Rouladen: German Beef Rolls Stuffed with Bacon and Pickles

The FIFA World Cup is crashing quickly to a close, with the Netherlands beating out Uruguay.  That’s a vast relief for me, because although I like to wander around the house repeating the name Uruguay (“..oo-roo-gway….OOH-roo-gway…”) and looking for all the world like a half wit, I haven’t the foggiest idea what they eat in Uruguay.  What I do have a good handle on, however, is German and Spanish food, so I’m willing to put my vote in for whoever is the first to offer me some cured meats.

German food is charming for it’s utter simplicity and reliance on local ingredients, fermentation and cures.  The home-cooking style is generally without frills, producing good, honest, stick to your ribs kinds of dinners.  For example, the average German eats an almost inordinate amount of meat (usually pork or beef, but poultry and game meats are also popular) along with hardy agricultural crops such as cabbage, potatoes and beets.  The meats are usually braised, roasted or in sausage form, and slightly sour side dishes are a popular garnish.

The best thing about German food, however, is that it’s just so much dang fun to talk about.  Would you care for a traditional meal of sauerbraten (vinegary pot roast) served with sauerkrautspäetzle (sour fermented shredded cabbage) and (a small and somewhat noodle-like dumpling)? Oh, or there is my favorite stew, hasenpfeffer.  Who doesn’t like saying, “Hasenpfeffer!”, I ask you?

When it came to our kick at FIFA’s German can, I thought about my favorite German dishes and came very close to writing about pillowy soft pretzels with German hot and sweet mustard, but I knew that I just couldn’t do it.  How could I serve you PRETZELS, when I knew the wonders of rouladen?

If you have never eaten rouladen before, my sympathies.  Basically, it’s thinly sliced beef slathered in grainy mustard.  And then it gets covered in bacon. And THEN it gets wrapped in a log around pickle spears before being braised in wine. I know that this sounds like something I just made up (“A typical meal in the land of…..Tinagra, is composed of strawberry sundaes in an avocado cup and eaten with salty French fries as a utensil….”), because I really couldn’t think of a way to incorporate more of my favorite things into one single dish, but I assure you that this is, indeed, a traditional German staple meal.

Man, those Germans. They’re awesome for way more than just their reliable automobiles.

Rouladen: German Beef Rolls Stuffed with Bacon and Pickles

Serves 6

  • 1.75 lb (800g) inside round beef *
  • 1 lb (454 g) thick cut bacon
  • 1/2 Spanish onion
  • 2 medium-large carrot
  • 4 large dill pickles
  • 1/4 cup grainy mustard
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • salt and pepper

* You can substitute flank steak for inside round, if you prefer, but I find it much more difficult to cut.  That said, you know what’s easier than getting your raw roast beef half frozen and then slicing it thinly? Buying it already sliced, that’s what.  Your butcher or meat counter might already sell “frying steaks”, which are generally a thin (1/4″ or so) long cut of inside round or rump roast, both of which are ideal.  If you are buying a roast and slicing it yourself, tuck it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes until it is firm but not frozen all the way through, and then work quickly to slice it across the grain into long 1/4″ thick slabs.  The number of cutlets that you will have depends on the length of your slices, but it won’t make too much difference in the end.

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

Peel the carrots and onion.  Cut the half onion once vertically (so you have 2 quarters of the whole onion) and then slice thinly, no more than 1/8″.  Cut the carrots into a fairly thin long chunk, each no more than 1/4″ in width.  Slice the pickles lengthwise into quarters, or some very attractive spears.

Lay the meat flat on your work surface and season it lightly with salt and pepper.  Divide the mustard evenly among the slices.  I had 5 very large beef cutlets, so there was slightly less than one tablespoon of mustard on each one.  If you had smaller cutlets, you might opt for 1-2 teaspoons on each.

Lay 1-2 slices of bacon down on top of your beef (again, depending on size) and lay down a row of pickle spears and carrots close to one of the long sides.  Sprinkle some of the sliced onion over top.

Roll the beef up as tightly as possible, tucking in the ends and making sure that nothing is falling out.  If you have long rolls like I do, use butcher’s twine to tie them off at regular intervals and make a log shape.  If you have smaller rolls, it might be more convenient to use toothpicks or poultry skewers to do this.

Set any remaining onion and carrot off to the side.

Those rolls are just so lovely and full of promise right now.  After all, to an unknowing bystander they just look like, well, rolled beef.  But YOU, my friend, YOU know that these rolls envelop a succulent filling of pickles, bacon, and pure happiness.

Heat half of the butter up in a large cast iron pan or an oval Dutch oven set over high heat.  Brown the meat all over and then set the rolls off to the side.  Repeat with the remaining rolls, adding the rest of the butter as necessary.

Add the leftover carrot and onion to the pot and sauté until the onion is golden, about 3-5 minutes.  Don’t mind the browned bits crusted onto the bottom of your pan.  This is not a cleaning emergency, it is FLAVOR that will be lifted soon enough.

