Sunday, July 5, 2009
Classic Wisconsin Bratwurst
That's right. Peef's parents gave us one of those Christmas gifts that food geeks dream about -- a portion of our very own pig. He was processed into a variety of cuts -- pork steaks, ham, chops, bacon... and since this was a Wisconsin-bred piglet, you can't forget the most important part. The bratwurst.
We've been on freezer clean-out duty lately. So, when we found a package of these babies in the deep freeze, we knew they were the perfect thing to thaw out for dinner.
Now, a bratwurst afficionado will be the first to tell you that the bun you use to cradle your bratwurst is almost as important as the sausage itself. And we didn't really have anything appropriate laying around at home. So, we ran right out to pick up some delicious brat buns from our local bakery. These buns are bigger than your average hotdog bun, a little bit crusty on the outside, and perfectly soft and tender on the inside. Just perfect for a good Wisconsin brat fry.
Then we got to work setting up the grill. A good amount of charcoal is key to delicious, evenly cooked brats. And before you put those babies on the grill, you want to make sure that the coals are grey and glowing. Some people like to precook their brats in beer before they grill them -- but we're not big fans. The beer doesn't impart a ton of flavor during the precook, and it tends to dry the poor little sausages out. We prefer the indirect grilling method for our brats. You can approach it in a variety of ways, but we place those gorgeous hot coals right in the middle of the grill, and line up the brats all around the edges.
When the brats are browned nicely on one side, you'll wand to flip them over to brown the other side. Take care to note hot spots around the grill. If you sense that one of the brats is cooking too quickly, move him to a cooler spot. The sausages will start to smell amazing in pretty short order -- but you want to avoid rushing the cooking process. Your patience will be rewarded.
The key to great bratwurst is low, slow cooking. You don't want to cook the sausages too quickly or they'll split open and dry out. Instead, you want to give them a chance to really caramelize on all sides. Your brats will take 20-30 minutes to cook through.
When the brats are cooked, you can bring them in on a plate tented with a bit of aluminum foil. At that point, you'll want to immediately begin dressing your brat bun. First, take a bit of mustard and spread it on one side of the bun. Traditionalist might want a nice, old fashioned grainy German mustard; but, we like a simple, spicy Dijon.
Then, you want to quickly drain the juice from a handful of good sauerkraut. If you're the type who thinks ahead, you can drain the 'kraut while you're grilling the brats; but, you can also do it right before serving. We like to get a bit of lacto-fermented food into our diet whenever we can, so we buy delicious jars of fresh sauerkraut from Spirit Creek Farms in northeastern Wisconsin.
Pile some of the sauerkraut on the bun -- and then spread the other side with a bit of ketchup. This ketchup just so happens to be some of our (quick) homemade "beer ketchup" -- which is the perfect accompaniment for bratwurst. I'll be sure to share the recipe in a future post.
Tuck one of the hot bratwurst into the bun and cover him with a few freshly sliced onions. We opt for raw onions when Vidalias and Walla Wallas are in season, but fried onions are equally good on a bratwurst.
Brats served in this traditional fashion can be a bit messy to eat. You can think of them along the same lines as a chili dog or a nice loaded sloppy joes sammich. But, we like to think that's part of their charm. Tie that napkin around your neck, and bite right on in. I'm going to bet that little beer ketchup stain you get on the left leg of your bermuda shorts will be completely worth the effort it takes to get it out. Cuz once you've tasted a truly great bratwurst, you're never going back to eating those overly processed weiner-like imposters.
For those of you interested in more information about Wisconsin's favorite holiday weekend grilling treat, you don't want to miss The Bratwurst Pages, which describe bratwurst as "Wisconsin's Soul Food." The Web site includes hints and tips for proper bratwurst preparation as well as detailed instructions for eating the bratwurst themselves (don't forget the "bratwash"... AKA, beer). Oh, yeah -- and there's plenty of good humor thrown in there too.
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