I don’t trust people who say they don’t like bitterballen. 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. Where are those people that say Dutch food sucks now? I guess they’ve never tried bitterballen!
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. In my opinion, these little nuggets of gold are so tasty they should not only be a Dutch national treasure but enjoyed worldwide.
It Takes a Little Time
I wish I could tell you that making bitterballen is quick to make but the reality is that making them is actually pretty time-consuming. Although, you can certainly save time by using an instant pot and they also freeze really well. Make a big batch, so you have homemade bitterballen in your freezer ready to go! You will thank yourself later.
This recipe is great if you have some time off during the holidays or stuck at home and looking to try something new.
Can I Use Ground Beef Instead?
I’ve experimented with using fried ground beef instead of the braised beef but it’s a huge difference. 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 and air-fryer at the moment, so I cannot give a precise time and temperature. If you try it, let me know in the comments 🙂
Don’t Have an Instant Pot?
No worries but you will need to do it the old school way which takes much 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.
- Set the oven to 175°C/350°F.
- 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.
- Sear the onions and carrots until nicely browned and add to the casserole with the beef.
- 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.
- Check after two hours. If the meat pulls apart easily with a fork it’s done.
If you’re lactose intolerant like me, these are awesome because they contain almost no lactose. The only lactose is 30g of butter for the whole batch and butter is naturally low in lactose.
Mustard on the side for these is a must, the sharpness balances them perfectly. Imagine you took the time to make these and then forgot to have mustard on the side. Noooooo!
This is not traditional but I think it gives them a little extra umami flavour. Totally optional though.
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 fries) which makes this recipe a breeze. You 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.
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.
As they say in Dutch,
- deep fryer
- Instant pot
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
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
- mustard for dipping
- frying oil
- Sear the beef in the instant pot with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil until nicely browned. You will need to work in batches to avoid cooling down the pan too quickly.
- Sear the onions and carrots and brown nicely.
- Add the rest of the ingredients from the "beef braise" section with the browned meat to the instant pot. Close the lid and set 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. Once the beef is cool enough to handle, shred it into small pieces with your hands.
- Begin by melting the butter in the pan. Add the flour and whisk.
- Cook over low heat until a blond colour roux is made. About 5 minutes.
- Add the braising liquid slowly and whisk continually to make a smooth sauce with no lumps of flour.
- 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.
- Let this cool completely on a tray for approximately two hours or overnight in the fridge.
- Once the mixture is completely cooled, begin to roll it into little balls smaller than a ping pong ball.
- 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.
- Once breaded you can store some in the freezer for later or fry some now in a deep fryer at 170C/350F for about 5-6 minutes or until nicely golden and hot in the middle.
- Serve with a side of mustard and a good cold beer.
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