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Bitterballen – Dutch Secrets Exposed

By Chef Devan

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Those who’ve had bitterballen before know exactly what’s up.

They’re just too good to turn down. Crispy golden brown on the outside and stuffed with mouth-watering braised beef make these the ultimate snack to munch on while sipping a frosty beer.

Living in the Netherlands, I’ve had my fair share of these tasty snacks and have crafted a recipe that’s as close to the real thing as possible – with my own little twist of course.

Where are those people that say Dutch food sucks now? I guess they’ve never tried bitterballen!

Bitterballen on a board with mustard, a Dutch flag and a cold beer.

What are Bitterballen?

This classic Dutch snack consists of slowly braised beef that’s thickened with a roux, rolled into little balls, breaded and deep-fried until crispy golden brown. They’re served everywhere in the Netherlands because they’re addictively good.

In my opinion, these little nuggets of gold are so tasty they should not only be a Dutch national treasure but enjoyed worldwide.

Luckily, you can make them no matter where you live.

What is A Roux?

Maybe you haven’t heard of this fancy French term before so I’ll enlighten you. A roux is a classic French thickener consisting of equal parts flour and butter by weight.

If you’ve ever made béchamel sauce before (a.k.a cheese sauce) you’ve already made a roux. The roux is used in this recipe to thicken the braised beef enough to make it stick together and be rolled into a ball.

If you’re looking for more information on how to thicken sauces, check out my post here.

Making Bitterballen Takes a Little Time

I wish I could tell you that making bitterballen is quick and easy to make but the reality is that making them is pretty time-consuming.

Although, you can certainly save time by using a pressure cooker, making a big batch and freezing extra for later.

Have some extra homemade bitterballen in your freezer ready to go and you will thank yourself later! This recipe is fun to try if you have some time off during the holidays.

Making the smooth sauce for the bitterballen.

Don’t Have an Instant Pot?

No worries, but you will need to do it the old-school way which takes a little bit longer.

Follow this recipe below to braise the beef in a casserole dish with an oven. You will also need a little more chicken stock to cover the meat.

  1. Set the oven to 175°C/350°F.
  2. Dry off the meat and get a frying pan on high heat. Sear the beef in a little vegetable oil until nicely browned on all sides. Set inside a casserole dish or something that has a lid and generously season with salt and pepper.
  3. Sear the onions and carrots until nicely browned and add to the casserole with the beef.
  4. Bring 750ml of chicken stock to a boil and add it to the braising dish/Dutch oven with the rest of the ingredients for the braise. Season the liquid with a little salt, cover and set in the oven for about 2.5-3 hours.
  5. Check after two hours. If the meat pulls apart easily with a fork it’s done.

Bitterballen Ingredients

Let’s talk about some key ingredients and why they’re there.

Mustard – Mustard with these is a must. The sharpness balances them perfectly and is the only dip you need. Imagine you took the time to make these and then forgot to have mustard on the side. Noooooo!

Marmite – This is not traditional but it gives the bitterballen a little extra umami and beefy flavour. Australian friends can, of course, use Vegemite instead. Or omit it completely if you’d like.

Cut of Beef – I’m actually using what’s called riblap here in the Netherlands and the exact cut is different than in North America. But brisket, chuck and short rib are all great options for braised beef.

Spices – Star anise brings out the meatiness of dishes. Allspice is really nice in this mix but you could also use other warm spices like cinnamon, clove or cardamom.

Herbs – Fresh thyme is that classic old-school braised flavour that we all love. Feel free to experiment with other hard herbs like rosemary or sage.

Bitterballen on a board with a mustard on the side for dipping.

Tools Needed for Making Bitterballen

This next part contains Amazon Affiliate links and I’ll earn a small commission if you purchase something, at no extra cost to you.

Deep Fryer

Using a deep-fryer is strongly recommended because you don’t have to worry about the temperature fluctuating too much. Heating a large pot of oil on the stove is extremely dangerous because it can fall over or burst into flames if left unchecked – so don’t do that unless you really know what you’re doing.

Here in the Netherlands and Belgium, most people have a deep-fryer that they keep around for making frietjes (Dutch frieswhich makes this recipe a breezeYou can keep the deep fryer in your shed and even use it outside if you are worried about the smell of the fryer inside your home.

