(Photo: Paul Harrison)
If you have the urge to deep-fry, try your hand at these American-style Dutch bitterballen. (Photo: Paul Harrison.) 

I was recently in Amsterdam for the relaunch of an iconic hotel, and they threw this big fancy party that was, well, really fancy: open bar with specialty cocktails, food from three different Michelin-starred chefs. That kind of fancy. At the afterparty, I noticed a tray of fried something-or-other making the rounds. When the server came around, I saw a big plate of fried balls with a big bowl of mustard next to it. My party associates and I didn’t ask what they were, we just dove in, looked at each other, then looked at the server and asked what they were. “Bitterballen.” Pretty sure we collectively put down a couple hundred of those that night.

So now I knew their name, but I still didn’t know what bitterballen were. What is this crispy little ball with a creamy interior and bits of beef floating in it? Is this cheese? Why are they called bitterballen when there’s nothing bitter about them? I DON’T KNOW! So I used a very handy new tool called Google (you should check it out if you haven’t) and found out that the creamy interior is basically just roux (sautéed fat and flour). How could that be? They were so f-ing good! The key is that there’s broth in that roux, and if you use good broth, you’ll get a great end product. The name is derived from historically being served with bitters (herbal liqueurs, like what you drink in cocktails), though people nowadays drink beer with them (which I certainly can get behind).

I ventured out with another writer to a spot that was supposed to have some of the best bitterballen in Amsterdam; they put curry powder in their bitterballen (a common variation). I’m generally not a fan of curry powder, and while it didn’t ruin the bitterballen I had there, they were not nearly as good as the ones I’d had the night before. But I could see they had potential. The ones I had the night before were a perfect blank deep-fried canvas: nothing extra, just straight-up perfectly executed perfection.

I took my own recipe in a spicy-smoky direction, using smoked salt and smoked paprika with a little cayenne pepper for heat. Oh, and instead of using slow-roasted shredded chuck roast like the classic version does, I fired up and chopped a rib eye for a little extra texture. I give you: American-Style Dutch Bitterballen.