Classic Beef Rouladen

I prepared roulade (called Rinderrouladen in German) at the Germanic-American Institute in Minneapolis with several strangers, and that was the first time I ever had them. I reasoned that it wouldn’t hurt to get a head start on some cultural activities—read: food—since I would be going to Berlin in a few months. Even though I’ve been in Germany for a few years now and have tried a ton of other delectable traditional German foods, I still look forward to roulade throughout the winter.

Like many treasured recipes, every household has its own interpretation of what constitutes a delicious roulade. Everyone agrees that it is unquestionably a winter meal that is consumed around Christmas.

Here’s what you need to know before you tackle this traditional German recipe at home.

What Is Rouladen?

This is a straightforward recipe for rouladen: thinly sliced beef is smeared with mustard, then rolled around bacon, onion, and pickles. The beef rolls are cooked with onions and carrots in a red wine sauce after being toothpick or butcher’s string fastened. The filling for roulade varies by area and may include hard-boiled eggs, sausage, or even other meats like veal or pork.

One can find nothing less than comforting when consuming a substantial portion of these soft beef rolls filled with pickles and bacon. What’s even better is that you don’t have to reside in Germany to enjoy or prepare delicious roulade.

How To Make Rouladen

Rouladen is a simple dish when you look at what goes into it, but it does take some time and effort to prepare. Here’s a quick rundown on how to make them and what to watch out for:

  1. Slice up the fillings for the beef and the vegetables for the gravy.
  2. Fill the beef and secure.
  3. Sear the roulade in a skillet and remove to a plate.
  4. Add vegetables and red wine to create the pan sauce.
  5. Add the roulade back to the sauce in the skillet and braise until very tender.
  6. Remove the tender roulade and reduce the sauce.
  7. Serve.

Buying Beef for Rouladen

In Germany, beef round, a very lean area from the back leg of the cow, is sliced very thinly at the butcher counter for roulade. In the U.S., however, you will not find this exact cut, so you will need to ask your butcher for a thin cut from the round (eye round, top round, or bottom round).

The ideal measurements are about 7 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 1/4 inch thick. You will need six pieces for this recipe. The alternative would be thin cuts of flank steak that you can gently pound out to about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick.

How I Simplify the Pan Sauce

In Germany, most pan sauces are strained so they’re smooth. I chose not to do that for this recipe, as it’s an extra step that I simply don’t find necessary for the home cook. The sauce can reduce and thicken all the same without being strained, and since only soft carrots and onions are used here, they don’t disrupt the texture too much. If you want to keep it classic, strain the sauce before reducing it, or opt to purée it with the solids.

Can You Make Rouladen Ahead of Time?

This is not usually cooked in advance; instead, it’s a dish best enjoyed on special occasions or winter weekends. But, you can prepare and roll the beef rolls ahead of time and store them, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to two days if you’d like to reduce the amount of time you have to prepare them on the day of cooking.

What To Serve With Rouladen

In Germany, meat dishes, especially in the winter, are served with boiled potatoes (called Salzkartoffeln in German) and braised red cabbage. Rouladen is no exception. However, you can enjoy roulade with spaetzle or simply boiled egg noodles, mashed potatoes for soaking up all that gravy, German bread or potato dumplings if you’re feeling a bit adventurous in the kitchen, or even sauerkraut.

Rouladen in a Dutch oven next to some spoons on a table napkin

Reheating Leftover Rouladen

If you have leftover roulade, the best way to heat them up is by adding them back to a Dutch oven with the remaining gravy. Add a splash of water, cover, and heat over medium, checking every 10 minutes or so and adding more water or broth as needed, until the roulade are hot all the way through and the gravy is thick but pourable. This may take up to 30 minutes.

If you want to eat them more quickly, you can also microwave them, covered, on medium-high in one-minute increments until hot all the way through.

In Germany, you can buy slices of beef, especially for roulade at the butcher counter. In the U.S., you will not find this exact cut, so you’ll need to check if your butcher can slice a cut from the round thinly for you (eye round, top round, or bottom round). The ideal measurements are about 7 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 1/4 inch thick. If you don’t have a butcher who can do this for you, the alternative would be to thin cuts of flank steak that you can gently pound out to about 1/2-1/4 inch.

Ingredients

For the roulade

  • 6 thin slices of beef round or thin flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 3 medium dill pickle spears
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 small white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons German mustard, such as Löwensenf (a good substitute is Dijon mustard)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the gravy

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or clarified butter
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon pickle brine (optional)

Method

  1. Assemble the rouladen: 

    Slice the dill pickles in half lengthwise, then slice each half again lengthwise so you have 12 small spears.

    Lay a slice of beef on a cutting board. Season all over with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add about half a tablespoon of the mustard and smear it all over the beef. Lay a piece of bacon lengthwise onto the beef, then add 2 pickle spears and a few slices of onion. Tuck the long sides of the roulade into the center about 1/2 inch, then roll up from the short side to the short side. This ensures the fillings will stay inside the roulade. Secure with toothpicks or butcher’s twine.