Instant Pot

The Instant Pot saves a lot of time compared to normal braising. Highly recommended.

If you’re interested in buying one I’d recommend this one.

Is it time for new knives? Then definitely check out my ultimate guide to The Best High End Knife Sets and Why I’ll Never Buy a Cutco Knife Set.

Can I Use Ground Beef Instead?

I’ve experimented with using fried ground beef instead of braised beef but it’s just not the same as braised beef. It will still be okay but it’s more like a breaded meatball whereas the braised beef is deliciously soft and flavourful.

Can I Use an Air-fryer?

Certainly, although I do not own an air-fryer at the moment, so I cannot give a precise time and temperature. If you try it, let me know in the comments!

Watch a Video on How to Make These Bitterballen

How to Make Bitterballen

Here’s the quick play-by-play on how to make these little nuggets of gold:

  1. Sear the beef + onions + carrots.
  2. Braise the beef until fork tender.
  3. Let cool. Then strain the liquid from the beef and save the braising liquid.
  4. Cut the beef or shred it with your hands into fine pieces.
  5. Make a roux.
  6. Add the measured braising liquid to the sauce and cook until a thick sauce is made.
  7. Add the braised beef, stir and let cool for at least 2 hours.
  8. Roll into little balls.
  9. Bread in flour, egg wash then panko.
  10. Fry until golden brown.
  11. Serve with mustard and a cold beer!

As they say in Dutch,

Smakelijk Eten!

Bitterballen on a board with mustard, a Dutch flag and a cold beer.
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4.94 from 44 votes

Bitterballen – Dutch Secrets Exposed

An extremely addictive Dutch snack consisting of slowly braised beef that's thickened with a roux and deep fried into little crispy balls.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Shaping, breading and cooling 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 6 hours
Servings 4 aprox 24 pieces
Calories 455kcal
Cost $15/ 12€

Ingredients

For the beef braise

  • ½ kg chuck or brisket cleaned of excess fat
  • 2 whole onions cut in half, skin left on
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled
  • 2 whole carrots peeled and quarted
  • 250 ml chicken stock
  • 2 pc bay leaves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • ½ bunch thyme fresh
  • 1 tsp allspice whole
  • 1 pc star anise
  • ½ bunch fresh thyme

For the bitterballen mix

  • 30 g butter
  • 30 g flour
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp marmite optional
  • salt and pepper

For the breading

  • 1 box panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 whole eggs beaten
  • 150 g flour

Extras

  • mustard for dipping
  • frying oil

Instructions

  • Sear the beef in a cast iron pan with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil until nicely browned. Work in batches to avoid cooling down the pan too quickly.
    Searing the beef to get a nice colour on the meat.
  • Sear the onions and carrots and brown nicely.
    The carrots and onions nicely browned.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients from the "beef braise" section with the browned meat to the Instant Pot. Close the lid and set it on high pressure for 35 minutes.
  • Once the timer goes off, let it cool for 20 minutes. Manually release the rest of the pressure.
  • Strain the liquid from the braise and save 250ml of the braising liquid. (500ml for a 2x recipe, and so on…)
    Once the beef is cool enough to handle, shred it into small pieces with your hands.
    Alternatively, you can chop the beef with a knife into smaller pieces. Discard the vegetables and spices.
    The braising liquid measured out.
  • Begin by melting the butter in the pan. Add the flour and whisk.
    Melting the butter and flour together.
  • Cook over low heat until a blond colour roux is made. About 3 minutes.
    Cooking the butter and flour to make a blond roux.
  • Add the braising liquid slowly and whisk continually to make a smooth sauce with no lumps of flour.
    Making the sauce for the bitterballen and adding the braising liquid.
  • Once all the liquid is mixed in add the shredded beef, allspice, marmite and fresh black pepper. Cook gently until the mixture thickens slightly for about 2 minutes. Taste. Make sure it's seasoned nicely with salt and pepper.
    Adding the shredded beef to the mix.
  • Let this cool completely on a tray at room temperature for 10 minutes. Once it's cool enough to put in the fridge, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for about two hours or overnight.
    The finished bitterballen mix.
  • Once the mixture is completely cooled, begin to roll it into little balls (smaller than a ping pong ball).
    Rolling the bitterballen mix into little balls.
  • Get three containers with high sides and fill one with flour, one with beaten eggs and the other with the panko bread crumbs.
    Dredge the balls in the flour, then the eggs and finally the panko breadcrumbs.
    Breading the bitterballen mix in flour, eggs, then panko bread crumbs.
  • Once breaded you can store some in the freezer for later or fry some now in a deep fryer at 170°C/350°F for about 5-6 minutes or until nicely golden and hot in the middle.
    The finished bitterballen ready to be fried.
  • Serve with a side of mustard and a nice cold beer. Enjoy!
    Bitterballen on a board with a mustard on the side for dipping.

