Crispy Japanese-Style Tuna Croquettes

Tsuna Korokké

Although deep-frying came to Japanese cuisine relatively late in its history (the Portuguese are credited with giving the idea of batter-fried fish—tempura— to the Japanese in the seventeenth century), it is still a very popular cooking method. In addition to lacy batter-fried foods, the Japanese also favor a crisp and crunchy breading made from coarse, pointy shards of bread. Such breaded fried foods remain crisp even at room temperature, and croquettes like these are often packed into lunch boxes. At home, these korokké might be served in the evening with a bowl of hot miso soup, steaming rice, and pickled vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 1 can ( ounces) tuna fish
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Binder

  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk, scalded
  • pinch salt
  • pinch sansho (fragrant Japanese pepper)
  • ¼ cup fresh or frozen tiny peas, defrosted if frozen
  • ½ sheet yaki nori (paper-thin toasted seaweed), optional
  • 1-2 tablespoons flour, for dusting
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
  • ½–⅔ cup panko (Japanese coarse bread crumbs)
  • oil for deep-frying
  • lemon wedges

Method

  1. Drain the tuna of its packing water or oil. Mix the tuna with the lemon juice, flaking the tuna as you do this.
  2. Make the binder in a small saucepan: Melt the butter, then sprinkle the flour over it. Cook this roux for 2 minutes over low heat. Add the hot milk and whisk to make a smooth white sauce. Cook for 1 minute to thicken the sauce. Season with the salt and fragrant pepper. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
  3. Stir the flaked tuna into the white sauce.
  4. Blanch fresh peas in boiling salted water to cover for 2 minutes, or until barely tender, then drain. If you are using frozen peas, merely defrost and drain them. Add the peas to the white sauce and tuna mixture. Cover, and chill this mixture for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
  5. Form the chilled tuna mixture into eight or nine ovals (eight if you want to serve two people four croquettes each, nine if you want to serve three people three croquettes each).
  6. If you want to add extra nutrition and color contrast, cut the paper-thin seaweed into eight or nine strips and wrap a band of seaweed around the center of each croquette. Dust the croquettes with the flour, dip them into the egg wash, and then roll them in the bread crumbs.
  7. Fill a wok or other deep-fryer with 1½-2 inches of oil. Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. Test with a few bread crumbs, preferably ones to which a bit of the egg wash is clinging: The crumbs should sink ever so slightly, rise, and sizzle on the surface, coloring slowly. Deep-fry the croquettes, two or three at a time, for 2½-3 minutes, until golden and heated through. Drain the croquettes on paper towels, and serve hot or at room temperature, with lemon wedges on the side.

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