When I need inspiration to spice up my lunch-packing repertoire, I like to look at street food from around the world. Street food is portable, typically a good size for lunch boxes and a nice departure from a sandwich. Plus, it’s fun to make and eat!
The Brazilian chicken croquettes called coxinhas fit this category quite well. Pronounced co-sheen-yuhs, the name means “little thighs.” Legend is that the recipe was developed about two centuries ago for a prince who loved chicken but would eat only the drumsticks. When the cook ran short on drumsticks, he came up with a croquette filled with chicken and shaped, more or less, like a drumstick. The prince approved.
This recipe is a bit time-consuming, especially when it comes to making the filling and shaping the coxinhas, but it’s not difficult, and it offers a great opportunity for kids to help out. The dough needs to rest for at least an hour, so make sure to plan ahead.
One nice thing about coxinhas is that they can be frozen — before or after frying — so you can make a big batch and do the labor-intensive work just once. To freeze cooked coxinhas, put them in a Ziploc bag once they are cool and freeze. Reheat from frozen for nine to 12 minutes at 350 degrees. To store coxinhas before breading and frying, place them on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer them to freezer bags. They keep for up to three months. When ready to use, thaw the desired number in the refrigerator for a few hours before breading and frying to golden brown. If they are still a little frozen on the interior, add a couple of minutes to the cooking time to be sure the centers reach 160 degrees.
Though I usually avoid deep frying, I found that it was the best way to get a uniform, golden crust on the coxinhas. I tried an air fryer but was not happy with the pale color it produced. With some experimentation, I am sure the method could be a decent substitute, but frying in a deep pan was easy, and the results were delicious.
The coxinhas are, of course, best hot, but I found that they were still delightful at room temperature, making them perfect for a packed lunch. Experiment with spices to make new varieties. If you have leftover filling, it makes an excellent chicken salad. My creative sister even made quesadillas with it. I’d like to think the prince would approve.
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 carrot, chopped (no need to peel)
- 2 cups chopped onion, divided (1 cup finely chopped)
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 chicken broth cups
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cloves garlic
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- Juice of 3 limes
- 2 paprika teaspoons
- 2 black pepper teaspoons
- 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
- 2 panko cups
- 2 cups fine bread crumbs
- 3 eggs, beaten
- Oil for frying (I used 1 quart of canola oil)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- Place the chicken in a large saucepan. Add the carrot, 1 cup of coarsely chopped onion and the bay leaves; cover with the chicken broth. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the broth. Cool slightly, then finely chop or shred.
- Strain the broth. Measure out 4 cups (the vegetables may have increased the amount of broth; alternately, you may need to add water). Add it back to the pan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in 4 cups of flour, stirring vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes, until a stiff dough forms. Remove from heat and transfer the dough to a floured surface. Knead until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan and sauté the remaining onion with the garlic until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Mix the chicken with the cream cheese, garlic and onion, lime juice, paprika, black pepper, and salt to taste.
- To form the coxinhas, break off a piece of cooled dough about the size of a golf ball. Flatten it with your palm on a floured surface. Add about a tablespoon of filling to the center, then close it up, covering the filling completely and forming a teardrop shape. (My family thought they looked like bulbs of garlic.) Place on a baking sheet and continue with remaining dough.
- Mix the panko and fine bread crumbs together. Dip each coxinha into the beaten egg, then into the crumb mixture.
- Heat oil in a deep pan (we used a large wok) to 360ºF. Cook the coxinhas in batches until they are golden brown and 160ºF in the center, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Stir together ingredients for dipping sauce and serve.