Bitter balls. Say what?

For many visitors to the Netherlands, bitterballen (bitter balls) is both a snack food and a culinary highlight. They are the snack-sized version of a kroket, which, although we'd rather not admit it, originates in the French 'croquettes'. The Dutch kroket and bitterbal however do have a current form and recipe that is uniquely Dutch, and utterly delicious. A crunchy outside with a soft, warm and usually meaty filling. 

Chicken ragout bitterballen

Apparently the name "bitter balls" comes from what they were served with, a 'bitter', a spiced Jenever or an alcoholic, strong, bitter aromatic drink. But hey, who knows. 

It's not hard to sum up a good kroket or bitterbal - you make a roux, add some high quality stock (broth), meat, flour and butter to form the filling, ensure a nice breaded crust, after which you deep fry it. How hard can it be?

Well... not that hard, if you know the right tips and trics. 

First of - forget about large krokets. Focus on small krokets or rather: bitterballen. 

Second - use gelatine. 

Third: use whatever you prefer. Veal stock and meat is a classic, and so is beef, but chicken is pretty good too. If you prefer vegetarian - use a good quality vegetable stock and some mushrooms and you will not be disappointed.

4th: if you make several kinds of bitterballen at the same time, you can use beetroot powder (red) or kurkuma (yellow) to see the difference in the finished product.

Finally - make sure that crust is strong.

Chicken (pale) and beef (pink) ready for frying.


I suggest we stick to bitterballen. 

  • 40 g purpose flour
  • 50 g butter
  • 225-250 g high quality, preferably home made stock
  • 100 g cooked meat (pref meat left over from making stock)
  • handful fresh parsley
  • 10 g powdered gelatin
  • 5 g salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 100 bread crumbs
  • 100 g panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • small glass of sherry
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Make a roux: melt the butter and add the flour, stir until the flour is cooked. Add the (cooled) stock bit by bit until you have a thick batter-like consistency. Add your filling (the meat in very small cubes, or what ever you want in there) and season to taste. Add the optional ingredient (I suggest all of them).

Mix in your gelatin, (first soak the gelatine if you're using gelatin leaves) stir well and allow to cool for a few hours.

Make 25 g portions and turn these into balls using wet hands. First put these in the bread crumbs (press well), then well loosened egg whites, then into the panko. Finally back in the bread crumbs, making sure all is well covered and coated. 

Leave the balls to rest in the fridge for ast least an hour, a day is even better. 

Fry them in hot oil (180 C) for 3 minutes. Serve with coarse mustard and a good quality beer, I'd prefer an IPA. 

Pro tips: two versions of kroket can be found in the Netherlands - the butcher's version (slagerskroket) or the baker's version (bakkerskroket). The first will be thinner and use a darker roux with more evenly distributed stewed beef fibres, the baker will be shorter and thicker and have a more creamy roux with more clearly defined cubes of cooked veal. The baker's version may also have a more pale and coarser crust.