Monday, May 11, 2009


This is more of a construction, or a process, than a recipe. Read it over first. It might look complicated, but it’s really easy. You can alter amounts and ingredients to your liking. Once you understand the concept, I think it would be difficult to screw up. (Roll up, yes; screw up, no.)

I think you can play it by ear; you needn’t obsess about exact quantities. I prepared myself by looking at recipes online; I also compared recipes in several church ladies’ cookbooks we have, as well as in other older sources. The best written descriptions of technique came from Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook (Random House, 1980). Also, there’s a wonderful series of photographs of the recipe in various stages of progress online, here.

Have all your stuff together and ready to go at the outset. Clear off a nice workspace. Have your electric skillet or large deepish pan ready with a few tablespoons of Crisco. A good lid is a must. Have some beef broth ready. The following is for six rouladen; a good number for four people so you’re covered for either seconds or leftovers.

Make a little assembly line of the following, in this sequence

1. salt, pepper, paprika

2. medium hot German mustard

3. bacon strips cut into halves

4. chopped onion—just chop up a lot, say, up to a couple of cups; have some extra to use in the braising liquid

5. chopped parsley—just make up a lot, about a cup or more; you can use extra for garnishing

6. dill pickle spears (I used the “yellow” kind from a jar, figuring that’s what all good church ladies would have had available in the 1950s); one spear per roll

7. a platter or cookie sheet to rest them on prior to cooking

8. toothpicks (or string) for securing the meat rolls while they cook


Start with 2 or 2.5 lbs. boneless round steak, sliced into six pieces: 7 x 4 inch slices ca. 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick. If 1/2 inch, pound to 1/4 inch. Your butcher can help; tell him you’re making rouladen. Our butcher pretenderized the meat for us. (Danke schoen, Mr. Schnucks butcher man!)

Onto each slice of meat, sprinkle salt, pepper, and paprika; smear on the mustard in a thin layer.

Then (on the narrower of the two ends, if they’re not equal) make a single layer of bacon strips.

Then sprinkle the onion and parsley onto the whole thing.

Lay a pickle spear at the narrow (bacon) end, and roll up the meat starting at that end. Kind of tuck in the edges as you go (hence using the narrower end for the bacon/pickle part)—it makes for neater cooking and a cleaner look.

After rolling, secure each rouladen with toothpicks (or bind it with string, if you’re “into” that sort of thing).

When you’re done with that, jack up the heat on the skillet pretty high; the first task is to sear and brown the outsides of each of the rouladen. Stand back; it’ll splatter and stuff.

Once the rolls are seared, add the rest of the onion to the pan (I had about 3/4 cup left over after preparing the rolls). Some recipes add paprika, or chopped tomato or mushrooms at this point, but eh. Then add 1.5 cups of beef broth, which is basically one can. (Some recipes don’t even add the onion, or even any broth—just a cup and a half of water. So it’s up to you.)

Bring it to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to simmer (to braise) the rouladen for an hour and a half or two hours—you know—until they’re done.

Apparently the traditional accompaniments are cooked red cabbage and some kind of blank-slate starch—either potatoes or dumplings—and you can prepare the side dishes while the rouladen are simmering. I would also suggest a salad, or asparagus, or at least a heavy garnish of chopped parsley. (You really need something green with this.)

And then there’s the gravy: When the rouladen are done, move them to a platter and keep them warm. Keep about one cup of pan juices in the pan (I skimmed off a lot of the fat and supplemented with red wine to make about a cup); in a jar, shake up two tablespoons of flour with a little water to blend, then drizzle that into the pan juices, heating and stirring quickly to blend. Adjust liquid as necessary. Very simple.

So how was it?

The verdict on all sides was “yum.” The cons, of course, are that it’s a pretty heavy meal and not very health-conscious. (Yeah, gravy—come on!) Also, it takes some time and forethought to prepare (though once it gets simmering, you can do other things in the meantime, like do up your hair, put on your party dress, and listen to Nilla Pizzi records).

The pros are that the presentation can be quite elegant, especially if you slice each rouladen in half diagonally, lay one half on its side and stand the other on end to display the swirl, drizzle the meat and potatoes with gravy, and garnish liberally with fresh parsley. And the flavors are truly dynamic, the meat is tender, and everyone knows you went to some extra trouble to make such a special dish.

Also—and this is an intangible—if you’re a German American like me, you’ll likely feel “at home” with the flavors. I think we all have our own “soul foods,” dishes that speak to us in flavors and textures in ways so powerful we can hardly express. Foods our grandmas made; flavors that came from the Old World, whether it’s Korea or Kenya or Croatia. Sometimes we German-types joke among ourselves about having “sauerkraut in the blood”; well, if there’s some kraut in your veins, maybe you should try this dish.

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