Pour in the wine. It will immediately start to bubble and squeal, which is perfect.  Stir the bottom of the pot vigorously to loosen all those delicious browned bits and incorporate them into the sauce.

Turn the heat off on the stove top, because we’re almost ready to hit the oven.

If you did the browning in a pan, pour everything into a large, high sided casserole dish.  If you’re using a Dutch oven on the other hand, you’re good to go.

Lay the beef rolls into the carrot/onion/wine mixture, nestling them close together and as close to flat as possible.  Pour the beef stock over top and fill with just enough water that the beef is submerged.  Try not to add too much water, because it won’t affect the flavor too much but it will take you longer to reduce the gravy when the time comes.

Tuck the cooking dish into your oven and let it braise for 1.5 – 2 hours or until the meat is tender but not falling apart.  Carefully lift the rouladen out of the dish and set them aside, wrapped in tin foil to keep them warm as you prepare the gravy.

Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids.

Put 1 cup of broth aside in a heat proof jar with a lid.  Add 1/4 cup of flour to the liquid and shake it vigorously until it is homogeneous and no lumps remain.

Set the remaining broth over medium high heat and bring it to a simmering boil until it has reduced by a bit more than half and you have a scant 2 cups of liquid left.  This could take anywhere between 8-15 minutes, depending on how much additional water you had to add to cover the rolls.

Slowly pour the thick floury liquid back into the reduced broth, whisking constantly as you do so.  Let this cook together for 5-10 minutes to snuff out the raw floury taste so that you’re left with a deliciously rich gravy. You know what makes delicious gravy? Red wine helps, but when you pair that with bacon…whoooeee! I could drink this with a spoon.

Gently slide the rouladen back in the gravy to simmer for 5 minutes, plumping it back up.  Before plating the rouladen, remove any string, picks or skewers and then cut the rolls horizontally into pieces as large or small as you like.

You can serve rouladen with späetzle, a small, soft dumpling, but I prefer plain ol’ salt boiled parsley potatoes and freshly shelled peas.

We’ve got beef, folks.  We have bacon.  We have pickles and gravy. I ask you, what’s not to love?

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this gravy.  I’m not sure if that was a craving or because our bedroom was far too hot, but either way I’ll take it. Dreams about gravy are sweet indeed.

  • Anne

    Really? Its too hot…..she whines…

    So, I’ll have to put this in my cool weather to do list!!

  • lo

    OH, yeah. Steak and pickles. Gotta love that ingenuity.
    … I’ll take mine with a side of spaetzle and a nice dark, German brew.

    I’m with Anne, though — it’s a little steamy for rouladen right now, but I’ll be up for it somewhere around… Oktober, maybe! 🙂 In the meantime, I’m just going to look at the pictures and drool.

    And are those… herbs that I spy on the potatoes? 🙂

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  • honeydijonay

    I rarely get a chance to comment anymore but I do still read you constantly and this recipe has me salivating and plotting — hot ass apartment be damned! Pickles?! Steak?! Wine?! Hot Damn.

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  • Barbara

    Thanks for the great pictures. I’ve seen my mother-in-law make but never made it myself. Looks delicious!

  • TedM

    My grandmother came from north Germany – a small town in Schleiswig-Holstein, right up next to the Danish border. Her recipe for rouladen was a bit different, and quite a bit easier!

    The only hard part was slicing the beef. She always used flank steak. She’d lay it flat and, using her longest, sharpest slicing knife, she’d cut flat-wise (similar to butterflying, but all the way through) to make at least two, usually three large, flat, and very thin pieces.

    Next step was to chop up about a pound of bacon into very small chunks and saute it until limp and transparent – not crispy at all. To that, she’d add about two large onions, similarly chopped into very small dice, and continue cooking until the onions were also transparent – bacon and onions all cooking together. Add a little salt to taste, no pepper. Do NOT drain the bacon fat!

    This mixture was then divided and smeared across the flank steak pieces.

    Last step was to roll the em up, jelly-roll fashion and tie or toothpick.

    Pop them in about a 350F oven until well done (surprisingly, they really taste better well-done than medium or rare).

    Let sit under foil, then slice into many individual jelly-roll-like slices. Great with all sorts of German-style sides, but can also be used as hors d’oeuvres – just load the roll up with toothpicks before you slice (so it looks like a single-row porcupine), then slice between the toothpicks for individual rounds.

    My grandmother said this version of rouladen was the north-German style – no pickles, carrots, mustard, gravy, etc. – just pure beef, bacon, onion flavor. I’ve made it many times myself, and I can tell you they are delicious!

    • Tina

      Ted M – thank you for the recipe! We’re always interested in learning more about regional cuisine and that was a drool-worthy education you posted. Nothing wrong with purity in the form of bacon!

  • Bob

    I’ve made this on numerous occasions and it’s always a hit! I’ve shared this page with many people after I’ve made it for them.