My parents are German immigrants and my mother made this dish a few times a year when I was growing up. To this day, it’s one of my brother’s favorite meals (sans the Rotkohl). It’s a very typical German meal but somewhat time consuming to make. Unfortunately, my mother never really taught me how to cook and I was over 30 years old before I became interested in something involving me, a kitchen, and anything more challenging/strenuous than a basic crock pot recipe and mashing some potatoes. My how people change as they age!
In late 2007 (I kept the e-mail), I asked my brother how Mom made rouladen and I’ve been making it once or twice a year since. If you do an internet search, you’ll see that some people add a pickle and/or carrots to their rouladen. That’s not how my Mom made them (different part of Germany) and so that’s not how I make them. This is good comfort food to me and you don’t want to mess with tradition when it comes to comfort food…
Traditionally, rouladen are served with boiled potatoes, gravy made from the drippings (a *must* in my book), and rotkohl (braised red cabbage). I never liked the cabbage growing up but my tastes have changed a wee bit since then and I now make my own version of rotkohl (based mainly off some tips I read about on Epicurious along with what I think would be good). See my rotkohl recipe/process in this post.
When I make rouladen, I make a lot of them because of the cooking time involved. If making them for a crowd (since we want leftovers!), I’ve been known to make two skillets worth. The skillet I use when making it just for us is large: 13” wide and 3” deep. So it’s a larger skillet than many people have in their kitchens. Use your largest covered skillet.
The meat: I typically use London Broil but Top Round is the more traditional cut. I use London Broil because the way we source our meat (from local farmers) means we have to slice the meat to the desired thickness ourselves which can be a bit difficult. If you’re buying your meat from the grocery store, have the butcher slice it no more than ¼” thick (slightly thinner – down to 1/8” – is even better but you don’t want it so thin that it’s falling apart). The slices need to be long enough to roll – 6” minimum, 8 to 10 inches is better. The slices also need to be a minimum of 3 inches wide (4-6 inches is better) to hold together well.
Thinly sliced beef – however many rouladen you want to make. I made 12 in these pictures. (The meat in the picture is not marinated – it’s sitting in its own juices after being sliced the day before and refrigerated)
Sliced bacon strips – one strip per roulade
¼ to ½ cup mustard – we like Kosciusko brown mustard but any type is OK, including plain yellow American
1 quart beef broth
Garlic powder, salt, and pepper (to taste – we tend to be heavy with the spicing)
One small onion, sliced (the picture shows 2 but I ended up only using one)
Cooking string (some people use toothpicks; I can’t imagine toothpicks work all that great – take the time to tie each roulade)
Lay out several slices of beef on your work surface and spread mustard on each slice. Sprinkle garlic powder, salt, and pepper on each slice. Lay a piece of bacon down the center of the slice and add 3 or 4 onion slices to one end. Starting at the onion end, roll the meat up. Place roll in the center of a piece of cooking string and tie. (Note: depending on the width of your rolls, you may need to use a tie on each end of the roll. The slices I used this time were narrow enough that I could use just one string in the center of each roll). Trim the ends of the strings after knotting them.
Place the first batch in the skillet and repeat process until all of your rouladen are tied and ready for browning. You may not have enough room in your skillet to brown them all at once (since you don’t want to crowd your meat when browning) but the rouladen shrink so once some of them are on their way to browning, you can add more to the same skillet. Heat the skillet to medium-high and brown on all (or at least two) sides. (Note that I do not coat the skillet with anything – the browned meat will release from the skillet with a gentle tug from the tongs once it is adequately browned).
Once all of the rouladen are browned, add enough beef broth to come up about ½ way on the rouladen. Cover and bring to a simmer. (If you’re making rotkohl to go along with the meal, get it started now if you haven’t already).
Simmer the rouladen (adding more broth as necessary) for at least 90 minutes (2 hours is better), turning every 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the rouladen to a platter and get started on the gravy. (If you’re making boiled potatoes get them boiling now if you haven’t already – be sure not to overcook them though since you want them to hold their shape).
For the gravy this time, I just added about 1/3 cup flour to a 2-cup mixing cup along with a cup of beef broth and whisked until the flour was fully incorporated. I then added this slurry to the skillet along with the rest of the beef broth in the quart container and seasoned with salt and pepper and let the gravy simmer until it had cooked down to an acceptable gravy consistency.
When making a gravy, starting with a roux is preferable but we’re trying to cut out a few calories so I made this more basic gravy this time…
While the gravy is simmering, cut the strings off the rouladen. You want to handle them a bit carefully so they don’t fall apart, but they’ve been cooked into their shape.
Once the gravy is ready, place the rouladen back in the skillet with the gravy and spoon gravy over the tops of the rouladen. Plate and serve.