An after-work drink in the Netherlands isn’t complete if you haven’t eaten some bitterballen. They’re also the perfect afternoon snack while enjoying the sun on a terrace. And even a Dutch embassy will serve them during events.
Bitterballen and their slightly larger counterparts kroketten, are typical Dutch foods. Whether you make them at home, order them at a restaurant, or buy them from a little box in a wall (yes, that’s a thing), they’re a great simple snack.
Kroketten vs Bitterballen
To start with the basics: the difference between kroketten and bitterballen. They are very similar, to start with, both are a soft roux filling with a crunchy outer shell that is formed during frying. Really, the main difference is the size. Bitterballen are shaped like a ball whereas kroketten have a cylindrical shape. Both can have a variety of fillings, all characterized by a smooth soft inside and brown crunchy outside. The most common filling is a beef version, but nowadays both vegetarian as well as meat containing version are available using a whole range of different ingredients.
Since bitterballen are quite a bit smaller than kroketten they are more commonly served as a small snack during drinks for instance. Kroketten on the other hand, might be part of a lunch (eaten with bread) or dinner (eaten with fries). Both are often served with mustard!
Homemade kroketten are made by first making a filling, commonly using flour as a thickener. This filling will be soft and almost liquid when warm. However, when it cools down it will firm up. This then allows the cook to coat the filling with a mixture of flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. The basis for that crispy crust.
By subsequently frying the kroketten in oil the crust becomes super crispy whereas the inside warms up again and will soften. Home made kroketten cannot really be made in the oven. However, nowadays more and more manufacturers sell kroketten that can be made in the oven. They have found a way around this required deep frying (or pre-deep fry them) to still make a crispy outside.
Why can kroketten burst during baking?
Sometimes kroketten burst open during baking (see photo below). This can happen for both the oven as well as deep fried versions. This is due to the evaporation of moisture inside the kroket. The inside gets very hot and the longer the snack is in the heat, the heater it will get and the more moisture evaporates. This can cause a pressure build up of vapour inside the kroket. If that pressure is too high it will break the crust and release the vapour.
- 600g stew meat*
- 0,5l stock
- 1 onion
- 60g flour
- 60g butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- sprinkle of nutmeg (optional)
- ample flour, eggs and bread crumbs
- frying oil (e.g. sunflower oil)
- Boil the meat in the stock until the meat starts falling apart into little threads. This should take about 30 minutes.
- Take another pan and heat your butter until melted andfry the onions until glazy.
- Add the flour and mix until it's clumpy and there's no loose flour nor butter. You've made the base for your rough here.
- Add the stock with the meat and whisk through well. The roux base should absorb all the moisture and make one thick sauce. The sauce shouldn't be runny anymore.
- If the sauce is way to thin, remove from the fire and prepare some extra roux base to which you can add the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some more moisture.
- Season to taste.
- Leave to cool in the fridge, it should be cold when you start preparing it in order for the roux to keep its shape.
- Take three bowls and fill each with either the flour, eggs or breadcrumbs.
- Shape the roux into cilinder forms.
- Take the center filling (the roux) and cover with flour. Place it in the eggs next and finally coat with breadcrumbs.
- You can leave the kroketten at room temperature for a little while now, but best is to store them in the fridge and fry them as soon as possible.
- Heat oil in a separate high pot to 180C (or use a frying pan).
- Fry the kroketten in the hot oil for approximately 4 minutes. The outside should be a nice dark brown.
*You'll need a type of meat that falls apart after being cooked for a long amount of time. These are used for stews, etc. as well. A good option could be a chuck steak, beef poulet (lean beef sold for use in soups).
That’s another typical Dutch food covered for you! Let me know if there are specific foods you’d like to learn more of.