03 December 2013

Food in Dutch: Bitterballen

Here it is! The first official installment in the Food in Dutch series!

I wanted to do this series and show some of the "typical Dutch" foods. It seems like the Netherlands isn't really known for its food - and while even Dutch people will tell you the cuisine is often lackluster, there are some delicious dishes that are worth knowing about and trying. 

Most of the dishes that will follow in this series I tried for the first time as I was documenting what I did. Since it was the first time, I'll also discus how easy or difficult it was to make the dish.

I thought that starting out the Food in Dutch series, I'd begin with an appetizer, just as you might do when meeting friends at a restaurant or pub. And to kick everything off, the bitterballen recipe is featured today as the first of the Food in Dutch series.

What You Should Know About Bitterballen

Bitterballen are typical Dutch and delicious - but as an American, I often have a hard time describing them in a way that reflects how good they are. The best I can do is say that bitterballen are essentially fried balls of savory gravy. That kind of description doesn't do too much for the imagination, I know, but trust me, they are fantastic. Even family members that have made faces at the description will agree that the result is really quite good, but there's not a better way of describing it. 

Bitterballen are generally served during borrel - when meeting family or friends for drinks, chatting, or generally catching up. A spread of worst (sausage) and cheese is also common snack food listed on a restaurant's borrel selections - but you really should make sure you try the bitterballen

The Life in Dutch Recipe:

I can't publish the recipe in detail here due to copyright reasons, but you can follow page 45 of Dutch Cooking Today, published by Inmerc in 2007. Google Books offers a preview of the book that can be found here.

The Life in Dutch Method:

I started out by stewing beef, a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, and pepper in beef broth until the beef was tender.

Beef stewing in broth with herbs and spices.

After the beef was cooked, I drained off 200ml of the broth into a measuring cup. 

Tasty looking, no?

The beef was removed and chopped up into teeny-tiny bits - which was much more time-consuming than I think anyone realized. Mark had to take over the chopping for me while I started the gravy.

Chopped beef

In another pan, melted butter, flour, and the extra beef broth were combined to start the gravy. Technically, I guess this mixture is really a ragout, but I honestly have no idea what the difference is.

Flour to the melted butter

Beef broth to the flour/butter mix.

Once the mixture was bubbly and thick, I added in the chopped beef and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Everything was stirred in evenly before being transferred to a large, flat dinner plate. The dinner plate went in the refrigerator for 2 hours to chill and solidify.

Beef and further seasoning added to the mix.

Fully mixed gravy.

After the 2 hours, came the gravy mix came out of the refrigerator. Relatively solid.

On the side, I had a bowl of 2 beaten eggs and a bowl of bread crumbs ready to go, and a clean plate for the formed bitterballen.

Now is where it gets tricky. Somehow, you need to divide up the mix into approximately 24 even amounts, then you need to take the gravy and form it into a ball. Have you ever held gravy (I won't judge you if you have)? Even in cold, slightly solid form, it's not so easy to get into a ball shape - and it becomes more difficult the longer the stuff sits out and warms up. 

"Ball" of gravy.
And, yes, the beer becomes an essential ingredient at this point in the process.

I dropped the gravy blob in the breadcrumbs and coated the whole thing. 

Breadcrumb covered gravy blob.

Then a layer of egg. I spooned it on for lack of a better idea.

Now gooey with egg!

And another layer of breadcrumbs and set on a clean plate. Repeat 23 times. Expect to mutter to yourself quite a bit - balls of gravy do not retain their shape willingly. In a perfect world, these would all be roughly the same size and have spherical shapes. I was just happy to be mostly done at this point in the process.

Not quite spherical, but not bad.

Once everything gets on the plate, it's time to deep-fry the bitterballen. (Owning a fryer is one of the typical Dutch things we've adopted.) Put them in with room to bounce around in the basket - we did about 8 at a time for 4 minutes. The goal is to make them golden brown and crispy.

Laying in the fryer.


When you remove them, place them on paper towels to catch the excess oil. 

Allow to cool/drain.

When all are ready, allow to cool for a moment before eating. Then enjoy, especially in borrel style!


The Result:

Despite the awkward shapes and sizes, I think these turned out pretty good. Normally, you can purchase pre-made frozen bitterballen to cook at home, and those all look like normal spheres. But ours had more seasoning and flavor, making them taste better than store-bought. I would make this again, but for the labor put into it, it would have to be a special occasion. 



  1. Those sound so yummy to me but I am always looking for way to incorporate more gravy into my life.

  2. Is there anything that comes out of the deep fryer that does not taste good? Um, NOOOOOO! These looks like hard work, perhaps wait till little man is bigger to help with all of that chopping :) (I pinned this to my food board also)

  3. Oh my gosh BITTERBALLEN!! We ate these all the time as kids with my Dutch family. My dad raved about them but my American mom hated them. I never actually knew what they were made of until today. So craving them right now!

  4. I LOVE bitterballen, but refuse to make them myself. You were very brave to do so! :)

  5. These are delicious - and if you want to incorporate more gravy, this is a good way to do it. =)

  6. Thanks! They are a bit hard, but worth the effort. I would save the effort for a special occasion, though, and when you can get help ;)

  7. They are awesome! I love them, but luckily they're easy to get frozen any time - way less effort that way. But I do think homemade was better.

  8. It's a lot of work! I have no idea how anyone would get them actually round, though.

  9. You made me laugh so many times during this! Clearly beer is needed and I'm so impressed! I don't know how you hold gravy?! Even cold it really doesn't solidify that much! But anyway, those sound super yummy. I'd love to try them someday but I don't think I'm up for the challenge of making them.

  10. Ha - the answer to your question is: not easily. Even cold, gravy is still gloppy. They are tasty though. If you head over the border, you should be able to find a store to sell pre-made frozen. MUCH easier to prepare!

  11. You had me at gravy!!! and it's pretty sweet you got a deep fryer!

  12. I kind of love the deep fryer. Thank goodness it can be a pain to clean, otherwise I may use it way too often.

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