To take bratwurst from the grill to the stovetop, all you need is a heavy-bottomed pan or cast-iron grill pan. While grill pans may not invest the wealth of smokiness that a barbecue does, they do create a tinge of char with a taste redolent of the grill. As with grilled brats, you need to partially cook them in liquid before applying dry heat. Stovetop cooking allows for braising and frying, adding textures and tastes you won't get from the grill.
Cooking brats is a two-step process: simmering them until fully cooked and then browning them in hot fat. The flavor of the cooking liquid has little effect on the taste of the brats. Other than the small holes that let steam escape, there isn't an inlet for the cooking liquid to enter the casing. But that doesn't mean you can't benefit from cooking the brats in a flavorful liquid. On the contrary, when combined with the cooking liquid, the fat rendered from the brats during cooking makes a solid base for a sauce.
Cover the brats in water or a combination of beer and broth or wine and broth. Simmer the brats until they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the center, which will take about five to 10 minutes depending on their thickness. Reserve the cooking liquid.
Heat a few tablespoons of butter or oil in a pan over medium heat. Dry the brats with a paper towel and sauté them until the casing crisps, about four to five minutes. Combine the pan drippings with the cooking liquid and simmer it until syrupy for a simple reduction sauce.
Braising doesn't affect the tenderness of bratwurst. Ground meat, loose like hamburger or packed in a casing like bratwurst, doesn't have pieces of connective tissue large enough to make it tough to chew. Braising does, however, build a superior sauce to pair with the bratwurst.
Sauté the bratwurst with a little oil or butter in a heavy pot or Dutch oven until the casing crisps and browns. Set the brats aside and sauté 1 or 2 cups of mirepoix until brown and caramelized. Deglaze the pan with a little wine or beer and pour in a few cups of stock.
Add a bay leaf, black peppercorns and a handful of freshly chopped herbs and set the heat to low. Return the brats to the pan and add secondary ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers. Cover the pan and cook the brats until they reach 165 F, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the brats and simmer the braising liquid until it reduces to a moderately thick sauce. Season the sauce to taste and serve it over the bratwurst.
Bratwurst with Sauerkraut
For a brat-and-sauerkraut dish, sear a few pounds of bratwurst in a sauté pan and set them aside. Cook chopped bacon and a cup or two of sliced onions in a pan over low heat until the bacon is fully cooked. Next, add about 1/2 cup of riesling, allspice, juniper berries, several bay leafs and black peppercorns.
Then add a couple of pounds of undrained sauerkraut and one large chopped apple. Allow the sauerkraut to simmer for 30 minutes before adding the bratwurst. Cook for an additional 20 minutes and serve with whole-grain mustard.
Despite its exotic name, there's actually nothing striking about this dish; bratwurst, ketchup and curry spices are all you need.
Sauté onions and mustard seeds in vegetable oil until they brown. Next, add 1 tablespoon of curry powder and a pinch of anise seeds, nutmeg and white pepper. Cook the currywurst sauce over low heat and serve it on simmered and pan-seared bratwurst.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.