The earliest known record of a croquette recipe dates back to 1691 in the French court of King Louis XIV. These first croquettes were filled with minced meats, sweetbreads, truffles or cheeses. Years later, in 1817 we find the first references to a bechamel filled croquette.
But before digging into the early days of our little delicacies, let’s start with the origin of what makes them so irresistibly creamy: the bechamel sauce.
The birth of Bechamel
There are several theories about its creation and antecedents, with Italy and France as possible places of birth.
A precursor recipe of the bechamel sauce could have been developed in Tuscany (Italy) during the renaissance era with the name of “Salsa Colla”. In 1533, entourage chefs moved to France following Catherine de Medici, who married Henry II and become Queen of France, so they could introduce it to the French court.
In 1651, François Pierre de La Varenne, author and court chef during King Louis XIV’s reign includes in his book “Le Cuisinier François” the recipe of a white sauce that, although different to the one we know nowadays, is based on a roux and milk cream.
François Pierre de la Varenne is the father of what is called Haute French Cuisine (high French cuisine). He would have named the sauce as a compliment to Louis de Bechamel, a French aristocrat and financier who worked for Luis XIV at that same time. That’s why the invention of this sauce is often incorrectly credited to a man that probably didn’t know how to fry an egg.
Other sources attribute the origin of bechamel sauce to the diplomat and writer Duke Philippe De Mornay (1549-1623), as well as other famous sauces like Chasseur, Lyonnaise, Porto and Mornay. This last one would be a variation of the basic white sauce or bechamel.
The first Croquetas
François Massialot in his book “Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois” (1691) mentions croquets as small, minced meat balls, breadcrumbed and fried. But it is not until 1817 when Antonin Carême, the leading French chef of the early 19th century, introduced in a dinner for the nobles the most similar version to what we know nowadays as a bechamel croquette.
Later in that century, Auguste Escoffier, a preeminent figure in French cuisine and highly influential in today’s cuisine throughout the world, will codify and modernise traditional French cooking recipes. He and his students will develop croquette recipes using multiple ingredients as filling.
Between those early minced meat balls from the French court kitchens and today’s sophisticated croqueta recipes of Michelin starred restaurants, there are countless versions of our beloved croquettes around the world. We’ll explore more in our next post. Keep tuned!
References: Wikipedia - The New Gastronome.