Thursday, May 8, 2008

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Bar Food: Rowley's Bitterballen

Bitterballen are the quintessential Dutch bar food. Hot, crunchy, salty, meaty; they are tastier (and more appetizing) than dried little bar pretzels that everyone at the bar has been pawing at before you. The size of small meatballs, these snappy little hors d'oeuvres are miniature croquettes (kroketten in Dutch) which are, in and of themselves, particularly beloved by the cloggies. Plus, a bar manager’s delight—they drive you to drink, hence spend, more.

If you’ve been taken with Genevieve, Anchor Distilling’s take on genever, but aren’t quite sure what to do with it, the most approachable way to introduce it to your guests is with a batch of these little buggers. A dollop of hot mustard (Dijon, for instance) is standard.

Rowley’s Bitterballen

Béchamel/White Sauce
2 Tbl unsalted butter (30g/1oz)
3 Tbl flour (1.25 oz/35g)

1 cup milk or stock (250ml) (I like to use a 1:1 mixture of the two)
Salt, pepper, and whole nutmeg freshly ground to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Make a very light roux by melting the butter in a saucepan, then adding the flour. Cook the roux, stirring until it just starts to turn golden.

Add the liquid, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring the sauce until it’s smooth, using a whisk if necessary. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the mass is thickened.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir several ounces of the sauce into the beaten eggs to temper them, then add the new mix back to the remaining sauce. Cook the whole thing just to the boiling point, stirring all the while.

Take off the heat, add several gratings of fresh nutmeg, correct the seasonings, and set this sauce aside while making the filling.

½ c minced onion (60g)
2 Tbl. unsalted butter (30g/1oz)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5 cup ham, minced or ground (180g/6oz)
1 cup cooked chicken or veal, minced or ground (120g/4oz)
1 Tbl flat-leaf (aka Italian) parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp hot sauce such as Tabasco, Crystal, or Texas Pete’s
Salt and pepper to taste

Dried bread crumbs (or panko for greater crunchiness)
2 eggs, beaten

Melt the butter in a skillet, and sauté the onion until it’s soft. Add the garlic and sauté until it’s fragrant, but not browned. Add the meats and heat through. Add remaining ingredients, including the roux, but excluding the eggs and bread crumbs, and set aside to chill.

Scoop about a rounded tablespoon of filling and shape each into a ball about an inch across. Repeat until the filling is used, setting each aside. Roll the entire batch in breadcrumbs, then dip the balls into the beaten eggs and roll once more in breadcrumbs. Allow to rest 30-45 minutes for the breading to dry some and adhere better once they are fried. Freeze any you don’t intend to use within the next day, then deep-fry the rest in vegetable oil at 350°F/177°C until they are a deep golden color. Serve piping hot with mustard and ice-cold shots of genever.

Makes around two dozen.

Goes well with:
  • Het Jenever Museum
  • Het volkomen krokettenboek, a comprehensive book of croquette recipes (in Dutch) by culinary journalist Johannes van Dam. Van Dam may contradict me, but many croquette recipes may be converted to bitterballen simply by making the shape smaller and round. Lobster bitterballen, anyone? Country ham?
  • Chef John Folse is a juggernaut of Cajun cookery. His recipe for boudin balls isn't all that dissimilar to bitterballen and would fit in just fine in a bar food snack-off.
I gotta go. I'm hungry.


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