There are few occasions in life that we abandon all food control for an unhealthy but delicious snack, and Winter is certainly one of those. Our most recent … extremely addictive snack obsession … bitterballen!
With a little Dutch blood in us, when we’re not feeling all healthy greens and gluten-free, we get stuck in the kitchen making Bitterballen (or Dutch meatballs), consisting of slowly braised beef that’s thickened with a roux and deep fried into little crispy morsels … when you bite into one, you get a nice crispy exterior but a soft gooey interior – yum!
A smaller, rounder version of croquettes, bitterballen are usually filled with meat ragout and often served with other tasty fried finger foods and a mustard dip (we like to combine a little mustard and condensed milk), but we rather enjoy serving them on their own as a little afternoon aperitif or, on a warmer day, on a bed of salad – a little butter lettuce, rocket, cucumber, baby tomatoes and pickled ginger with a balsamic reduction or tangy mayo dressing. If you’re in the mood for something more filling, for those not-so-health-conscious, they go well with a portion of fries.
Another advantage of knocking up a batch of these is that they don’t all have to be eaten at once. They freeze really well and can be hauled out and deep fried from frozen on those effortless eating days.
For the meat: 450g stewing beef, already cubed, boiled and shredded; 1 large onion; ½ a tsp of peppercorns, a bay leaf; 2 cloves; two or three sprigs of fresh thyme
For the bitterballen: 8 tbsp butter unsalted; 1 cup all-purpose flour; 3 cups beef broth; 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped; 1 small onion finely diced; 1/2 tsp salt; 1 tsp black pepper; 1/4 tsp nutmeg; 2 prepared baking sheets
For breading: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour; 3 eggs beaten; 1 cup breadcrumbs; vegetable oil for frying
To make: To make the shredded beef, place the cubed beef in a large pan with just enough water to cover it. Bring it to a simmer. Skim off any foam that forms. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves, and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain the meat, reserving the broth but discard the onion and herbs. When the meat is cool, shred it and set aside.
In a large skillet melt the butter over medium-high heat, add the flour, a bit at a time, whisking it to a thick paste. Slowly stir or whisk in 3 cups of the beef broth you set aside. Make sure you stir thoroughly, the broth should all be incorporated into the roux. The gravy should be smooth but still quite thick. Simmer for a few minutes then add the parsley, onion, and reserved shredded beef, stir well. Season with the salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Transfer the meat mixture to a Tupperware container and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight until the gravy has solidified. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In one bowl add the flour; in another add the eggs and the third bowl the bread crumbs. Shape the meat mixture into 1 inch balls. Use a small ice cream scoop; it’s easier to get the same quantity of meat each time. Place these meatballs on one of the prepared baking sheets.
Roll the balls first through flour, then eggs, then finally bread crumbs. Place these meatballs on the other prepared baking sheet. Once completed, place the baking sheet with the meatballs in the fridge until ready to fry. In a large skillet or deep fryer, add enough oil, about 5cm of oil. Heat the oil; fry the meatballs about 6 at a time until golden brown (about 4 or 5 minutes). If you have enough oil in your skillet or fryer the meatballs will float to the top when done.
For a vegetarian option: We like to substitute the meat with a mixture of roughly mashed butternut and potato (optional if you don’t want the starch), portobello mushrooms, grated or finely diced and lightly fried with baby spinach leaves, and fresh sweetcorn kernels. You can make your own veggie stock by either boiling or steaming your butternut and using this (with a veg stock cube) for the roux. Add your veg mixture in place of the beef, along with some grated cheese.