Legendary Dishes | Bitterballen (beef croquettes)


Bitterballen NETHERLANDS beef croquettes

These delicate little balls (croquettes or schneks) are an integral aspect of Dutch night life where bittergarnituur (alcohol snacks) help the drink go down. Michael Boerop says the tradition in Holland is pre-Roman, when the people of the lowlands mixed leftover meat with bread, fat and water, eating it as a snack on their travels. It returned, he says, with the occupation of Holland by the Spanish who introduced their own (tapas) snacks, among others encasing meat in battered breadcrumbs.

Then Jan Barendz, an enterprising Amsterdam landlord, began to offer food in his bar to keep his customers drinking. ‘Every now and then,’ says Boerop, ‘his wife made the croquette-like dish that was introduced by the Spanish.’

‘Rumour has it, that from the little filling she had left, she made small balls and rolled them through egg and breadcrumbs and fried them in a pan with hot oil.’

The Barendzs called them schneks, after the cylindrical shaped part in a clock, and the name caught on.

‘So,’ says Boerop, ‘snack became the word for an individual item, dipperdish for an assortment of different snacks and the bitterball got his own name!’
They were reinvented again in the mid-1900s, made with the leftover meat from Sunday lunch, and now they are back big time in public life.

Bitterball connoisseurs insist that these delicate schnek still need home-comforting because the commercial product served in many bars, hotels and restaurants is generally tasteless!

Of that there is no doubt.

  • 450 ml beef stock
  • 300 g beef, whole piece
  • 150 g breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 50 g butter
  • 50 g flour
  • 15 ml cream / milk
  • 10 g nutmeg, grated
  • 5 g green pepper, freshly ground
  • Salt, large pinch
  • Flour, for coating
  • Oil, for frying

Putting the beef into a large pot, covering it with water, adding a bouquet garni and two beef stock cubes is the easy method. Many cooks do this to save time.

Another, albeit more elaborate, method is to make a stock with fresh herbs and root vegtables, then add the beef and cook over a low heat for an hour.
Whatever the choice, when the beef is ready, remove, strain the stock, leave to cool. Put the beef in the fridge for two hours.

Grate the beef, season with the green pepper, nutmeg and salt. Make a dark roux, stir in the stock, bring to the boil, cook over a medium heat for five minutes until the sauce is thick. Add the shredded beef to form a ragout.

Pour the ragout onto a plate, place in refrigerator and leave overnight. Beat the eggs into the cream or milk, pour onto a wide plate. Spread breadcrumbs on a second plate, and flour onto a third plate.

Heat oil to 180°C in deep fryer or wok.

Shape the meat mixture into small balls, each weighing approximately 30 g, roll balls in flour, egg mixture and breadcrumbs. Arrange kitchen towels on a plate. Deep fry in small batches for four minutes, until golden brown, drain.

Serve hot with mustard, cold when eaten with bittergarnituur, which requires a visit to the Netherlands.