Beef (tongue) croquettes and bitter balls are tought to have been invented by Dutch house wives in the 19th century invented to prevent beef left-overs got wasted. In the rather egalitarian and liberal Dutch society, the receptions offered by overseas consulates and embassies on the occasion of the King’s birthday, feature lightly salt cured, raw herring and bitter balls as a snack. These dishes unite the Dutch.
Origin of beef (tongue) croquettes and bitter balls
When living in the late nineties in Tianjin in Northern China, my wife and I were obtaining a crash course in Chinese culture and tasting north Chinese food. I have still deep appreciation for the hard work that was done to bring the country and economy forward. While we befriended several very kind Chinese, there was also more opportunity to meet up with the few foreigners of other nationalities. This motivated my family to go through the laborious work to make croquettes and bitter balls. We offered these with pea soup and home made beer (the grains for which were imported by train from Belgium in the early days or purchased from friendly Chinese farmers). All guests enjoyed this.
Making croquettes and bitter balls yourself is embarking on usually a two day project. But the bitter balls and croquettes freeze and thaw very well. So you can work ahead of a party, only leaving the deep frying part to right before consumption.
deep fryer or wok
PART 1 Ingredients for the meat and broth
- 4.4 lbs (2kg) beef tongue or other beef meat
- 1 brown (white) onion
- 1 carrot
- a bunch of parsley stems you need also parsley leaves for the ragout
- 3.4 pints (1.6 liter) water
- 0.3 oz (8 g) salt
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 small, cubical beef broth cubes Optional
PART 2 Ingredients for the ragout
- 13.4 oz (380 g) all-purpose flour
- 3.2 pints (1.5 liter) broth
- all the meat from the meat and broth section
- large bunch parsley. Use here the finely cut parsley leaves the curled leave form preferred
- 3 middle sizes brown onions
- 2.6 oz (75 g) butter
- Maggi condiment optional
PART 3 Ingredients for making the balls and croquettes
- 10.6 oz (300 g) bread crumbs
- 4 eggs
- splash of milk
PART 4 Ingredients for deep frying the balls and croquettes
- 6 pints (3 liter) refined Vegetable oil in Asia soybean oil is popular
- kitchen towel paper for draining
- Dijon mustard as condiment
Instructions for the meat and broth
Wash the beef meat, the onion (without peeling it) and pat it dry. Cut the carrot roughly in pieces. Cut the onion in two. Do not cut the meat
a. When not using tongue: Fry the beef in the stock pan for 1 minute on all sides. Also fry the onion halves on the cut sides. The onion parts may become slightly charred.
b. When using tongue: skip the frying step for the meat, but rub salt on the tongue for 30 minutes and then rinse it, but do fry the onion halves
Add the cold water, the carrot pieces, the salt and the parsley stems and reduce the fire, to let the broth get slowly to a simmer. Optionally 3 beef broth cubes may be added, or more salt may be used
Now and then skim off foam and other grid and let it slowly simmer for 3-4 h. The test for the beef tongue is that it should release the skin easily without the meat sticking to it. The salt rubbing pre-treatment will help. Some people insist the skin should be removed while the tongue is hot, but this is not really correct. When the meat is well cooked and the tongue has been rubbed with salt before cooking, the skin will let go regardless warm or cold
Let the broth cool down overnight and in the morning skim off any fat that may have solidified overnight. If you have no concern about the fat, you may immediately proceed. Reserve the meat and keep refrigerated if you need to store it.
Instructions for the ragout
Peel the onions and dice them. If you prefer you could use a kitchen machine to do this: we need it very fine
Wash the parsley and only use the leaves. Cut them fine using the cook’s knife or use the kitchen machine for this. The stems could be used in the broth (see above)
Melt the butter in a skillet and first fry the onions at high fire and then smother them for 20 min until golden. While the onions are cooking, slice the meat in small pieces
When the onions are golden, bring the heat to low and add 90 g of the flour and mix on very low fire. Add the broth (may be some 400 ml). Keep the fire low and mix well continuously. I prefer a whisk but if your pan has a protective layer, use a wooden spoon
Then add more broth first (300-400 ml) and then add the flour (perhaps 80 g), every time mixing thoroughly and ensuring some thickening takes place before adding the next broth and flour portions. Be wise and always keep some flour and broth behind to make corrections
When a smooth mass is obtained increase the fire and keep stirring. The mixture is getting thicker. Do not let it cook yet and add now the cut meat and then bring it to a very slow simmer, while stirring. If you feel the mixture is too thick, add some broth. If it were too thin, best is to add a separate concentrated flour/broth mixture (no lumps please) slowly under stirring. Better this to be done when the mixture has cooled down somewhat. Also keep in mind that the mixture will get thicker in texture when it has cooled down
Add the finely chopped parsley leaves and mix. Add pepper, salt or other condiments to taste. Perhaps using a bit more is okay as the flavours will blend in over time. Check the ragout on taste and thickness and let it cool covered (a lid or plastic wrap), eventually in the refrigerator. The consistency of the ragout after cooling in the fridge should be such that it can be shaped with your hand. A too liquid ragout may lead to croquettes or bitter balls that ‘leak’ the ragout into the frying oil, which should be prevented by all means.
PART 3 Instructions for making the balls and croquettes
Crush the eggs and mix in a bowl with a fork or whisk. There is no need to separate the egg white from the yolk. But using the egg white only works equally well. Add milk. Use 2 volume parts of egg mixture and 1 volume part of milk
Take a flat plate and cover with breadcrumbs. Use a fork to take the required amount of ragout per croquet or bitter ball and place these on the plate. Cover with bread crumbs and form the crocquets or bitterballs by hand. The balls or croquets will now be shaped and have an outer layer of breadcrumbs. For the croquettes make them cylindrical 3-4 inches long and 1.5 inch thick. Balls should be 1.5 inch in diameter. This process goes best when using cold ragout from the refrigerator
Take now a deep plate (used for serving soup) and fill it for 30% with the egg/milk mixture
Roll the balls or croquettes through the mixture (do not forget the sides of the croquettes) and then put them on the plate with bread crumbs in small batches. Roll them though the bread crumbs. It depends on how thick the bread crumbs are and the stiffness of the ragout, whether one more roll is required. An extra roll through egg milk mixture is more work and causes the crust to become thicker
The croquettes and balls can be placed in a re-sealable plastic bag or flat box and frozen. Ensure to freeze only one layer at the time to prevent changing the shape. Alternatively the croquettes or balls can be placed covered in the fridge in one layer if the frying will be done within a few hours.
PART 4 Instructions for deep frying the balls and croquettes
Thaw the balls or croquettes if they have been frozen, taking them out of the freezer several hours before frying
Heat the oil to around 180 C
Carefully immerse the balls or croquettes with a slotted spoon in the hot oil in small batches. Ensure to keep the temperature as close as possible to 180 C
When the balls and croquettes float and have become brown, take them out and drain on kitchen towel paper
Serve with mustard. Warn guests they are very hot!!
Method: Deep frying, simmering
Food Allergy & Intolerance information: MSG (can be replaced or omitted), wheat, gluten, egg, cow milk (can be replaced or omitted)
- When using beef tongue, the taste of the croquettes will be very mild and subtle. Both the meat and the broth will determine the taste. I prefer beef tongue over veal, but they are both very nice.
- Some add a few sheets of gelatine (after welling in water) to the warm ragout, to ensure a stiffer ragout before rolling.
- In the Netherlands croquettes are a fast food snack and also eaten on a sandwich for lunch.