kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake
Description follows.

[Image: Three small, round, crispy deep-fried croquettes sitting in red paper cups on a white plate. The exterior of the croquettes is honeycombed with small holes.]

As promised earlier this week, here's more on taro croquettes! These are small, round croquettes formed primarily of mashed taro, filled with minced pork and prawns. The exterior is wispy and crispy; this gives way to the smooth mashed taro and then the filling in the centre.

The most common Chinese name I've seen these under on Chinese menus is 蜂巢炸芋角 (fēng cháo zhà yù jiǎo). I won't attempt to transliterate the Cantonese pronunciation of the whole thing, but the essential part is 芋角, which in Cantonese is wu gok. 芋 is taro, and 角 means horn-shaped; the latter is a common descriptor for deep-fried dumplings and croquettes, though do note that it also appears on menus in another significant context, as 豆角 (dòu jiǎo), or green beans.

The rest of the name varies between restaurants. The 蜂巢 (fēng cháo) in 蜂巢炸芋角 means "honeycomb", and is a reference to the texture of the crispy exterior of the croquette. 炸 (zhà) simply means "deep-fried". I've also seen a variation of this name, 蜂巢荔芋角, in which 炸 is replaced by 荔 (lì). I have no idea what this is about, since as far as I know 荔 means "lychee", but I've seen it on at least three different menus. Top Of The Town in London Chinatown uses an even more perplexing name: 荔甫炸芋角 (lì fǔ zhà yù jiǎo).

In English, they're usually just called "taro croquettes", or, confusingly, "yam croquettes" — they're definitely made from taro rather than yam (see my post on 芋 for more on this). Some restaurants expand on this, for example "crispy taro croquettes with pork" or "deep-fried yam croquettes", but since they're always deep-fried and they always contain pork (unless marked as vegetarian: 齋芋角/zhāi yù jiǎo), this doesn't indicate a difference from those described simply as "taro croquettes".

There seem to be two schools of thought for making these at home. One, exemplified by a recipe posted on the about.com forums, mixes everything together — taro, filling, and all — before deep-frying. The other, which is more like the versions I've seen in restaurants, mixes the filling and the taro dough separately, and then stuffs the one inside the other; see for example taro dumplings from Edibly Asian. I decided to try the all-in-one method, which unfortunately didn't work out too well — details below. Next time I'll try it the other way.

It started well. I bought my taro frozen from Wing Yip — conveniently, it was already peeled, and in chunks of roughly 300g (the amount I needed for the recipe). I defrosted a chunk, sliced it around 1/2 cm thick, and steamed it for 20 minutes. It was easy to mash then.

The rest of the carbohydrate component comes from a dough made by mixing boiling water into wheat starch. I wasn't really sure what texture I was aiming for here, and I also found it a bit tricky to combine this dough with the mashed taro.

After mixing in the fillings, the dough really was very sticky — I found that unless I kept my hands wet while shaping the croquettes, it would stick to them and make a mess. I'd read different opinions on whether to just fry them straight away or not, so I tried a few experiments.

A few I tried coating with cornflour before frying; these sucked up loads of cornflour and after frying the texture was completely wrong on the outside. I also tried frying some with no coating, immediately after shaping them. The texture was much better and I even got something approaching the characteristic laciness on the outside. They had a tendency to stick to my fryer basket though, and bits still came off to the point where I stopped halfway through to strain the bits out of the oil.

Finally, I tried chilling some in the fridge for an hour before frying — this was a bit of a disaster, as putting them in cold cooled the oil down to the point where they simply disintegrated. (The about.com thread linked above warns that this will happen if your oil's not hot enough.)

So I think I must conclude that these aren't particularly easy to make! (Though I'm not that experienced with deep-frying — maybe others will find it easier.) All the more reason to order them in restaurants...

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If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
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