Notes

Breading the bitterballen is time consuming so get somebody to help you if possible.
Take your time to properly coat the balls in the flour, then egg, then panko to ensure you have a really nice breading.
Always be super careful when deep frying. Use a proper deep fryer instead of a putting a pot of oil on the stove.

Nutrition

Calories: 455kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 336mg | Potassium: 644mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 366IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 5mg
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About Chef Devan

With exceptional talent and passion for gastronomy, Chef Devan has over 15 years of experience across the culinary world, bringing a wealth of experience to the table, even from Michelin-starred restaurants. He's here to help you captivate the senses and delight everyone with easy recipes you could cook at home. Learn more about Braised and Deglazed's Editorial Process.

62 thoughts on “Bitterballen – Dutch Secrets Exposed”

    • Hey Mike,

      I’m sorry to hear that and that must be super annoying. Home-made, breaded food can be finicky. Here are a few suggestions that may help:

      – Make sure that the balls are coated really well in the flour, egg and panko. If there are any holes in the breading then they will fall apart in the fryer.

      – The beef mixture may have been cooked a little too long which can dry it out and prevent the breading from sticking. If that’s the case, try cooking the mixture a little less long. (My beef mixture in this recipe was pretty wet and would stick to the batter easily).

      – Make sure the fryer temperature is hot and at least 350F. If the oil is too cold, the bitterballen may also fall apart.

      – Another likely cause could be that the beef was not shredded enough. If there are still long strips of beef in the mixture this can cause it to break apart once fried. Try chopping the beef after it’s cooked to eliminate any big chunks.

      Try all that first, and if it still fails you can try doubling the roux from 30/30g to 60/60g. This will give it more thickening power but it will take away from the beef flavour slightly.

      Let me know how it goes and if it’s still not working we’ll figure something else out. Don’t give up. You will make delicious bitterballen soon, and after a few more trials you will be bitterballen master!

      Good luck!

      Reply
  1. 5 stars
    Great. I ate bitterballen in the Netherlands and I dream about them often, this recipe looks like the best one I ate. I cant wait to try it. Yummmm. Great post too!!! I want the sage flavour. 💓

    Reply
    • Hahaha! Yes, finally someone that understands me and my obsession with bitterballen! Come back and let us know if you do try the bitterballen 🙂

      Thanks, Cameron!

      Reply
  2. Only halfway through the recipe – which I chose because it looks delicious! And it smells delicious coming out of the pressure cooker, too. But in the step after that it just says, “strain the liquid and shred the beef”. What about all the onion and carrot and whole peppercorns / whole allspice etc.? They are not pulverized at all. So am I separating those from the beef and tossing? Are they to be shredded with the meat? Also, I am making this recipe at 4x, but the “save 250ml of the juice” number does not change even though the rest of the roux ingredients did get increased. I’m going to assume I have to increase the liquid as well. Hoping it all comes together somehow! Thanks for the recipe.

    Reply
    • Hi Ellen,

      Yes, what you did is correct. After pressure-cooking, the veggies and spices should be discarded (they are flavourless after pressure cooking for that amount of time).

      The amount of 250ml liquid should be increased by 4x if you made a 4x batch – just like you said. What’s most important is the final texture before you let it cool. It needs to be quite thick and dry, otherwise, a wet filling will be difficult to bread.

      Thanks for the feedback, and I’ll be adding a note in this recipe to clarify that step.

      I hope your bitterballen turn out awesome!

