Sunday, March 08, 2015

Ham Croquettes...or WWBKD? as in "What Would Bill Knapps Do?"

In my efforts to try to preserve as many Michigan restaurant recipes as I can, I came across ham croquettes.   Evidently, they were a very popular dish served at a famous Michigan based restaurant chain called Bill Knapp's.   I had never had the chance to Bill Knapp's in my lifetime....I am not sure if we just didn't have them on the east side of Detroit, or that my mother deemed them "too expensive" so we never went.   I had only started to hear about them in college.   My Grand Rapids friend Rob said it was his 92 year old Grandpa's favorite place to eat out, largely because on your birthday, you got that percent off your tab.    He was looking forward to surpassing his 100th birthday, so they would pay him to eat there.   Also, on your birthday, you got your own "Celebration" cake.  Not sure if Rob's Grandpa was able to collect on his 100th, but I was regaled by stories of all the old geezers that ate there.  Bill Knapp's served family style food that was as comforting as a warm blanket.

In the late 90s. the BK chain was sold to an entrepreneur who tried to update the menu to attract a younger clientele, and it flopped miserably. They tried to change back, but too late for the blue haired crowd.  The chain folded in 2002.  Many of their recipes lived on in the internet, but not the ham croquettes.  People keep asking for the recipe, but no one seems to have it.    I asked my friend Ellen who worked at BK when she was a teenager.   She remembered them, and said she thought they were "gross".  Others remembered that they were served with chicken gravy.  I joined a facebook group for ex BK employees and asked if anyone knew how they were made.  I got lots of interesting comments about them..."I believe it was breaded SPAM"...."they were nasty"...."they were probably the worst item on the menu. The folks who ate them were also the folks who ate with us four - five nights a week and had a fit when coffee went up to 30 cents"...."they were easy to gum down",.. etc.  Now I was really fascinated, because there are so many people looking for the recipe, but the staff thought otherwise. I had to figure it out.

Mind you, I am a big fan of anything breaded and deep fried, and I have a lot of ham in my freezer.  So I decided with Easter coming up, it was time to experiment.    On the internet, I found lots of recipes.  I didn't know it, but ham croquettes aka Croquetas de Jamón are a popular tapas dish.  They are also known as Cuba's national appetizer.   I found one really lame recipe that claimed to be Bill Knapp's but it used Crisco and sounded pretty bland.   I found another that was from a 1960s Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that used curry powder, which sounded interesting.   I asked Ellen if the BK version had curry powder and she said "Of course not!"  But I liked the idea of curry powder in it.  I asked Ellen if they were served with chicken gravy and she confirmed it.   "What sides were served?   Noodles? " I asked.   "No, mashed potatoes and maybe some canned corn".  So, I was off on my own again.   I looked over all the recipes and decided I'd try one like Bill Knapp's, and another one with some added curry powder.   They both came out delicious!  I had my doubts about the non curry one, but it let the onion gently flavor the ham.  I understand the "easy to gum down" comment, too.  The croquettes are made with minced ham, which is easy to chew.    I decided to go with noodles because I love chicken gravy with noodles and I was too tired from deep frying to make any mashed potatoes.

Bill Knapp's Style Ham Croquettes

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 T prepared mustard
1 lb cooked ham coarsely diced
1/4  onion coarsely diced
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water
Oil for deep-fat frying

In a saucepan, melt butter; stir in curry powder and flour. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat.  In a food processor, process ham and onion until meat is chopped very fine.   Add to saucepan and cool thoroughly.  With wet hands, shape mixture into 10 balls. Roll balls in bread crumbs; shape each into a cone. Whisk together egg and water. Dip cones into egg mixture; roll again in crumbs.  Heat about an inch of oil in a dutch oven to 375°. Fry croquettes, a few at a time, for 2 to 2-1/2 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels; keep warm.  Serve with chicken gravy.