    Repeat for all of the rouaden, then season the outsides with more salt and pepper.

    Making rouladen: bacon, pickles, and onion on a thin piece of beef (on a wooden cutting board next to already rolled rouladen)
     

    Making rouladen: edges of beef folded over the filling (on a wooden cutting board next to already rolled rouladen)
     

    Making rouladen: starting from one end, beef is rolled over the filling (on a wooden cutting board next to already rolled rouladen)
     

    German rouladen wrapped in kitchen twine on a cutting board
     

  2. Sear the roulade:

    Set a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once hot, add the rouladen (depending on the size of your Dutch oven, you may have to work in batches so you don’t crowd the pot) and sear on all sides until the beef is dark brown all over, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer them to a separate plate and turn the heat down to medium.

    Rouladen seared in a Dutch oven until deep brown
     

  3. Prepare the pan sauce:

    Add the onion and carrots and let cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato paste, stirring well to combine, and let cook until the tomato paste turns dark and starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir, letting it cook a little bit too. Once the flour is incorporated, add the red wine and use your spoon to scrape up all the stuck-on bits. Add the beef stock and bring everything up to a simmer.

    Onions and carrots cooked with tomato paste in the Dutch oven until tomato paste is dark brown for German rouladen recipe
     

    Red wine added to Dutch oven for holiday rouladen recipe
     

  4. Braise:

    Once the sauce in the pot is simmering, add the rouladen back to the pot, tucking them into the sauce. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Let braise for at least 1 hour. Then, check them by sticking a sharp paring knife into the center of one and lifting it gently up. It should be so tender that it falls straight off the knife right away, barely making it out of the pot. If it’s not that tender, keep braising, covered, until it is.

    Rouladen added to the braising sauce in the Dutch oven
     

    Overhead view: rouladen brased in the sauce in the Dutch oven
     

    A rouladen lifted from Dutch oven and pierced with a knife to check if tender
     

  5. Reduce the sauce:

    Once the rouladen are tender, remove them with tongs to a serving platter and remove the toothpicks or butcher’s twine. Let the pan sauce reduce over medium-high heat until thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add butter and a splash of pickle brine, if you’d like. Then taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

    Butter added to braising sauce for rouladen recipe
     

  6. Serve:

    Pour the gravy all over the rouladen and serve immediately with your choice of sides. Guten appetit!

    Rouladen on a platter with some of the braising sauce
     

    German rouladen with cabbage and mashed potatoes and gravy on a plate and in the background, a table setting with another serving on a plate and a glass of beer
     

     

FAQ

What is Classic Beef Rouladen?

Classic Beef Rouladen is a traditional German dish made with thinly sliced beef, typically round or flank steak, which is rolled up with a filling of mustard, onions, bacon or ham, and pickles. The rolled beef is then seared and braised until tender in a flavorful gravy, resulting in a rich and comforting dish.

How do I make Classic Beef Rouladen?

To make Classic Beef Rouladen, start by pounding thin slices of beef to tenderize them. Then, spread each slice with mustard and layer with thinly sliced onions, bacon or ham, and pickle spears. Roll up the beef slices tightly and secure them with toothpicks or kitchen twine. Brown the roulade in a skillet with oil or butter until they are golden brown on all sides. Remove the roulade from the skillet and set aside. In the same skillet, sauté diced onions, carrots, and celery until softened, then deglaze the pan with beef broth or red wine. Return the roulade to the skillet and simmer in the gravy until tender. Serve the rouladen hot, sliced crosswise, with the gravy spooned over the top.

What ingredients are needed for Classic Beef Rouladen?

The main ingredients for Classic Beef Rouladen include:

    • Thinly sliced beef (round or flank steak)
    • Mustard
    • Onions
    • Bacon or ham
    • Pickle spears
    • Oil or butter
    • Beef broth or red wine
    • Diced onions, carrots, and celery (for the gravy)
    • Salt and pepper Optional ingredients for the filling or gravy may include garlic, bay leaves, thyme, or paprika for added flavor.

 

Can I make Classic Beef Rouladen ahead of time?

Yes, Classic Beef Rouladen can be assembled ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Prepare the rouladen as directed, then cover and refrigerate them for up to 24 hours before cooking. When ready to cook, brown the rouladen in a skillet as instructed, then proceed with making the gravy and simmering the rouladen until tender. Leftover cooked rouladen can also be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and reheated before serving.

What are some serving suggestions for Classic Beef Rouladen?

Classic Beef Rouladen is traditionally served with sides such as mashed potatoes, spaetzle, or buttered egg noodles to soak up the delicious gravy. Steamed vegetables or braised cabbage make excellent accompaniments to the rich flavors of the rouladen. Garnish the rouladen with chopped parsley or fresh herbs for a pop of color and freshness before serving.

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