      Reply
  3. 5 stars
    Oh my .. I had these in Amsterdam a couple years ago and couldn’t get enough of them! Been wanting to make them at home but couldn’t find an authentic recipe. Going to give these a go… so excited!!

    Reply
  4. 5 stars
    These were utterly delicious! I made them few days ago for a small gathering with friends and everyone LOVED them! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.

    Reply
  5. 5 stars
    Wow.. we loved these! Always game to try something new and we were so glad we did. It was hard to say no to “just one more”!

    Reply
  6. 5 stars
    These were SOOOO good!! Loved the taste and they are super savory! I’m definately going to make them in my air fryer next time!!

    Reply
    • That is so good to hear! Would really be interested to see how these turn out in the air fryer as I have not yet tried.
      Let me know how it goes!

      Reply
  7. These look wonderful. Kinda like a little country fried steak ball! I think these would be great at a party for a one of a kind appetizer.

    Reply
  8. It’s the first time I heard and seen bitterballen, they look so yummy. I\ve read the recipe and you were not kidding about the time you need to make them. So I have planned a day during my kids vacation to make them together. I’m glad I have an Instant Pot.

    Reply
    • Yes, they do take a bit of time to make but I promise it’s worth it! Good luck with the recipe and I hope you and your kids have fun making and eating them together.

      Reply
      • 5 stars
        We did have lots of fun and they turned out delicious. My kids asked to make them again so we are planning on it for the next weekend.

        Reply
  9. 5 stars
    A delicious snack that we enjoyed both warm and cold over the weekend! Perfect with the mustard but we also enjoyed these with some spicy mayo dip! Thanks for another great recipe!

    Reply
  10. 5 stars
    I’ve never heard of bitterballen but they look and sound like something my boyfriend would love. He loves trying new foods, so I’ll have to make them for him.

    Reply
  11. 5 stars
    You are correct, not a quick recipe, but oh so worth the time and effort. Biting into your first one will find you closing your eyes to savor the flavor as reach for a second one.

    Reply
  12. 5 stars
    This is my first time hearing about bitterballen but oh my! These look absolutely amazing! Can’t wait to make them over the weekend and hopefully try them in the Netherlands one day!

    Reply
  13. 5 stars
    This recipe was so fabulous! I sincerely am glad I found it on Pinterest. We made it for our friends on Friday, and they even said it was awesome. I love when guests are happy! Have a great day.

    Reply
  14. My supermarket only sells riblappen in 700g packages. Is it best to just increase the roux ingredients (butter, flour, stock) by about 40% and leave everything else mostly the same?

    Reply
    • I think that’s a great idea. I’d even just bump it up to 50% roux + stock as these bitterballen are quite beefy anyway.

      Also, make sure the beef is covered sufficiently in stock before braising. Later, when you make the sauce, don’t add all the braising liquid at once – just enough until it’s thickened. Doubling the recipe can sometimes yield different results and remember you can always add more stock but you can never take it away.

      Hope that helps,

      Good luck Sandy!

      Reply
  15. My instant pot also has an attachment to turn it into an air fryer. Do you have any instructions on frying them in the instant pot/ an air fryer? Thank you!

    Reply
  16. I’m going to give these a try. We loved these on our visit to Amsterdam. If I was to freeze some would I need to thaw them before frying or straight to the fryer from the freezer?

    Reply
    • They are awesome right?! As long as you don’t roll them too big, they’ll fry perfectly straight from the freezer. You can use a metal skewer or toothpick to check if they’re hot in the middle.

      Good luck!

      Reply
    • Hi Susanne,

      Certainly – but cooking in the oven is easier and will yield a better result. Follow the recipe the same but place all the ingredients in a casserole dish (a dutch oven is even better) and add the broth hot. You’ll want to cook (braise) the meat in the oven for 2.5-3 hours at about 325-350F range.

      Be sure to check it occasionally during the cooking process. When the meat is fork tender its ready.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  17. 5 stars
    Had these lovely balls in Amsterdam and immediately tried your recipe once back home… they turned out great!
    I also tried them in the air fryer… good but definitely best fried.
    Thank you for your detailed instructions and fabulous recipe!

    Reply

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