Rouladen, a Christmas Eve Tradition

Rouladen are a traditional German dish, savoury meat rolls with mustard, bacon, pickles, and onions, browned and braised to tenderness in a flavourful gravy.

German Fleisch Rouladen, Christmas tree pickle ornament

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.

 

brown the rouladen in a skillet

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.

German Fleisch Rouladen, browned and ready to braise

Fleisch Rouladen

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.

ingredients for German Fleisch Rouladen

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.

next, spread the rouladen with 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.

Cover rouladen with two bacon strips

Lay the pickle strips crosswise along the bacon slices.

arrange pickle strips on rouladen

Sprinkle the chopped onion across the bacon and pickle, also ending about 2 inches from the end.

cover rouladen with chopped onions

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.

rolling up the German Fleisch Rouladen

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.

fasten rouladen with a toothpick

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and saute the rouladen, turning them to brown all 4 sides.

brown the rouladen in a skillet

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.

find the pickle

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?

Christmas tree, 2011

Can you find the pickle?

Guten Appetit!

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25 Responses to Rouladen, a Christmas Eve Tradition

  1. Vicky Keenan-Talley says:

    My mom use to make this dish along with other german dishes this one is my favorite but she diced the pickles and bacon. I will try it this way and see if mygrandkids like it. I make it since my mom is gone but it brings so many memories

    • Margaret says:

      Food memories are so special, and one taste or lovely aroma can bring back a person or a time in a way that nothing else can. I love that you think of your mom when you make rouladen, and that you are now passing on that tradition to your grandkids. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season filled with lots of love and rouladen!

  2. Vivian says:

    So happy to have this tutorial, Margaret. I want to make this right away. Is there a particular cut of beef to ask the butcher for?

    • Margaret says:

      If you ask any butcher to have the meat cut for rouladen they should know what you are asking for. Sometimes I have even seen packages labeled ‘rouladen’ in a grocery store meat department and there might be 4 slices cut in a package (though you don’t see them too often). They use several different cuts of roast to cut for rouladen. Both Parkland Packers and Sandyview farms have cut them for me before. If not, you can cut any nice large roast, while it’s still partially frozen, into 1/4 inch slices yourself. Good luck!

  3. Vivian says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I’ve just been re-reading the Christmas Eve Rouladen post and was wondering if you have a good gluten-free spaetzle recipe. I’d appreciate it, thanks.

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Vivian, I’ve been working on a recipe, and they turn out really well, but they don’t have the ‘chew’ of regular spaetzle, so I’m still playing with it. I did try making one batch with ground chia seeds instead of eggs – they were very gummy, and I had to saute them after cooking so they wouldn’t stick together in a clump. The didn’t look as nice, but they did have that ‘chew’ so I’ll be trying to play around with that.
      But here is my latest variation. We used them again this year for Christmas Eve and they are decent:
      8 large eggs, 100 ml. water, 100 ml. milk (or canned coconut milk), 2 teaspoons salt, 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup sweet rice flour, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum.
      Beat the dough together well with a beater, then scrape large spoonfuls over the holes of a spaetzle maker or the back of a cheese grater, into boiling water. Let come to a float and boil 1 minute. Strain.

      Happy Spaetzle eating! And best wishes for a very Happy and Healthy New Year!

  4. Joe says:

    Margaret,
    You are correct: 18 rouladen is a ridiculous number. I made 30 this year. Of course, there ARE 4 of us…

    Great recipe.
    As you say, Christmas Eve dinner HAS to be rouladen (and rotkohl and mashed potatoes and glühwein, plus a bunch of “etceteras”). My parents were from Silesia, and we’ve carried on the food tradition as best we could. All of us (wife, 2 grown sons) participate in the prep rituals.
    We’ve always diced the bacon, and left the pickes a lot larger. Good tradeoff, I think.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Regards,
    Joachim

    • Margaret says:

      Oh, I love hearing from another kindred spirit, Christmas Eve rouladen eater. You definitely have us beat in the rouladen race – 30! Wow! That was a definite rouladen factory in your kitchen! What fun to make them all together as a family – everyone will appreciate them even more. It’s interesting how every family has their small variations of how they put the rouladen together, yet they all still have the same wonderful flavour. The world seems such a smaller, closer place when you think of how we share certain customs and carry them to different corners of the world to keep alive through the generations.

      Warm wishes for a Happy New Year, and many more rouladen-filled Christmases!

  5. Heinz Mueller says:

    Hi Margaret, so loved your portrayal of your Dad sitting at the table……, I am totally in tune with it ! That IS what family is all about. Warm regards, Heinz

    • Margaret says:

      Thank you, Heinz. Those memories and traditions of family are in our hearts forever, aren’t they? Happy times, in the kitchen with family, to you.

  6. Ann Marie says:

    How can I print just the recipe without all the photos and wonderful stories?

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Ann Marie, I don’t have a print feature since I haven’t found one that allows me to have the photos within the recipes. The best way to print it is to highlight the recipe, then copy and paste it into a Word document. Then click on each picture individually and click ‘cut’ (delete it). Then print the Word document. I know that sounds like several steps, but it’s quick. I do that often for recipes I get off the internet. Thanks for visiting. Happy holidays!

