I grew up with brats. Not brats, like the screaming child who kicked you in the leg at the grocery store, but bratwurst, the sausage (pronounced broughts). My dad, being a native Michigan Upper (pronounced you-per) and then having spent most of his growing up years living in Wisconsin, had the natural Midwestern instinct of knowing how to make a good brat. Let me tell you, there are good brats, and bad brats, and when you find a good one, buy a lot because a perfectly cooked brat is good any which way – hot, cold, bun or sans, in casseroles, in quiche, on pizza, really the options are endless.
Along with the eating options, there are also the cooking ones: there’s the boil-in-beer technique, and the grill is always a favorite. The toppings can be endless – onions, caramelized or not, sauerkraut, chili, cheese, relish, or anything your little sausage heart desires. But in our house, it usually always came down to the simple, but still debated, question of using mustard or ketchup (obviously, mustard is the clear choice. Did you hear that Jenn? Mustard.).
My mom would serve brats and my dad would turn into a little kid again, occasionally doing a little dance in front of the grill and making sure there was a good cold beer in the fridge awaiting. She always had a yummy salad to go with, or maybe baked beans, or if we were really lucky, she’d make her prize-winning macaroni salad (the prize was from our church picnic, but still). As the four of us would sit around the kitchen table dipping our brats into the topping of choice, Casey (the dog) would eye us from just outside hoping one of us was nice enough to bring out a piece (we were never nice enough).
Not so many years later, I meet a New Englander who just happens to also be a huge brat fan. Who also likes them with mustard! What luck! And it’s funny, Rob’s grill stance/dance is similar to my dad’s, and there’s always a good cold beer waiting in the fridge.
So, keeping with the yummy summertime theme, last night we grilled brats. But, knowing what we had in the fridge, I decided to shake things up a little bit and turn the standard simple brat into something even more delicious. We both had seconds.
First the toppings: so, I was debating whether or not to beer boil, and then grill, or just grill, but then while driving home, the idea sparked – I’ll make a sweet beer mustard sauce. There I am getting saucy again. But it totally worked – fingerlicking worked. I reduced some summer ale with a bit of maple syrup, added the mustard and seasoning, and voila, a perfect brat sauce.
But that wasn’t all. Our school has a beautiful, yet overgrown, garden that has the most lovely herbs (why I’m only discovering this now, with 4 days left of school, is beyond me). So I picked some chives with the flowering bulb at the top (a vibrant purple color with a mild onion flavor), and mixed together those chive flowers in a simple relish of mango, cucumber, and lemon juice. Topped on the salty and spicy brat, with the sweet and tangy mustard beer sauce, it was a flavor combination that kicked good ol’ sauerkraut back to Germany.
Then the side dish: beans. But, with limited I-just-got-home-from-work-and-I-will-eat-pounds-of-nachos-if-I-don’t-cook-something-healthy-now patience, slow cooked baked beans were not going to cut it. So, turning towards the pantry and freezer I grabbed some staples: black beans, chickpeas, and frozen edamame. These three protein and fiber packed powerhouses warmed slightly and mixed together with just a touch of butter and herbs (chives, applemint, and thyme – again, from our school’s garden) created a tasty, colorful, rustic side dish. It provided a perfect creamy contrast to the main dish with its cooling relish. There were even enough leftovers for a delicious lunch today (the thought of which made my stomach start talking around 10am).
I don’t know how my Wisconsin grandparents would feel about my vamped up brats, but Rob and I were certainly happy. And I’d like to think my dad might even skip the beer boil step to try the beer mustard sauce. But for now, we’ll keep the grill hot, make lots of leftovers, and thoroughly enjoy our glamafied sausages.
Sweet Beer Mustard Brat Sauce (makes about 1 1/2 c)
- 1 c summertime (light) ale
- 1/4 c good quality maple syrup
- 1/2 c dijon mustard
- s&p (optional)
Over med high heat, combine the maple syrup and ale in a sauce pot. Reduce (let bubble and boil) until the mixture has concentrated by half. Off the heat, whisk in the dijon mustard. Bring back to med-low heat, and reduce for about 10 minutes more, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth, silky, and coats the back of a spoon. Taste for s&p seasoning.
Serve over hot grilled brats.
Warm Herbed Three Bean Salad (serves 4-6)
- 1 can black beans, strained and rinsed
- 1 can chickpeas, strained and rinsed
- 12 oz edamame (if frozen, pop in boiling water for 3-5 minutes until the beans in the pods are tender with a bite)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
- 1 tsp applemint, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp thyme, finely chopped
Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat until just melted. Add the chopped herbs, and stir. The herbs should become fragrant very quickly. Add the mixture of three beans, s&p to taste, and stir to combine. Turn heat down to low and keep stirring until just heated through. Turn off the heat and immediately cover.
For a rustic look, serve in the pot with a wooden spoon.