When I was a kid, the single word “rouladen” was enough to make me smile. It was the heart of my favourite meal, my birthday meal, the ultimate feast (as far as my youthful self was concerned, anyway).
As with many of the dishes I grew up with, it didn’t have an English name or identity. I discovered later that they were “beef olives”, but that sounded unbearably English and dull so I rejected it as an option.
Similarly, I grew up with frickadelen. It wasn’t until much later I realised
that they were supposedly the German equivalent of hamburgers. The idea seemed both preposterous and outrageous – the skinny, pallid hamburgers I occasionally ate in Geelong in those years bore no comparison at all to the rich and delicious patties I knew. It was all very puzzling.
But rouladen have survived intact as a delicious remnant of my childhood. It’s redolent in every way of the German upbringing I remember, which I didn’t even understand was German until I went and lived for a while in Germany. And then suddenly lots of things made sense.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in a German-style restaurant here in Australia. If I did, I’d be scared to try them because they wouldn’t live up to my personal hype.
So, here they are. They’re not pretty, but they are delicious. They produce an absolutely scrumptious gravy. Serve with dumplings and red cabbage and beans. It’s obviously not a light meal and it’s obviously not one for everyday, but I’m OK with that.
Meat, thin slices of something like rump or flank steak
Smooth, sharp mustard. I usually use a German mustard, but I have also used a smooth Dijon. Not seeded.
Sweet-sour gherkins/pickled cucumbers (or dill, if you don’t have those), cut into matchsticks
Very fine slices of onion, cut into halves. I use a mandolin to get them very fine.
Fine slices of streaky bacon or kaiserfleisch or fairly meaty speck.
salt & pepper
Get a meat tenderiser and bash the meat a bit until the slices are good and thin. I sometimes do these individually, like a schnitzel, but this time I used bigger pieces of flank steak and cut them into portions once I had rolled them. It’s easier and neater to do it this way.
Sprinkle salt and pepper over one side of the meat, and then smear the same side with a thin later of mustard. At one end, layer the onions, bacon and gherkins. Then roll it tightly and secure with string or toothpicks broken in half. Cut into lengths of 9-10cm.
Brown each roll thoroughly in a heavy casserole pan. Add some liquid to the pan and scrape off the stuck bits. Stack the rolls really tightly and just cover with water. Let it cook very gently for 1½-2 hours. If I have a couple of layers of rolls, after an hour I will usually swap layers about.
At the end, test for salt, thicken a little, and add a little sour cream or creme fraiche.
Verdict: an all-time favourite.