Rissoles revisited

01 January 2000
Rissoles revisited

Although fish cakes are popular with the public, the degree of variation is limited by the name. Beef, chicken or mushroom cakes don't have quite the same ring to them. Not so with rissoles and croquettes, where the ingredients can range from meat, to game, poultry or fish. Cheese works well, too, as do mushrooms for vegetarian alternatives.

Wrap any of these ingredients in pastry and deep-fry them and you get rissoles. Work into a béchamel, or combine with a purée of potatoes, dip your primary ingredients in breadcrumbs and, again, deep-fry them they become croquettes.

Whichever dish you choose to work with, both are ideal ways to stretch prime ingredients a lot further. They are also a cost-effective way of using up leftovers.

With old-fashioned terms such as Charlottes, roulades and parfaits, and nursery dishes such as hotpots, casseroles and rice puddings common on menus these days, the much-ignored rissole and croquette could be heading for a comeback.

Enda Flanagan, head chef at the recently opened Avenue restaurant in London, put crab croquettes on his lunchtime menu and they became the most popular starter from day one.

Served with a tomato and fennel fondue and pousse salad, their popularity has meant they will soon be followed by an alternative flavour combination - lobster, cep and tarragon.

Rissoles and croquettes may seem as 1970s as flares and Status Quo. They are, in fact, older than this, and are almost certainly French in origin. They can be sweet or savoury, and in the case of croquettes are essentially a salpicon of the main ingredient.

Sweet versions are traditionally made with rice, chestnuts or semolina - all French classics. Rissoles - really a mini turnover - can incorporate fruits such as apricots, damsons or peaches.

David Cooke, chef-patron of Becher's Brook restaurant, Liverpool, believess croquettes sell precisely because they are perceived as old-fashioned: "The public in this area have become vastly more adventurous and when they see something as dated as croquettes they know something good must be going on."

The savoury sauce used in the binding for croquettes is usually potato purée, or a basic thick béchamel, often enriched with a reduction of the key flavour.

In the case of Flanagan's recipe, he uses a crab stock reduced to a glaze to flavour the potato filling. "The potato gives a lighter base than the more traditional béchamel," he says.

Potato or bechamel are not the only fillings. Cooke has an aubergine and basil croquette on his new spring menu, which is served alongside a lamb dish: "It looks just like a potato version on the plate, but cut into it and there is a garlic-flavoured puree of aubergine and pesto."

Robbie Millar, chef at Shanks restaurant at the Blackwood Golf Centre in Bangor, County Down, was so taken with a lobster rissole he ate in Spain last year he started experimenting on his return home. The Spanish dish was a "brilliant idea badly executed," he says.

Starting off with lobster, served with a lobster and ginger butter or coriander beurre blanc, he then varied the breadcrumbs, working gremolata - the Italian combination of parsley, garlic and lemon zest - into the coating. "This gave the whole thing a wonderful deep-green colour and fantastic, lemony zing," he explains.

What shape you choose to make your croquettes is unimportant. Tradition favours a cork shape, although other variations include sticks, balls or rectangles.

The egg and breadcrumb coating follows, which is then deep-fried to give a crispy exterior, leaving the inside moist - perfect for delicate ingredients, which need only to be gently heated through.

Flavours must be intense and rich. Favourites include salt cod, game, shellfish, aubergine and cheese, although the latter needs to be particularly strong - Parmesan or Gruyère, for example. Truffle and potato works well and is even better, according to Millar, when helped along with a little Madeira.

Not wishing to double up on croquettes on the new spring menu, Millar has worked the truffles into potato gnocchi to be served with rocket, Parmesan and virgin sauce. But the combination may well work with rissoles next year, he says.

Max Fischer, head chef at Fischer's Baslow Hall, Baslow, in Derbyshire, favours exotic flavours - coriander, ginger and curry leaves being particular favourites. "The challenge, I think, is to successfully marry these Oriental flavourings with a dish that is so essentially European and old-fashioned it is transformed," he explains.

Franz Garbez, chef at the Peacock Inn, Redmile, Nottinghamshire, believes croquettes work particularly well as a vegetarian option. "I work a mirepoix of vegetables into a potato purée along with some fresh herbs. This is deep-fried and served with a tomato coulis or, as an alternative, aïoli or an avocado dip."

With rissoles, much the same principles are involved, although pastry is used to wrap the assembly. Puff pastry is top of the list, although Pierre Koffmann of La Tante Claire restaurant in London has a recipe where snails are individually wrapped in filo. It looks divine. Alternatives include brioche or shortcrust pastry.

Sweet rissoles are usually made with a fruit, cream or jam, and should be served piping hot.

For a traditional rissole, try rissoles de Bugey - puff pastry pies filled with roast turkey, ox tripe, onion, thyme, chervil and currants and baked rather than deep-fried.

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