Japanese pumpkin croquettes or kabocha korokke is our family’s fall favorite. Crispy on the outside and naturally sweet and savory on the inside, it’s like a party in your mouth! These croquettes will disappear in no time.
When the autumn rolls in and all kinds of pumpkins start to pile up in the front of the grocery store , I grab my favorite pumpkin of all, Kabocha, and make these Japanese Pumpkin Croquettes. In Japan we call this Kabocha Korokke (かぼちゃコロッケ).
What is Pumpkin Croquettes?
They are simply croquettes made with kabocha instead of the more common filling of potatoes. They are one of my favorite fall dishes to make. The outside of the panko-crusted croquettes are crispy, while the soft mashed kabocha inside is sweet and tender. These croquettes have just the right balance of savory and sweet.
Kabocha (かぼちゃ, 南瓜) is a type of squash and here in the North America it’s also called kabocha squash. I am not sure why, but in Japan it is known as “pumpkin” instead of squash. I learned that it’s called kabocha pumpkin in Australia (am I right?).
Kabocha is notorious for its really tough green skin. When you cut the green kabocha squash in half, it’s almost a surprise the incongruity of the the bright orangey flesh.
Kabocha is naturally sweet, much sweeter than butternut squash or sweet potatoes. If you like making sweets, don’t miss my Kabocha Squash Pie – it’s a good twist on regular pumpkin pie.
5 Tips to Make the Best Pumpkin Croquettes
This recipe is so simple (did you see the recipe?), and that’s why each ingredient plays an important role. Ingredients need to be fresh and high quality, so the dish comes out wonderfully, along with a little bit of love from your cooking.
1. Use the butter
I’ve tried both olive oil and butter to saute onion, and I have to say using butter is a game changer. It’s such a subtle thing, yet you’ll notice the difference at the end. Trust me on this.
2. Use bacon
So I have tried different types of meat in these kabocha croquette, and my family’s favorite turned out to be bacon. If you are familiar with kabocha recipes on Just One Cookbook, yes, I did add bacon to the Kabocha Salad too! The flavor and texture of bacon goes well with mashed kabocha – much better than ground meat.
3. Keep an eye on the moisture
You can steam the kabocha like I did, or use the microwave or boiling method. But the key is to make sure the kabocha is not wet when you are about to mash it. If you see too much moisture, you may want to put the cooked kabocha in the pot and let it evaporate on low heat. The sautéed onion and bacon in butter has plenty of fat and moisture to form the kabocha into a ball shape later on. Some onions also have more moisture content. If it does, try to evaporate it before mixing it with mashed kabocha.
4. Deep fry at 340 ºF (170 ºC)
Remember, kabocha is already cooked. That means all you need to do is to fry the croquettes until they are golden brown. Insert your long cooking chopsticks and see if there are small bubbles around them. Once you see the bubbles, put a few croquettes in the oil. Don’t put too many croquettes at once as the oil temperature will go down as soon as you put croquettes in the oil. Turn once or twice until they are golden brown.
5. Add salt at the end
You might eat these kabocha croquettes with tonkatsu sauce as most panko-crusted deep fried foods are served with tonkatsu sauce in Japan. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good match. Instead, sprinkle some good salt AFTER deep frying. It can be good quality sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. It brings out the kabocha flavor to the max!
Make Pumpkin Croquettes into Vegetarian
To have an extra oomph, I added some bacon pieces; however, you can easily make your kabocha croquettes into a vegetarian dish by skipping the bacon – easy as that!
Kabocha Korokke: Bake or Deep Fry?
Last but not least, I know you’ll probably ask me if you can bake this dish instead of deep frying, so let me answer first. Either works. Many people prefer not to deep fry at home (and I hear you – all that smell, mess, and oil), so try baking them instead. Use my pre-toasting panko technique found in Baked Croquette, Baked Tonkatsu, Baked Chicken Katsu, etc.
However…(you knew I’d say this?) there is nothing like biting into freshly deep fried croquettes. I am a self proclaimed croquette connoisseur, and I have to tell you the deep fried version will always win. So if you feel okay about deep frying, definitely take this deep fry path!
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- ½ kabocha squash/pumpkin (½ = 1.5 lb with seeds)
- 3 slices bacon
- ½ onion
- ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
- salt (kosher or sea salt; use half if using table salt)
- freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 3 cups neutral flavor oil (vegetable, canola, etc)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Remove seeds and pith from the kabocha and cut into big chunks, about 2 inch pieces.
Set up the steamer (I use this steamer basket inside the dutch oven here). Steam kabocha for 20 minutes or until tender (enough that you can mash with fork) but don’t overcook.
While steaming the kabocha, mince the onion. Slice parallel to the grain, slice against the grain (pic 1), cut into cubes (pic 2), and chop into even smaller pieces (pic 3).
- Cut the bacon into small bits. For better texture, I like the bacon to be about ¼ inches.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 2-3 minutes, and add the bacon. Cook until the onion is translucent, tender, and nicely brown. Set aside until the kabocha is done with steaming.
- Remove the kabocha from the pot and let cool until you can touch (but still warm). Remove the skin using a knife or spoon. Kabocha skin is edible and you don’t have to remove it. However, your kabocha croquette will be dark in color instead of bright orange color.
- Transfer all the kabocha in a large bowl and mash with a fork.
Add the onion and bacon mixture to the mashed kabocha. Try to avoid adding excess oil, which could make the mixture too wet. Season with freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt.
Combine well together. Using a cookie scoop, make it into ball shape. I can usually make 15-18 balls with ½ kabocha (1.5 lbs with seeds).
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes to kabocha balls become firmer.
- Add 1 Tbsp water to the beaten egg. Coat kabocha balls in flour.
- Then coat with egg mixture, and finally panko.
Cover with plastic wrap and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. During this time, flour absorbs moisture. As a result, it’ll be less splatter in oil and the batter becomes sticker and won’t come off while deep frying.
When it’s almost 30 minutes, start heating up the oil to 340 ºF (170 ºC). Insert the long chopsticks and when you see small bubbles appear around them, it’s ready to deep fry the croquette. Inside croquette is cooked already, so all you need is to fry until golden brown.
Transfer golden kabocha croquette to a wire rack or a plate lined with paper towel. Sprinkle some salt such as sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Once it’s cooled completely, you can put in an airtight container and store in the freezer for up to a month.
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.