  7. Hattie says:

    You are talented with words! I usually just read the recipes but on your blog I enjoy all the stories and it’s such an interesting read 😊

    I’m Canadian and we’ve been invited to a German families home for Christmas Eve, they are very close friends. I wanted to make a surprise for them that reminded them of home and show them that we care about their traditions.
    Would this be an appropriate dish? Or is there something else that might be better? I’m also thinking of making mulled wine. Any suggestions or thoughts would be appreciated! They are homesick and I want them to have the best familiar Christmas ever.

    • Margaret says:

      They are so lucky to have such a friend as you! What a thoughtful thing to do. Although Rouladen aren’t specifically a Christmas tradition in every home (they are in ours, though), they are a very typical German food, prepared in different ways in different areas of Germany – it’s usually the gravy that’s different. Some make it without wine, with either just a savory gravy, some add sour cream or sweet cream, some make a mushroom gravy, but the rouladen almost always have bacon, pickles and onions, though some might chop them all up fine together to stuff the rouladen. Cucumber salad and sweet and sour red cabbage, plus either potatoes or spaetzle would be traditional accompaniments.

      If you wanted to bring a sweet treat, a very traditional cake for German Christmas is ‘Stollen’ – it’s a fruit studded bread-like cake, usually stuffed with marzipan. You can often buy a really good one at German delicatessens or bakeries. If your friends don’t already have one, that would probably be much appreciated. Slices of Stollen are on every German Christmas goodie platter, and also lovely for Christmas morning breakfast.

      I’m sure if you brought some homemade Rouladen, though, your friends would know how much you care about them. And mulled wine would be spot on – It’s called ‘Glueh wein’ in German (glow wine) and is served at all the Christmas markets held in almost every town in Germany throughout December. I hope you have a WONDERFUL Christmas, making many lovely memories with your friends and family!

  8. Joe says:

    Yup, about that time of year again, isn’t it?
    Looking forward to making these again.
    Happy holidays to all.

    Regards,
    Joachim

    • Margaret says:

      Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas holiday and a special Christmas feast to you and your family, too! I haven’t made my Rouladen yet, but hoping to this week. I’m starting to get that Christmas feeling now – it’s been slow coming this year because of our unseasonably warm fall.

  9. Donna says:

    My Nana never made this with bacon but my family would like me to try adding bacon. I’m wondering how the bacon cooks down. I’m thinking of chewy, unrendered slices of bacon. Can anyone explain how the bacon should be when done?

    • Margaret says:

      If you braise the Rouladen long enough – like at least 2 hours, the fat from the bacon all renders out and the bacon itself seems to melt away. You hardly notice it in the Rouladen, it just adds amazing flavour (a bit like pork belly), and it doesn’t seem to make the gravy excessively fatty either. I do always try to pick the meatiest packages of bacon I can find, to get the most flavour and the least fat. You could always leave it out of a few of the Rouladen – just mark those with toothpicks – and see what you think of the difference. Happy Rouladen eating and Happy Holidays!

      • Joe says:

        The other thing you could do, is to chop the bacon slices into roughly 1/4 inch strips, and sprinkle that into the rouladen before you roll them up. That’s the way I’ve always done it, and nobody has ever complained. Of course, it IS bacon, and people don’t usually complain about that, anyway.

        If you’re unsure, Margaret’s suggestion of doing some each way as a great one.

        Joachim

  10. Tami says:

    Margaret, I would love to know at what point do you freeze these when cooking ahead and then do you thaw before braising or reheating to finish them off?
    Thank you

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Tami, I usually cook the rouladen fully, then remove them from the liquid and freeze them on a cookie sheet til solid, then store the frozen rouladen in a zip top freezer bag and freeze the cooking liquid separately in a container so I can make the gravy and reheat the rouladen in the gravy. I have cooked them both ways – defrosting them first, and also straight from frozen when I’ve been in a hurry, and they’ve turned out great either way.

  11. Joe W says:

    Ms. Margaret,

    Time for my annual hello, it seems.
    Cooking will begin in about 1 hour.
    Asked for 30 rouladen to be cut this time. Some of them could be use to sole Sasquatch’s mocassins. Huge. Fine looking beef, though.

    All the best to you and yours.

    Regards,
    Joachim

    • Margaret says:

      How wonderful to hear from you, Joachim. Our rouladen are simmering away in the oven right now – ours was a small batch this year – only 12 of them, but they also were Sasquatch-sized 😉 (love that simile!)

      Warm wishes for a very Merry Christmas (Frohe Weihnachten) to you and your family, too!
      Margaret

  12. Joe W says:

    Margaret,
    In spite of their size, they were wonderful. Froze some, but I’m thinking that that was a futile effort, since I think they are going be de-freezered soon.

    Hope your Chistmas was good, and wishing you the best of 2017s.

    On a different note, is Mabel’s “Delicious Memories” still available? Would love to have a copy. Don’t tell my wife, as I’m still on notice that ANOTHER cookbook in the house will result in dire consequences.

    Am also very much looking forward to trying the Farmhouse Fried Chicken, since chicken is our favorite vegetable.

    Be well,
    Joachim

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