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
Yield: 60 bitterballen
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
583 Calories
51g Fat
26g Carbs
8g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20
Amount per serving
Calories 583
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 51g 65%
Saturated Fat 7g 35%
Cholesterol 28mg 9%
Sodium 289mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 9%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 1mg 7%
Calcium 86mg 7%
Iron 2mg 10%
Potassium 186mg 4%
*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, but nowadays, it's simply beer. These little fried morsels are a staple of Dutch cuisine and a beloved snack, and they're typically served in bars and cafés. A smaller, rounder version of croquettes, bitterballen often contains meat ragout and are often served on a plate alongside tasty fried finger foods, called bittergarnituur, plus mustard for dipping, cubes of Gouda, and perhaps some small egg rolls or other fatty fried companions. But the 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 tender and moist. The resulting broth is then used to season the meat and roux-based mixture, and when chilled for several hours, the beef hardens enough to make firm balls that are breaded and fried to golden perfection.

This recipe might be a little time consuming, but bitterballen are not difficult to make. 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 pints of beer.

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Click Play to See This Dutch Beef Bitterballen Recipe Come Together

Ingredients

For the Meat:

  • 2 pounds stewing beef, cubed

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

  • 1 large onion, quartered

  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 whole cloves

  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme

For the Roux-Based Mixture:

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

  • 2 shallots, chopped

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups milk

  • 2 cups beef stock, reserved from cooking the meat

  • 5 teaspoons unsweetened gelatin powder

  • 1/2 cup water

  • Salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Nutmeg, to taste

  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

​​​For the Breading:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 to 2 large eggs, beaten

  • 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.

    Ingredients for making Dutch beef bitterballen
    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.

    Beef in pan with water to cover
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Add the onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves, and thyme.

    Onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves, and thyme added to the pot.
    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 the heat and allow to cool off.

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

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

    The cooled meat is cut into small cubes
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Make the Roux-Based Mixture

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for roux-based mixture
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. In a large skillet, make a roux. Melt the butter and add the shallots and flour, stirring vigorously.

    Stirring the roux: butter, shallots and flour
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Add the milk to the skillet. Stir well and add 2 cups of the reserved beef cooking liquid.

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

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

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

    Add salt, pepper, nutmeg to the roux
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. When the pot is cool enough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or chill for at least 4 to 6 hours.

    Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Shape and Fry the Beef Balls

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for frying the beef balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Roll heaping teaspoons of the chilled beef mixture into neat, even-sized balls; the mixture should make about 60 in total.

    Roll mixture into even-sized balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Bread them twice by first rolling each ball in flour, then in the beaten eggs, and then in the breadcrumbs. Dip each breaded ball again in the eggs and roll for the second time in the breadcrumbs. Place on a baking sheet.

    Bread the balls
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Heat the oil to 356 F/180 C in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan or deep fryer.

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

    Fry the bitterballen in batches
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

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

    Bitterballen served with mustard on the side
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  8. Enjoy.

    Beef bitterballen
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

How to Freeze

You can freeze the meatballs either before or after frying.

  • Place breaded bitterballen on a baking sheet, spaced apart, and put in the freezer until frozen; then move them to a zip-top bag or airtight container. Deep-fry from frozen.
  • Fried bitterballen can be frozen in the same way for up to three months. To reheat, warm in a 350 F oven.