My first cooking lesson: Croquetas de atún
[Note: This is not the physical/cultural/navigational challenge alluded to at the end of the last post. That was the 20-mile walk to the pilgrimage site of La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, an experience that was as fascinating as my description of it was tedious. My decision not to finish and publish that draft was an act of mercy, not laziness.]
I thought I’d take advantage of the fact that I eat like a king here by learning to cook from la famosa Doña Marlene herself. This is what we made in what I hope is only the first of many cooking lessons. Not only are they delicious, but their ingredients, flavor, and loving preparation make them a good example of Costa Rican cuisine as I know it.
Croquetas de atún (Tuna croquets)
Canned tuna (or other fish or chicken, lightly cooked) [2 cans]
Black pepper [1 hearty dash]
Spice mix [1 hearty dash]
Onion/pepper/cilantro/garlic, finely diced [1 small handful]
Salsa Lizano (the proud centerpiece of Costa Rican cuisine–the Lonely Planet travel guide compares it to Worcestershire sauce) [1 guzzle]
Cooked white rice [in equal proportion to tuna]
Eggs [1 or 2]
Bread crumbs [1-2 cups]
Makes 15 golf-ball sized croquetas.
Drain tuna. Mix in bowl with black pepper, spice mix, diced vegetables, Salsa Lizano, and rice.
Add first egg. Mix. Add the second egg if the mix is not wet enough to be cohesive.
Form a rough ball. Doña Marlene makes hers the size of golfballs. If it’s too crumbly, add another egg.
Squeeze to get some liquid out. Drizzle with bread crumbs as you continue to mold and compress the ball. Keep adding bread crumbs until you can form it into an attractive spheroid without it falling apart.
Pour just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook slowly, rolling the ball to rest on a new face whenever it becomes well browned. Doña Marlene does this with terrifying precision by holding a fork in each hand and using them like claws. Repeat until the entire surface of the croqueta has been browned (about 15 min.).
Place on absorbent towel, let cool, serve.
Croquetas can be prepared ahead of time. You can keep them raw in the fridge and fry just before serving (if they are to be eaten within a day or so) or you can fry and freeze them for longer periods (quickly reheat in frying pan).