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I have had plenty of revelations about things I've done wrong my entire life: singing the lyrics to "Blinded by the Light" (it's revved up like a deuce, by the way, which is most certainly not what I was saying), using scissors instead of a can opener to open clamshell packages, and taking far too long to peel ginger are just a few examples. However, my biggest aha! moment came when I realized that I'd been making my bratwurst wrong for years now.
Until recently, my go-to method of bratwurst preparation involved crossing my fingers and holding my breath for good, evenly cooked results. After many a sausage fiasco, I finally tried out Kenji's foolproof method for grilling sausages, and I'll never go back. I decided to take it a step further and modify my omi's recipes for German potato salad and red cabbage to make a warm slaw for topping the brats. What I wound up with was everything I could have ever hoped for and more.
Kenji's method involves poaching the sausages in a 10-inch square disposable aluminum pan filled with liquid and aromatic ingredients. The pan is first set over the hot side of the grill to bring the liquids to a simmer, then moved to the cool side so the sausages can slowly heat through. Once they're ready, they're plucked from the pan and set directly on the hot grill grate to brown. The aromatics in the pan (like, say, sauerkraut) can then be used as toppings for the sausages.
For my bratwurst toppings, I wanted to make a warm mixture of German potato salad and tangy red cabbage, and figured I could make it all in that poaching tray. I started by cooking chopped bacon, then tossed in slices of potato, onion, and red bell pepper to sauté in the drippings. It's important to avoid cooking the vegetables entirely through at this stage, lest they turn to mush later.
My omi has always insisted that "extra beefy broth" is vital to German potato salad, and she's right. I wanted all of that to soak up into the potatoes so they didn't wind up dull and tasteless. To achieve that here, I added a generous amount of beef base (in this case, Better Than Bouillon), along with enough water to cover the vegetables and a touch of red wine vinegar for acidity, and brought it to a boil.
I then topped the potato mixture with red cabbage and set the sausages on top of that. It's important that the liquid can reach the brats without entirely submerging them. If the liquid level is too low, add a bit more water and let it come up to a boil again before sliding the tray to the cooler side of the grill.
Closing the grill lid allows the potatoes and cabbage to cook through with the bratwurst. After about 20 minutes, the bratwursts reach an internal temperature of 140 to 145°F and are ready to move to direct heat for browning.
At this point, I tossed the potato slaw and seasoned it to taste. Everything will be a vibrant shade of fuchsia from the cabbage and vinegar, which adds some color to your finished sausages.
To serve, I stuffed the bratwursts into thick rolls to absorb all of the juices and piled them up with the potato slaw. Mustard is a must, and a sprinkle of parsley gives some fresh contrast to the slaw.
You may never again make your bratwurst the same way, either.