I find bratwurst incredibly tasteless and dry most of the time—no matter how much delicious mustard or onions or whatever you put on them. I wanted to try cooking them in a way that didn’t require a grill and could be a one-pot meal for any time of the year. And what better side dish to a couple of juicy and well-cooked bratwursts than onions and sauerkraut? No? Not for you? Let me ask you a question then. Have you ever had really good cooked kraut? The kind that turns a light caramel color and becomes soft and also a little sweet, to complement its tanginess? If you’re intrigued, then read on!
The star of this dish unintentionally became the sauerkraut. I love kraut in all its forms, since I’m Polish and it’s in my veins. You must use high-quality sauerkraut. Please do not use the stuff in the can. A few companies make bags that you can get in the refrigerated section, and other producers, like Clausen, make delicious jarred kraut. Just no metal cans! If you are as lucky as I am, you live on the same street as a Polish deli, so you can just walk three minutes down the road and scoop some stinky, juicy sauerkraut right from the barrel. It’s heaven, believe me. It’s crisper and fresher when it’s out of the barrel, because it isn’t cooked like the jarred varieties. If you’re even luckier, you have a kraut crock, and you’re making the stuff yourself. This is what my fermentation dreams are made of, guys!
I generally cook my kraut for hours, but not in this case: The sauerkraut finished cooking down only about 35 minutes after I had browned the sausages and onions. I think we have to thank the addition of beer for that!
Instead of using a grill, I used a standard deep skillet for everything. Sometimes you just don’t feel like messing with the grill, or it’s raining, or you just don’t have one. I made the dish all in one main pan and switched between the few different parts of the cooking process using one extra plate. I began with gently caramelizing a tower of thinly sliced onions in butter and adding some spices to bloom in the fat. Once the onions were soft and light brown, I removed them from the pan, turned up the heat, and threw in my sausages for browning. The sausages don’t need to cook through at this point, because they will bubble away in the cabbage juices and beer for a while. They should be browned well on each side and can be set aside once they look good to you. Return the onions to the pan, add the kraut, add the beer and a couple additional spices with the sausages, and in no time you’re cutting open a soft bun and pouring a cold beer to go with your dinner.
As for beer in the recipe, I used Adam’s Munich Helles homebrew. It goes so well with meat, and since the beer and the dish both have a Central/Eastern European backbone, they went perfectly together. The bitterness and light caramel sweetness of the beer were both pronounced in the cabbage, if you can believe it. The complex fermented flavors played off of each other; that’s the sweet and tangy flavor combination I mentioned earlier. I think that any good lager would work well for this recipe, even a darker one. I would just recommend something light on the IBUs, otherwise you’ll have some intense bitterness on your hands. Enjoy with your favorite mustard on a roll, or cook up some egg noodles and serve as an entrée. This would be great with smoked kielbasa instead of the brats, too!
Since it’s September, you may have a few Oktoberfest beers in your fridge waiting to be consumed. Feel absolutely free to use them in this recipe instead of a lighter lager. You’ll get a deeper color and flavor from an Oktoberfest, so pour it on.
Beer Braised Sauerkraut with Bratwurst Sausages
4 fresh bratwurst sausages
2 lbs sauerkraut, rinsed
1 ½ large white onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Kucharek Smak Natury, Vegeta, or vegetable or chicken bouillon cube
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon regular paprika
dash of cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup lager
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
3 whole allspice
6-10 whole black peppercorns
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the onions thinly. I have a mandolin and highly recommend that everyone own one. Please use the hand guard!
Heat skillet to medium. Add butter and oil. Let butter melt. Add onions and cook down until the onions are soft and lightly caramelized, about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from pan to plate and heat skillet to medium high.
Add sausages. Brown on all sides. Sausages do not need to be cooked through at this time.
While the sausages are browning, prepare the sauerkraut. I always rinse my sauerkraut. Always! Rinse it well with cold water to remove the fermentation juices. Sometimes it can help remove any residual bitterness, extreme saltiness or sourness. Squeeze out any additional water and let it sit in a sieve over a bowl or in the sink while you finish the sausages.
Once the sausages are browned, remove them from the pan to the same plate as the onions, or put them onto another plate. The onions go back into the pan at this point. I just maneuver around well enough that I don't have to wash an additional plate. Add the garlic, Kucharek or bouillon cube, smoked paprika, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder and stir well to combine. Let cook for 3 minutes until fragrant, and then add the sauerkraut. Combine gently. Don’t mush the kraut!
Add water, beer, sugar, bay leaf, allspice and peppercorns. Let come to a simmer. Add sausages back into the pan, pushing them gently into the sauerkraut until they are partially covered. Let cook for 30-35 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and sausages are cooked through completely. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with your favorite mustard and crusty bread.
Are you a vegetarian? Just leave out the meat or use vegetarian sausages, like the ones from Upton! The sauerkraut is delicious on its own!