by Kate Heyhoe
Cook Your Wurst!
A Guide to German Sausages
Sausages, kraut, black bread and beer—an Oktoberfest party in the making!
The original Oktoberfest takes place in Munich in September, but for German communities around the world local Oktoberfests are an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and—and if nothing else—have a darned "gut" time.
Besides beer, Oktoberfest requires one main essential: wurst. To learn more about cooking and serving these irresistible German sausages, read on...
Know Your Wurst
German wurst, or sausage, comes in two basic categories:
- Fresh sausages— This includes sausages that are uncooked and ones that are cooked once but need recooking or reheating. Most are made of raw pork, veal or beef, bacon or ham, egg, pickling salt and spices, and are then cooked in water and sometimes lightly smoked. Some are made of cooked ingredients which are then cooked a second time after being stuffed into links, and may also be smoked. Fresh bratwurst is one type of raw sausage that that needs full cooking. Fresh sausages that come cooked but need reheating include knockwurst and wieners. Fresh sausages, both raw and cooked, need to be kept refrigerated.
- Slicing and spreading sausages—These are ready to eat, cold cut-style sausages. They are fully cured. Some are firm and are best sliced, but there are also soft sausages made for spreading. Liverwurst is one category of spreadable sausage and must contain at least 30 percent pork liver.
Sausage Cooking Tips
- Cook fresh sausages over gentle heat so the interior fully cooks.
- Sausages can be steamed, simmered, fired or grilled, or a combination of methods.
- Before cooking, prick the skins to prevent bursting.
- Reheat sausages in hot water, but avoid boiling them as their skins will split.
- Onions in the cooking liquid add flavor to sausages.
- Parboil fresh sausages in water or beer before grilling or frying.
- Beer adds a stronger flavor than water. Malt-heavy beers add sweetness and are good for strongly flavored sausage. Lagers add a slight bitterness and complement sweeter style sausages.
- To heat cooked fresh sausage, bring a pan of water or beer to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the sausages and cover for 10 to 15 minutes.
Types of Wurst
Weisswurst is the traditional sausage served at "Weisn"—as the locals call Oktoberfest—but dozens of other wursts are also served.
Almost all wurst features pork (and sometimes beef or veal), spices, and peppercorns, but the other ingredients make each wurst distinctive. More than a thousand varieties of wurst exist, some being available everywhere and others are local specialties. Here are a few of them:
- Bierschinken—a large slicing sausage with chunks of ham and pistachios
- Bierwurst—coarse-textured slicing sausage flavored with juniper berries and cardamom
- Blutwurst—blood sausage, which comes in many varieties; it is eaten sliced and cold or fried like black pudding
- Bockwurst—smoked and scalded, usually made from finely ground veal; spiced with chives and parsley; resembles a large frankfurter; gently heat in liquid before eating; traditionally served with Bock beer, especially in the spring
- Bratwurst—a pale, smoked sausage made of finely minced veal, pork, ginger, nutmeg and other spices; usually comes raw and must be cooked, but precooked bratwurst is also available (reheat before serving)
- Braunschweiger—a spreadable smoked liver sausage enriched with eggs and milk; the most well known of the liverwurst sausages
- Cervelat—similar to Italian salami, a slicing sausage of pork and beef, spices and often mustard or garlic; Thuringer is a common variety of German cervelat
- Frankfurter—the genuine German variety (not the same as an American frankfurter) contains finely chopped lean pork with a bit of salted bacon fat, and is smoked; reheat in simmering liquid
- Knockwurst; knackwurst—a short, plump smoked sausage needing poaching or grilling; contains finely minced lean pork, beef, spices and, notably, garlic; often served with sauerkraut
- Wienerwurst—believed to be the origin of American frankfurter; beef and pork flavored with coriander and garlic
- Weisswurst—German for "white sausage" and is very pale and delicately flavored; made of veal, sometimes beef and pork, cream and eggs; a specialty of Munich and traditionally served at Oktoberfest with rye bread, sweet mustard and of course, beer.
What to serve with your wurst? Mustards: sweet, hot, spicy, coarse and smooth; set out a variety of mustards to complement the wide range of sausages. Breads can be soft rolls; dense rye or black breads; caraway, poppy seed, and other seeded breads and rolls; sour doughs and whole grain breads; and hot, soft pretzels (especially good with mustard). Don't forget the sauerkraut; if you don't make your own, pick up a bag of sauerkraut in the refrigerator case at the supermarket—it tastes fresher and crisper than the canned variety. Perk up the flavor with a pinch of lightly toasted caraway seeds.
Authentic German beer, of course, is the drink of choice. Oktoberfest style beers are amber colored, sweet, very malty and traditionally the first beers of the season. Weissbier is the perfect complement to Weisswurst, as it's lighter body and flavor won't overpower the delicately seasoned sausage.
Kate's Global Kitchen for September, 2000:
9/02/00 Pistou and Pesto: Basil's Last Stand
9/09/00 Cook Your Wurst! It's Oktoberfest
9/16/00 Feeding the Olympics, Down Under
9/23/00 Eating Australian
9/30/00 Italian Meatballs, My Way
Copyright © 2000, 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007