Dutch Beef Bitterballen

Beef bitterballen recipe

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 3 hrs 20 mins
Chill: 6 hrs
Total: 9 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 20 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
1470 Calories
146g Fat
25g Carbs
18g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20
Amount per serving
Calories 1470
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 146g 187%
Saturated Fat 17g 84%
Cholesterol 54mg 18%
Sodium 318mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 18g
Vitamin C 1mg 5%
Calcium 88mg 7%
Iron 3mg 16%
Potassium 297mg 6%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Despite their name, Bitterballen aren't at all bitter but rather meant to be eaten alongside "bitters"—in the past that meant beverages like Jenever and nowadays it's simply beer. Usually a food you find in bars and cafés, these little fried morsels are a staple of Dutch cuisine and a beloved snack. A smaller, rounder version of croquettes, these meatballs typically contain meat ragout and are often served on a plate of tasty fried finger foods, called bittergarnituur. Bitterballen play an important part in feeding the crowds that attend bars post-work and pre-dinner, but have become ubiquitous and might be served at any time. Mustard to dip them in, cubes of Gouda, and perhaps some small egg rolls or other fatty fried companions compose the plate of snacks. But bitterballen always steal the show.

The secret to bitterballen lies in the beef. Most meatballs are made with ground beef, but these start with stewing beef that is gently cooked with spices until super tender and moist. The resulting broth is then used to season the meat and roux-based mixture, and by allowing it to cool off properly, the beef hardens enough to make firm balls that are breaded and fried to golden perfection.

Our recipe might be a little time-consuming but if you have an eye for detail, they are not difficult to make. The reward makes the effort worth your while. Besides, the meatballs freeze nicely. Make larger batches and freeze them before frying to have at hand any time some fried food is in order. There are countless variations on the theme, from veal to vegetable, and from shrimp to cheese, but this beef version is a classic. Serve with smooth mild mustard, such as Dijon, and a pint of beer.


Click Play to See This Dutch Beef Bitterballen Recipe Come Together


For the Meat:

  • 2 pounds stewing beef, cubed

  • 2 to 3 quarts water, enough to cover the beef

  • 1 large onion, quartered

  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 cloves

  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme

For the Roux-Based Mixture:

  • 4 ounces butter

  • 2 shallots, chopped

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups milk

  • 2 cups beef stock, from cooking the meat

  • 5 teaspoons unsweetened gelatin powder

  • 1/2 cup water

  • Salt, to taste

  • Pepper, to taste

  • Nutmeg, to taste

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

​​​For Breading:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 to 2 large eggs

  • 4 cups breadcrumbs

For frying:

  • 3 to 4 cups vegetable oil

For Serving:

  • Dijon mustard, to taste

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, these bitterballen are broken down into workable categories to better plan for cooking.

Cook the Beef

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Cook the beef
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Place the beef in a large pan with just enough water to cover the meat. Bring it to a simmer. Skim off any foam that forms.

    Place beef in pan
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves, and thyme.

    Skim off foam
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck 
  4. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool off.

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Strain the meat, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the onions and herbs.

    Remove meat
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. When the meat is cool, cut it into small cubes. Set aside.

    Let cool
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Make the Roux-Based Mixture

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for meatballs
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. In a large skillet, make a roux by adding the butter and allowing it to melt. Add the shallots and flour, stirring vigorously.

    Make balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Add the milk to the skillet. Stir well and add 2 cups of the reserved beef cooking liquid.

    Mix roux
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Let the mixture come to a boil, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Dissolve the gelatin in 1/2 cup cold water and add it to the simmering mixture, stirring regularly.

    Dissolve gelatin
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Add the chopped parsley, Dijon mustard, and the reserved diced beef, mixing well.

    Add salt, pepper, nutmeg
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or chill for at least 4 to 6 hours.

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Shape and Fry the Beef Balls

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Roll heaped teaspoons of the chilled beef mixture into neat, even-sized balls—about 60 in total.

    Roll balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Bread them twice by rolling each ball first in flour, then in the beaten eggs, and lastly in the breadcrumbs. Dip each breaded ball again in the eggs and roll for the last time in the breadcrumbs. Repeat the process until all meatballs are breaded.

    Bread the balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Heat the oil to 356 F/180 C.

    Heat oil
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Fry the bitterballen in batches until golden.

    Fry the bitterballen
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Remove from fryer and drain on paper towel.

    Remove from fryer
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Serve them hot with Dijon mustard. 

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  8. Enjoy!

    Beef bitterballen
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck