here’s a piece of food news worth celebrating: a croquette that doesn’t assault the mouth like a mucilaginous deep-fried blackened ball. Savory croquettes—in and out of fashion, whether fabricated from a salpicon (diced ingredients bound with a sauce), potatoes, rice (as arancini are formed from cold risotto), small shapes of cheese sauce–bound pasta, forcemeat, meat or fish hash, or a thick chilled béchamel—more often than not taste nothing like their purported identity. (Sweet croquettes—that’s another issue.) That was a mushroom croquette? Fooled me. Say what, that’s a lobster croquette? No way!
Alain Allegretti hears you. And this is what he’s done at his paean to his French hometown of Nice at La Promenade des Anglais in New York City: He’s double-downed on the flavor of the béchamel at the base of his prosciutto and clam croquettes by using olive oil flavored by first crisping finely chopped prosciutto and then sweating diced shallots in the same oil to start the roux; finishing the sauce with a reduction of the rendered liquid from opening clams in white wine, captured clam jus from shelling the clams, and milk; and then folding the prosciutto, shallots, chopped clams, and parsley into the sauce. Result: better than a New England clam shack “and an instant signature dish,” he says (with an assist from a rave by the New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells).
“The idea was to make something for people to share,” he says. “We started in with a few ideas—crab at first, then arancini. They didn’t work. Some leftover seafood eventually led to what I do now. They’ve become so popular I practically have to keep one guy on them all night.”
Now Allegretti is headed to clam paradise down the Jersey Shore, where he’ll soon open Azure by Allegretti in the Revel Atlantic City hotel and casino. An ocean view, with these croquettes: priceless.
Prosciutto & Clam Croquettes
For 70 croquettes (requires advance preparation)
• 30 little neck clams, scrubbed
• 1 cup sea salt
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
Place clams, salt, and 1 gal. cold water in a large pot; cover; refrigerate 2 hours; rinse clams under running water; reserve.
Bring wine to a boil in a pot large enough to fit clams; add clams; cover; cook until clams have opened; using a slotted spoon, place clams in a large bowl, discarding clams not fully opened; reserve cooking liquid.
Remove clams from their shells over small bowl to catch clam juice; reserve clam juice; cut each clam into 6 pieces (A); reserve.
Reduce reserved cooking liquid by 50 percent (liquid will look very salty and briny); strain through fine chinois lined with cheesecloth into clean saucepan; reserve (keep warm).
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 oz. 16-month aged prosciutto di Parma, finely chopped
• 1/4 cup shallots, cut into small dice
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1/2 tsp. piment d’Éspelette
• 2 Tbsps. parsley, chopped
• 8 cups panko, finely ground in a processor
• 5 lg. eggs
Heat oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat; add prosciutto; cook, stirring occasionally, until reddish brown and crispy; strain through fine chinois over clean bowl; reserve prosciutto.
Add oil back to saucepan set over medium heat; sweat shallots until very soft; strain through fine chinois into bowl (B); reserve shallots.
Measure flavored oil out to 1/2 cup, adding extra oil if needed; heat oil in same saucepan set over low heat; whisk in 1/2 cup flour; cook until roux begins to bubble; cook, whisking, until raw flour flavor has cooked off (3 to 4 minutes; do not let roux develop any color); increase heat to medium; add milk, reserved cooking liquid reduction, and reserved clam juice in 3 parts, whisking well after each addition; bring to a boil; reduce heat to low; cook, whisking, until thick enough to hold a light ribbon when whisk is held out of pot and béchamel is folded back onto itself (about 5 minutes) (C); season with piment d’Éspelette; stir in chopped clams, prosciutto, shallots, and parsley; pour into a small bowl; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate overnight.
Scoop out béchamel with a 1/2 oz. ice cream scoop (pack well and clean off spoon between each turn to achieve perfectly round balls); place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper; freeze (balls can be removed from freezer after 20 minutes and reshaped, if not very round) (D).
Place panko in shallow bowl; whisk eggs well in another shallow bowl; place remaining 1 cup flour in third shallow bowl; working one at a time, roll balls in flour, dusting off any excess (too much flour will cause the balls to not bread properly and a hole will form that the béchamel will leak out of when you fry the balls); dip in egg mixture, allowing egg to fully soak up flour (E); let excess egg mixture drip off; roll in bread crumbs until fully coated; place on baking sheet; reserve in freezer.
• 1 cup canola oil, plus more for frying
• 1 Tbsp. piment d’Éspelette
Heat 1 cup oil in a saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer registers 200°F.
Add piment d’Éspelette; remove from heat; cool; strain through fine chinois into airtight container; reserve in refrigerator.
Let croquettes stand at room temperature 5 to 10 minutes (if they are still slightly frozen, heat in 425°F oven 3 to 4 minutes).
Heat extra oil in a deep fryer to 350°F; working in batches, deep-fry croquettes, turning occasionally, until brown (F); remove croquettes with a spider; place on paper towels to drain.
To serve, divide croquettes among serving plates and drizzle with a little chile oil; reserve remaining chile oil in refrigerator for another use.
What to drink: Clos St. Joseph Villars-sur-Var Blanc Provence 2007 or Château Montus Madiran Sud-Ouest 2006