Rouladen are a traditional German dish, savoury meat rolls with mustard, bacon, pickles, and onions, browned and braised to tenderness in a flavourful gravy.
What special food do you eat on Christmas Eve?
Is it maybe a seafood feast, or fondue, or roast goose? Maybe it’s the twelve significant dishes of the Ukrainian tradition, or the Polish version? Is it the French tourtiere, or maybe the Scandinavian boiled cod and potatoes?
Whatever it is, I wonder if just thinking about that food instantly brings back all the memories of your childhood Christmases – all the glorious, warm, crazy, love-filled, family times?
It does for me.
Fleisch Rouladen. ‘Meat rolls’ – if you translate literally (sounds much more delicious in German, doesn’t it?) These are the savoury, tender rolls of thinly-sliced beef roast, stuffed with pickles and bacon, then sauteed and slowly simmered in a flavourful, wine-laced gravy. And even though I sometimes make them throughout the year for a special occasion, I have to have them on Christmas Eve, with sweet and sour red cabbage, fresh cucumber salad and mashed potatoes or spätzle to soak up the gravy.
Last week I made eighteen Fleisch Rouladen and put them in the freezer. That was the first activity that put me into the official Christmas mood. Slicing and dicing and rolling finally did it for me. And then the tangy, mouthwatering aroma of the browning rouladen brought back the memories of Christmases past. Memories that all included my father.
This year will be the first time we eat Rouladen without him.
I know he loved them. He sat at the head of the table and enjoyed all the wonderful dishes before him. He loved good food. Smacked his lips and smiled, his eyes crinkling and one unruly eyebrow lifting in pleasure. He would look down the long table filled with his family, and he would beam with pride. He loved to see us all gathered for the holidays. Loved the fact that he and my mother were feeding us from the fruits of their labours – from their garden and freezer and root cellar. Loved to see us all come home, year after year.
So as I made my Rouladen, I thought of him, and missed him.
You see, I am having Christmas at my house this year. I am so looking forward to it. There will be eighteen of us here for nine days – twelve to fourteen (including us) sleeping here and the others joining us during the daytimes. My mind is excitedly buzzing with figuring out how to feed everybody and how to keep lots of activities going. (Four of them are active, athletic, 13 and 15 year-old boys who can eat enough food to put a lumberjack to shame, so the main idea will be to keep their bellies full and their energies engaged.)
It will be a great Christmas.
We will eat our Rouladen and then we will gather around the tree on Christmas Eve and light candles and sing carols and open gifts. We will laugh, and we will cry. Our hearts will miss those not here with us, but we will be thankful for the blessing of family.
And it will be glorious and warm and crazy and chaotic. How could Christmas be any other way?
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: You may not need to make 18 of these at a time so I’ve given the quantities for one and you can adapt them to your crowd size (although a few extra stashed in the freezer are like a Christmas present in midsummer). You can slice your own roast for rouladen – I find it works best if it is slightly frozen, but I have gotten lazy and either buy my rouladen ready sliced or have the butcher slice them for me. I have used different cuts of roast over the years, but your butcher will choose one that works best – inside round is a good cut. You want them sliced as thinly as possible, between 1/8 and 1/4 inch (.5cm or thinner). If you are slicing them yourself and you cannot get them thin enough or if they are uneven, pound them out with a meat hammer.
- For 18 Rouladen, the butcher sliced me a 3.5 kg (7.7lb) inside round roast, and I used 5 onions, 2.5 pounds (1.3 kg) of bacon, 2.5 litre jars of pickles and a 250ml jar of Dijon mustard.
You may need a tad less.
These amounts are very approximate, because it all depends on the size of your rouladen, and how generously you fill them. Whatever you do – it’s all good.
More this. Less that. They still always taste amazing.
For each roulade:
- 1 thin slice from a beef roast (the inside round works well)
- about 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 slices bacon
- 4 lengthwise pickle slices, cut into long strips
- ¼ cup (60ml) chopped onion
- toothpicks or cotton kitchen string
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
for the gravy:
- about 1 cup (240ml) red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 juniper berries or 2 whole cloves
- water to cover
- salt and pepper to taste
- flour, sweet rice flour, or cornstarch for thickening
Lay one roulade at a time out on your cutting board. Smear it with the mustard.
Lay on the bacon slices – you may need to trim off some of the bacon if they are too long, leaving about 2 inches (5cm) at one end free of bacon.
Lay the pickle strips crosswise along the bacon slices.
Sprinkle the chopped onion across the bacon and pickle, also ending about 2 inches from the end.
Now, starting at the full end of the beef, roll up the roulade as tightly as possible, using both hands and tucking in the filling ingredients as you roll.
At the end, pull up the last 2 inches of unfilled meat to cover any filling and secure with a wooden toothpick or tie the whole roll with kitchen string like a package.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and saute the rouladen, turning them to brown all 4 sides.
Remove them to a covered casserole dish which can hold however many rouladen you have made, in a single layer. Pour in any of the delicious pan juices that accumulated as you were browning the rouladen. Tuck in the bay leaves and juniper berries or cloves. Pour over the wine (and here you can be generous – just pour in a good few glugs). Pour in enough water to cover the rouladen about three quarters of the way up their sides.
Cover the dish with its lid or tin foil, and bake at 325°F for 2 hours until they are meltingly tender. (If you bake for less than that they will still be good.)
Remove the rouladen to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm while you make the gravy.
Pour the braising juices from the casserole into a saucepan and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
Shake several tablespoons flour or sweet rice flour with about ½ cup water in a small jar with a lid, to make a smooth slurry. Or stir the same amount of cornstarch into a glass of cold water until the lumps dissolve. The amount of thickener needed depends on how much broth you have from your rouladen. If you don’t have much broth left, or if it tastes too salty, you can add more water to thin it out.
While constantly whisking the boiling broth with one hand, gradually pour in enough slurry with the other hand, until the gravy has reached the thickness you want. (You may not need it all or you may have to make a bit more.) Taste and season, though I find it usually needs no salt, due to the saltiness of the bacon and the pickles.
Serve the gravy on the side to liberally douse the rouladen and your lovely mashed potatoes or spätzle.
German Fleisch Rouladen are traditionally served with mashed potatoes, potato dumplings, or spätzle, and a side of Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage and a marinated cucumber salad.
We have a blown-glass pickle on our tree. Every year the kids like to find it. And it often mysteriously pops up on different branches – elves in the night?
Can you find the pickle?
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