Something I’ve learned from some informal polling I’ve done: If it wasn’t for the Cheddar Bay Biscuits, almost nobody would go to Red Lobster. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to says it’s their favorite thing on the menu, even though it’s a complimentary item, meaning that people have been dropping fat stacks on lobster dinners, never-ending shrimp feasts, and extra large Sauza Gold Lobsteritas plus tip, just to get two measly Cheddar Bay Biscuits per entree. Sure, you can easily make those biscuits at home, but it’s not as luxurious as a fancy night out at a strip mall. And know what’s fancy? Croquettes. They’re creamy, oozy, and irresistible on the inside. They’re golden, crispy, and buttery on the outside. They’ve got a French name, so you know they’re high class. When someone gives you a good sexy time, you can take their ass to Red Lobster afterwards, but when you make Cheddar Bay croquettes you get to stay home for lots more sexy times because your fine ass is the Red Lobster.
Croquettes are traditionally deep fried, but for these I used an air fryer. Why? Because I got a new air fryer and wanted to play with it. There is absolutely nothing healthy about this recipe, and even if air frying is shaving off a few calories, it’s ain’t helping you all that much. That being said, this recipe actually convinced me that the air fryer—though I received it as a gift—is not without purpose. I rarely have the desire to heat a large pot of oil on my stove at any point of the year that’s not Cantonese Christmukkah: what am I going to do with it after I’m done making one single recipe? The air fryer, though? It worked beautifully, and it didn’t make another huge mess I needed to clean up, which was exceptionally good as I made a huge mess while getting these ready to fry. Try as I might, there will never come a day where I can dip many piece of food into flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs without getting schmutz all over everything. I like to think of it as part of the fun.
Though I keep talking about how elegant these croquettes are, to get that legit Cheddar Bay flavor, you’ll need to rely on quite a few not-so-elegant-sounding things. You must absolutely use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, because, as I’ve long suspected and now confirmed, a generous quantity of garlic powder is the most important component of Cheddar Bay-brand magic. For the crispy crumb coating, I decided to use buttermilk biscuit crumbs. I do not expect any of you to make your own biscuits just to pulverize them into crumbs, so I used canned easy-bake biscuits in this recipe. If you want to make your own, or if you can find fresh buttermilk biscuits to sacrifice to the cause, more power to you. For the rest of us who want to make something good while while not driving ourselves completely crazy, canned biscuits are more than fine.
Since you’re going through the trouble of setting up a breading station (and if you’ve chosen to do things the old fashioned way, a big pot of oil), this recipe makes many croquettes so that you may store extra in the freezer to be quickly air fried for future meals. Put a couple of these showstoppers on a bed of greens that have been tossed in some acidic lemon vinaigrette and watch how quick you get lucky. Such is the power of the extended Red Lobster Universe.
Makes 20-25 croquettes
For the filling
- 2 pounds shrimp, cooked
- 4 Tbsp. (½ stick) butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 ½ tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. sweet paprika
- 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
- ⅔ cup buttermilk
- 4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 tsp. salt
- ¾ tsp. black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. dried chives
For the breading
- 2 (7.5-oz.) cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- ½ tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. salt
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup butter, melted
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds to make a roux. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika; continue to whisk for another 30 seconds. Add the evaporated milk and buttermilk a bit at a time, whisking continuously, until the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat, add the cheese, and whisk vigorously until melted and smooth.
Working in batches, pulse the shrimp in the food processor until it’s in small chunks. Stir the shrimp into the cheese sauce and taste for seasoning. Pour into a shallow container, cover, and refrigerate until firm (at least two hours).
Once the shrimp is in the fridge, bake the biscuits according to package directions. When they’re done, split them in half, put them back on the baking sheet, turn off the oven and put them back inside. Leave them in there to dry out —check on them every 15 minutes—then pulse them in a food processor into coarse crumbs. You should have between 4½ and 5 cups. If you find yourself a bit shy, just add a half cup or so of panko to stretch it out.
When you’re ready to make the croquettes, stir one cup of biscuit crumbs into the shrimp mixture to help firm it up a bit, then taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Set up three large bowls on your countertop, right next to your air fryer. Add the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and salt to bowl one, mixing well. In bowl two, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk until completely smooth. In bowl three, toss the remaining biscuit crumbs with the melted butter. Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and cover a platter or baking sheet with a piece of plastic wrap to rest the croquettes on while after you’ve breaded them.
Using an ice cream scoop (preferred) or a half-cup measuring cup (messy, but it will do), put scoops of of the shrimp mixture into the flour; dust your hands generously with flour and delicately shape them into balls (it’s fine if they’re misshapen). Use a spoon to lower them into the egg mixture since they’re quite delicate, and coat completely. Move the croquettes to the biscuit crumbs, coat them well, then transfer them to the baking sheet. Put as many croquettes as you can fit into your air fryer and set the timer for 8 minutes. When they’re done, if you care to gild the lily, brush them with a bit of melted butter and sprinkle with chopped parsley or chives.
If you’re not going to fry all the croquettes at once, put the platter of raw croquettes in the freezer until they’re rock solid, then transfer them to a container or zip top freezer bag. To cook from frozen, air fry for about 15 minutes. Note that the precise time may vary depending on the model of air fryer you have, so keep an eye on them.