Monday, October 27, 2014

Beef Bitterballen

So just over a month ago, I went to Toronto for a super quick weekend trip with my friend, H. While we were there, we ate a ton of amazing food. For our last meal in Canada, we ended up at The Ossington, where they serve Dutch snack food on Sundays (Borrel!). We basically ordered the entire menu, minus one or two items, and it was delicious. H was particularly smitten because she's basically only been back in the States for a few months now, having moved back from, you guessed it, Holland.

Because I was missing H and our Toronto trip and the food, I decided to relive it a little by making my own bitterballen at home. I don't think my recipe is particularly authentic. However, I have to tell you, I corresponded with a friend of a friend's grandmother, who is half Dutch, to find out how to make bitterballen from scratch. Oma, as she asked me to call her (a word which means 'nana' in Dutch) told me that these days, bitterballen are almost always storebought. Dutchies just go to the grocery store and buy them in the frozen food aisle, and then just heat them at home. But, she said that as a kid, she watched her mother make them from scratch. Basically, she would cook beef for hours until it was tender and shreddable. Then, she'd make a really thick gravy and stir in the beef. The beefy gravy mixture would be cooled, formed into balls, breaded, and fried.

Oma didn't have any measurements for me to work with, but having the concept down, I just did a bit of experimenting and came up with the recipe you'll see below. If I can be dorky and pat myself on the back, I've got to say that they came out pretty frickin' good and close to what I tasted on my trip to Amsterdam a few years ago.
Ingredients [yields 2 dozen small bitterballen or 1 dozen krokets]:
shredded beef
1 lb. stew beef
2 cups beef stock
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

gravy
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ onion, grated
½ cup flour

breading
½ cup flour
1 egg
¾ cups breadcrumbs (unseasoned)

+ whole grain mustard

*By the way, you could make this with chicken (use chicken chunks and chicken stock). You could also make a vegetarian version by using mushrooms and vegetable stock.

All right; first things first, let's talk about the beef. Just grab a package of stew beef - the cheap stuff is fine - and dump it into a slow cooker. Add in about 2 cups of beef broth, some salt and pepper, and a few cloves of garlic. Turn it on a low setting and let it cook for about 8 hours or until the beef is falling apart tender. This is actually a great step to do overnight.
Once the beef is done cooking, drain off the stock (and set it aside for the gravy making) and shred the beef using two forks. If you prefer smaller pieces of beef, you can certainly use the food processor to grind it up a little more.
Mince up some garlic and grate an onion.
To make the gravy portion, add the butter to a skillet and let it melt. Chuck in the grated onions and garlic and let them cook until they soften. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk vigorously to create a roux.
Normally when I make a roux, I use a 1:1 mixture of flour and fat. However, in this case, I want the gravy to be thick enough that I can roll it into a ball, so that's why the flour is a bit heavy (2:1 ratio here). So, it'll be a little chunky and weird to work with, but just make sure everything gets whisked up really well. Once the roux has cooked for about 5 minutes (long enough to cook out the raw flour taste), pour in a little bit of the reserved beef stock. Whisk vigorously until smooth. Add in more and more stock until it's all been combined and the gravy is smooth. There might be little chunks mixed in, which are from the onion and garlic, so don't panic.
To that lovely, smooth gravy, chuck in the shredded beef and stir it in.
This doesn't look all that appealing, does it? But trust me, appearances can be deceiving because this is delicious.
Pour the beefy gravy into a wide, shallow dish and pop it in the fridge to cool for about 2 hours. Once the mixture is chilled, the gravy will basically become a solid.
Take the chilled mixture and portion it out and roll it into little balls for bitterballen or logs for krokets. I used my 1.5 tablespoon scoop. Chill the rolled out balls for another hour.
Once the bitterballen (or krokets) have been chilled, it's time to bread. Grab three bowls. In the first, add some flour, in the second, crack in an egg and whisk it up, and in the third, sprinkle in some breadcrumbs.
Coat all of the bitterballen in the flour.
Don't they kind of looked like powdered donuts? Wouldn't that be a mean prank?
Dip each ball into the egg and then coat in breadcrumbs.
At this point, the bitterballen can be frozen and then stored in a freezer safe container (or zip top bag) for future snacks. To consume frozen bitterballen, just defrost in the fridge for 4 hours before frying.
I froze about 3/4 of that batch. The remaining quarter, I fried up ASAP for immediate consumption. Heat a pot of oil (to about 350F) and deep fry the bitterballen for a few minutes until the breading is golden brown and crispy.

Drain on paper towels to wick away the excess moisture.
Serve while they're still piping hot with mustard (whole grain, preferably).
Let the bitterballen cool for a minute or two before diving in or you will burn your tongue! These are delicious. The filling is meaty and savory and the breading is crispy and crunchy.
These are a perfect snack for any sort of game day. I mean, who can resist fried food on game day?
Here's the recipe page:

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