Holiday traditions for me begin with the food. Maybe it’s my upbringing, a German mother who was an amazing cook. One of the many ways she showed love was through her food and no one ever went hungry. I love food! Talking about it, cooking it, watching it being cooked, reading recipes, but mostly eating it! Some traditions fade away, but when it comes to Christmas Eve dinner, very little has changed since I was a child. It is sacred! My childhood memories of my father carefully slicing a huge sirloin tip roast into thin pieces of beef ready to be pounded thinner. My mother prepping, dicing, slicing, rolling and cooking for hours to bring us the once a year feast we all clamored for: Rouladen!
What is rouladen, you ask? An odd, but perfect combination of bacon, onions, and pickles rolled into thinly sliced beef that is seared and then slowly roasted for hours resulting in tender, rich and flavorful bundles of delight. Part of its allure is that it is only served once a year on Christmas Eve, the night we would gather to celebrate with family and friends. The table was dressed in beautiful linens, my mother’s china, crystal and silver would come out and grace the table with glimmer and shine. Our humble kitchen would become an elegant place to dine and enjoy. A chance to feel fancy and comfortable all at the same time.
Both my parents are gone now and the Christmas Eve tradition is now carried on by my sister and me. These days, Christmas Eve may be celebrated on December 17th but the spirit of the event is intact. The day before the feast, my sister, daughter and I set aside time to prepare the rouladen. I prep the components and set up our stations. Luckily we no longer have to slice the meat thanks to talented butchers and the discovery of Black Angus chip steaks. The three of us talk, laugh, stuff, roll and sear. Preparing dozens and dozens of rouladen which will be tucked away into a giant pan ready to slowly roast for hours filling my house with its intoxicating smell.
The total meal has evolved a bit over the years, Oyster Rockefeller was added in the late seventies as the appetizer. This one is my brother’s specialty and I am certain there is no specific recipe; it is delicious and decadent. The main event is served with mashed potatoes, gravy (my sister’s job), rot kohl (braised red cabbage) and homemade rolls (also my sister!). I added a spinach salad with bacon, feta cheese and pomegranate seeds around nine years ago that has been accepted and requested year to year. My sister creates a dizzying array of delectable mini desserts: lemon meringue tarts, apple pies, and cookies! These additions include and celebrate our American side as well as our German heritage.
Christmas Eve has always been a time to come to the table and all are welcome. It’s a time to relax and enjoy each other, to laugh and to reminisce. Our family feels smaller now. Many who we love are gone but I look forward to welcoming new faces and sharing the old traditions and making new ones. My mother always had room for one more and I hope to carry on her tradition of hospitality and love.
Christmas Eve Rouladen
3-4 pounds sirloin tip roast, thinly sliced across the large surface or Black Angus chip steaks
½ – ¾ pound bacon, diced
Dill pickles, cut into wedges (one per rouladen)
Dijon style mustard
1 onion, finely chopped
2 TBSP oil of choice
2 cups beef stock
2 cups cleaned and sliced mushrooms (optional)
Cut sirloin tip roast into 1/4” slices (or ask the butcher), pound the meat with a mallet to about 1/8” thick. Place slice flat on a cutting board, season with salt and pepper and spread on the mustard. Distribute bacon, onion and pickle wedge onto the meat. Roll making sure all items stay inside and tuck in the ends. Tie with butcher string or secure with tooth picks. Repeat for each slice.
Heat oil in frying pan over medium high heat, brown meat, turning every few minutes. It’s best to work in batches. Transfer browned meat to roasting pan (if making ahead place, in refrigerator until ready to roast at this point) and add beef stock; cover pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 ½ hours or until meat is tender, if using mushrooms, add at the halfway point. Remove the rouladen and keep warm. Make gravy using the juice and drippings from the pan. This is typically my sister’s job but since I need her to make mine, I suggest you add a slurry of cornstarch and water (typically 1 TBSP cornstarch with a little cold water) to the hot liquid and bring to a boil to thicken stirring constantly, season with salt and pepper to taste. My mom used to add cream of mushroom soup but I that is one tradition I was okay to let go.
This recipe is a scaled down version of what we typically make. Since we only do this once a year it is not unusual to make 30-36 rouladen. Can you say leftovers?
Enjoy my friends and Frohe Weihnachten!