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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bitterballen (Dutch deep-fried gravy)

In Holland, a night out on the town, or a social event with coworkers, usually starts out at a local café, with a beer and something called a "bittergarnituur". The word translates as the slightly confusing "garnish for bitters", where bitters in this case refers to alcoholic beverages. The Dutch were one of the first to dedicate themselves to perfecting the distillation process, presenting the world with spirits such as Dutch gin (jenever) and a large variety of liqueurs and bitters, these last ones presumably with medicinal properties. Nowadays, one of the most famous drinks is Ketel One, a Dutch vodka that is especially popular in the United States.

Alcohol is traditionally consumed with something savory on the side, and thus the bittergarnituur was invented. This colorful platter will usually contain bite-size cubes of Gouda cheese, miniature eggrolls and meatballs, perhaps some slices of salami or chorizo and ofcourse, how can it not, the marvelous bitterballen.

Bitterballen are one of Holland's favorite snacks. In the early and mid-1900s, they were the housewife's perfect way to transform yesterday's meat leftovers into today's appetizer. Served shaped as a log (kroket) or in bite-size rounds, bitterballen were often served as an aperitif, or tapa, before lunch or dinner.

Nowadays, bitterballen are predominantly served outside the home, either as part of the bittergarnituur or as a snack on the side with a portion of French fries, but are no longer part of the housewife's culinary repertoire.

This deep-fried, crispy, bite-size ball of meaty gravy is to be eaten with a good, savory mustard. Take the bitterbal between thumb and index finger, dip one side into the mustard and pop the whole thing in your mouth. No double-dipping!

Bitterballen are traditionally made with beef, but can also be made with chicken, veal or even with mushrooms, for those that prefer a vegetarian option.

2 sticks of butter
1 cup of flour
3 cups of beef stock
3 tablespoons of onion, minced
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, minced
2 cups of shredded cooked beef

For the breading
1/2 cup of flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of bread crumbs

Make a roux with the butter and the flour (slowly melt the butter in a skillet or pan. When melted, add the flour little by little and stir into a thick paste). Slowly stir in the stock, making sure the roux absorbs the liquid. Simmer for a couple of minutes on a low heat while you stir in the onion, parsley and the shredded beef. Taste, add pepper and salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Taste again and adjust if necesssary.

Pour the meat gravy into a shallow container, cover and refrigerate for several hours, or until the gravy has solidified.

Take a heaping tablespoon of the cold, thick gravy and quickly roll it into a small ball. Roll lightly through the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Make sure that the egg covers the whole surface of the bitterbal. (If it doesn't, the filling will spill out into the fryer and you will be left with a hollow shell, and a messy fryer!). Set each ball aside on a plate. When done, refrigerate the snacks while the oil in your fryer heats up to 375F.

Fry five to six balls at a time, until golden brown. Serve on a plate with a nice grainy or spicy mustard.

Makes approximately 20 bitterballen.


  1. Oh wow, I've been looking for a recipe for these for ages now! I was also born and raised in NL, I moved to the US about 7 years ago. While most Dutch dishes I missed were easily made here I'd never actually made home made bitterballen before, I would usually buy them frozen. Since you can't do that here I've been hoping to find a good recipe for bitterballen/kroketten. So I'm definitely going to try this recipe some day. Thank you so much for sharing! :)

    Next thing I'm going hunting for is a slagroom taart recipe. I find the average birthday cakes here so heavy and overly sweet with all the icing (cheese cake excluded which is wonderful).

  2. Thank you for the comment, and welcome to the blog! I'm glad you found us, and hope you enjoy the bitterballen, they never last long around here!

    I fully agree with you on slagroom versus birthday cake. Keep an eye on this blog's sister site: http://mydutchbakingblog.blogspot.com for a recipe in the next couple of weeks!

  3. Already subscribed to both with Google Reader! :)
    Looking forward to the new recipes. I've been browsing your older posts too and have come across heaps of things I would love to try to make, so thanks again for sharing. :)

  4. Thank you for the recipe....I thought you use potatoe...I'll try this way....and let you know.


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