For the Georgia game this weekend, Gamecock Woman and I will be enjoying a nice meal of bratwurst with sauerkraut and German-style potato salad. I was inspired to go with this menu because given that we're playing the Dawgs, hot dogs were the first thing that popped into my head. I didn't really want hot dogs, but sausage sounded appealing. There are few things in life that are better than sausage and beer while watching football on a Saturday afternoon.
Well, maybe crushing the Dawgs and reading the post-game lamentations in the AJC would be better.
Bratwurst is a sweet, spicy sausage. There are many varieties, but the classic Johnsonville Wisconsin brats have a strong nutmeg and ginger flavor. Brats are generally served on a toasted roll with mustard and sauerkraut. If you've got a grill, the classic way to prepare brats is to simmer the sausages with chopped onion in beer before throwing them on the grill briefly to get a nice crispy texture. Method One detailed in this article is more or less how I've cooked mine with this method in the past, and the article also offers some other possible approaches. A smoky beer gives the sausages a nice flavor; many simmer their sausages in light macrobrews, but in my experience, this saps the spice in the sausage without adding much flavor. If you're tailgating and don't have access to a stove, you can easily do the simmer in a pot on your grill. One of the main things to keep in mind is that it's important to simmer--as opposed to boil--the brats in the beer. If you boil them, it will open the casing, causing the delicious juices to run out into the boiling beer, as well as for the fat to drip out onto the grill, causing grease fires that will burn your sausages. For the same reason, make sure you don't mishandle the sausages while grilling them.
Unfortunately, I don't currently have access to a grill because I'm living in an apartment complex that doesn't allow grills on the porch. Never fear, though, if you're in the same boat as me--brats can be pan-fried to delicious effect. Here's a nice tutorial on how to do so. Basically, after simmering the sausages in beer, you should fry them in a bit of butter or oil. Fry with a cover in order to cook the links faster. Cook each "side" about three or four minutes. After each side is browned, check the temperature, which should be 160 degrees before eating.
Potato salad is a classic side for bratwurst. This is a recipe I like that's very easy to follow. German-style potato salad is a bit lighter than the southern style your grandmother used to bring to holiday dinners, but it's quite flavorful, particularly when you include bacon. The fact that it's lighter also means you can drink more beer without worrying about getting a stomach ache. I've always suspected that more folks in my grandparent's generation are teetotalers because the good they grew up eating doesn't go terribly well with beer. Just a hunch.
For beer pairings, you have some different options. I generally go with something lightly hopped that relies on a smoky or spicy flavor profile. A mellow beer like a pilsner allows the flavor of the sausage to shine well. However, a lighter beer may very well lose its flavor while you're eating. A spicy, citrusy hefeweizen that's not too sweet is more likely to maintain your attention while still complementing the sausages well. The flavors of the beer and sausage magnify each other quite well. I had a Sweetwater (one of the good things to come out of Georgia) hefeweizen recently that I thought would go well with brats. Lastly, a classic choice is an Oktoberfest, whose malty, bready flavor pairs well with sausage. I picked up a six pack of Sam Adams Oktoberfest when I bought my sausages last night.
Please share your approach to cooking brats, as well as ideas for beer pairings, in the comments section.