Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Wisconsin IV - There's a Brat in My Beer, and I'm Cryin' for You, Dear

My final Midwestern post takes us back to a food savored at millions of cookouts and tailgates all across America.  Mind you, Ohio fights for the glory, but Wisconsin insists on brushing them aside in the war of the bratwursts.  Perhaps but one can claim the mantle.

Official Name: State of Wisconsin
State Nickname: The Badger State
Admission to the US: May 29, 1848 (30th)
Capital: Madison (2nd largest)
Other Important Cities: Milwaukee (largest), Green Bay (3rd largest), Kenosha (4th largest), Racine (5th largest)
Region: Midwest, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsWild Rice
Bordered by: Minnesota (west); Lake Superior (northwest); Michigan (upper panhandle) (northeast); Lake Michigan (east); Illinois (south); Iowa (southwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: badger (animal, though these aren't typically eaten anymore); corn (grain); dairy cow (domesticated animal); honeybee (insect, for the honey); milk (beverage); muskellunge, or "muskie" (fish); sugar maple (tree, for the maple sap); white-tailed deer (wildlife animal)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: typical Midwestern cuisine; German, Central European and Scandinavian foods; dairy, especially cheese and fried cheese curds; Wisconsin-style fish boil (usually done on a massive scale for many people); beer brats (bratwurst cooked in beer and grilled, usually on a "Sheboygan roll", a typical bratwurst roll from the Midwest); beer, beer and more beer

For those of you who have been following this blog, or at least this series, I have already explored bratwurst.  Twice!  Both times were when I was exploring Ohio.  One was a simple pan-boiled brat, the other used bratwurst to make delicious fried balls of sauerkraut, Cleveland-style.  And yet, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, still claims to be the "Bratwurst Capital of the World".  I've already described bratwursts in the aforementioned posts, and that does include their tie to Wisconsin's identity.  They go together about as much as Wisconsin and cheese, or beer.  In fact, this Cheesehead trinity is so important that the very conservative Republican governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker invited angry Democrats to the Governor's Mansion after his recall attempt earlier this year and tried to smooth things over with beer, cheese and - of course - brats (Fulton 2012).  These people love their brats as much as some others in this country love their fish fries, clam bakes and steamed crab feasts.

Now while my friend Eric pointed out to me that people sometimes cook brats in a pan with water or beer, in the Upper Midwest they don't seem to prefer that method, if my research does not deceive me.  The folks at the Bratwurst Pages (2005), based in Wisconsin, have a whole collection of Bratwurst-related links, including the procedure for fixing brats the typical, correct way.  Of course, you need to grill it, and of course, I have no grill handy at the moment.  Fortunately Jonathan Croswell (2011) helps out on that score in his article about how to cook brats in the oven when there is no grill available - long story short, broil 'em, setting them about five to seven inches away from the broiler.  I set mine as far away as I could.

The Bratwurst Pages people point out that a bratwurst is correctly eaten with various fixin's, from kraut to ketchup to mustard - but they are very specific to note that yellow mustard is an abomination.  Spicy brown mustard, however, works well.  Also note: you are not supposed to use hot dog rolls for these things.  They mention something called a "Sheboygan roll", a malty roll that is somewhat crisp on the outside and soft on the inside commonly found around the Bratwurst Capital of the World, but not at all found in my part of the country.  Trying to be un-abominable as possible, I eventually sought out non-baked club rolls from Harris Teeter, and baked them myself while the brats were cooking.  If you actually want to make some of these rolls, get thee to a homebrewing store (not like I hadn't gone recently) because you will need some malt extract.  I didn't feel like buying a whole container just for a roll I didn't have time to make anyway - malt extract ain't cheap - which led me to buy the club rolls.

The Recipe: Classic Wisconsin Beer Brats

To keep these as authentic as humanly possible, since we're not using the outdoor grill, assemble the following:

* bratwurst (Johnsonville, out of Sheboygan Falls, are a no-brainer for this Wisconsin-esque recipe.  Only $4 at Harris Teeter)
* onion (small to medium yellow one, had it)
* butter (had this too)
* beer (now I have tons of beer at home, but the beer I made in the last post was still in the fermenting process (as you can see in the picture above, the decanter is still sitting underneath my kitchen table), so instead I sought out a few bottles of Leinenkugel, based out of Chippewa Falls.  I still didn't have enough, so I used an extra bottle of Rolling Rock I had sitting in my pantry to top it off)
* club rolls (as noted above, do not use hot dog rolls.  Find Sheboygan rolls if you have them, but if you're outside of the Midwest you likely will not find them.  These unbaked club rolls cost about $3 at Harris Teeter)

Prepare your beer bath (ooooh, fun) by boiling together your beer and onions.  Some authentic recipes do not do this step, but others do and since I'm not grilling these outside I wanted to go this extra step.  I reserved half my beer and onion for this step, because the brats will sit in a beet-butter-onion bath after grilling as well.

If you go this route, boil your brats in the beer for about twenty minutes.  If you do not do this step, prepare the beer bath for the brats to sit in after grilling them.  You need to do that step regardless.

When they start looking like this (yes you should turn them), remove them and get ready to either grill them or... them under your preheated broiler.  If you can't grill for some reason you will want to set your broiler pan as far away from the flame as possible (five to seven inches is optimal).  Leave them there for about 10 minutes, with no pre-boiling, leave them there longer.  If grilling, leave them on for about 20 to 25.  You really have to guesstimate here.

While those brats are a-broilin', prep your second beer bath.

Add the rest of your chopped onion to the beer bath.

And then add your butter.

Melt everything together, and let your brats simmer in this liquid until ready to eat.  For this part, you really do leave them in there indefinitely, based on the recipe I saw.

Finally, bake your club rolls, or use pre-baked ones.  If you have bratwurst rolls, use those instead.

And now you're ready to build your bratwurst.

Typically, you put ketchup, sauerkraut, chopped onions and non-yellow mustard on your brat.

I used some of the chopped onions from the beer and butter bath, whole seed brown mustard and ketchup.

I can't say much about this.  It was a bratwurst.  It was juicy and delicious would have been a little messy were it not for the massive roll sopping up the juices and toppings.  I'm not used to bathing it in beer and butter of course, but I may use this method again when I do brats.

- - - - -

What a strange milestone: we are but one state away from the end of this long, loooooong series!  Or are we?  Once we're finished with Wyoming, our final destination, I will be making the rounds briefly just to re-explore the different regions of the country to see if I missed anything.  This I will be doing in ten - yes, ten - posts.  Then this State-by-State thing will truly be finished.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  On to Big Sky Country!


Beer Institute.  "State Per Capita Consumption 2003 to 2011" (PDF available).  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.

Bostwick, William & Jessi Rymill.  Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer.  Rodale: New York, 2011.

Bratwurst Pages.  "Classic Wisconsin Beer Brats".  Bratwurst Pages, 2003.  Copyright 2002, 2003 Bratwurst Pages, All rights reserved.

Croswell, Jonathan.  "How to Cook a Bratwurst in the Oven".  Livestrong, 2011.  Copyright 2011, 2012, All rights reserved.

Door County Today (YouTube channel: DoorCounty Today).  "History of the Door County Fish Boil".  Posted March 15, 2012.

Fisher, Joe and Dennis.  "Wild, Wild Rice!"  Brew Your Own, October 2000.

Fulton, April.  "Will Beer And Brats Break Through Wisconsin's Partisan Divide?"  The Salt: What's on Your Plate.  Posted June 12, 2012.  Copyright 2012 National Public Radio, All rights reserved.

Midwest Living.  "Wisconsin Fish Boil".  Midwest Living, 2012.  Copyright 2012 Meredith Corporation, All rights reserved.

Mr. Beer.  "Instructions, Premium/Deluxe Editions".  Copyright 2011 Catalina Products LLC, All rights reserved.

Spencer, James, and Steve Wilkes (YouTube channel: basicbrewing). "Basic Brewing Video - Doctoring Mr. Beer - January 7, 2012".  Posted January 7, 2012.

Splendid Table.  "Episode 487: The Japanese Grill", July 30, 2011, Segment 21:46 – 28:35 (William Bostwick talks home brewing).  Copyright 2011, 2012 American Public Media, All rights reserved.

Vics, Drew (YouTube channel: Cryptobrewology).  "Brewing Mr. Beer American Devil IPA".  Posted January 25, 2010.
Wisconsin Brewer's Guild.  "Wisconsin Brewer's Guild".  Copyright 2009-2012, All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Historical Society.  "Dictionary of Wisconsin History: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer advertisement, 1940 (WHi-56371)".  Copyright 1996-2012, All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  "Cookin' Up Wisconsin Curds".  Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2012.  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  "History of Wisconsin Cheese".  Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, 2012.  Copyright 2012, All rights reserved.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Wisconsin" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Wisconsin".