Oktoberfest + Tennessee = Wisconsin? What is this, some kind of 21st Century new math? No, it's a celebration formula. With Saturday being the first day of October, it's time for Oktoberfest. Two Metropolitan Nashville area teams will square off at Dudley Field, so the tailgate theme has to tie Oktoberfest with Tennessee. Oktoberfest is German, so what is the common thread between German food and Tennessee? The answer is Johnsonville, Wisconsin. The little town, just 10 miles northwest from Sheboygan, wasn't incorporated until the last quarter of the 19th Century. It was named for the 17th President of the United States, Tennessean Andrew Johnson. Johnson remained faithful to the Constitution opposing a gang of conspirators who impeached him and came within one vote of convicting him.
In celebrating Oktoberfest Johnsonville-style, we must remain faithful to the cuisine of this tiny burg. One food is synonymous with tailgating and Johnsonville—the mighty brat (short for bratwurst). For this week's Vanderbilt-MTSU game tailgating feast, we are going to prepare brats the way they do it in Wisconsin, from Sheboygan to Green Bay to Madison to Eau Claire to even tiny Connorsville, where my wife's family hails. For real, authentic Wisconsin brats, we must serve them only one way—"a double with the works." This calorie-rich concoction includes two grilled brats combined with sliced pickles and onions, ketchup, and German-style brown mustard. All of this is placed on a hard roll indigenous to Wisconsin. For our tailgating purposes, we will substitute a more readily available large Kaiser roll.
What side dish best accompanies our brats for Oktoberfest? The obvious choice is German potato salad. So, without further adieu, let's get started.
Brats don't have to be made from pork sausage. In fact, you are just as likely to find Wisconsinites grilling beef, chicken, or turkey brats. Whereas most pork brats are not cooked prior to sale, the other types usually come already fully-cooked. For our purposes, the only difference in already cooked and raw brats is the amount of time they must be heated. If you use raw brats, when it comes to grilling time, add about 15 minutes.
Starting with already-cooked brats, we can still greatly improve on the flavor for our feast. The first thing to do is light your charcoal grill and mound the coals to one side. Take a pot that can be placed on your grill and pour one or two Wisconsin beers in it. Connorsville is in the Wisconsin Northwoods, and the beer of choice is their very own Leinenkugel's. * Place the pot over the hotter part of the grill.
To that beer, slice a yellow onion and place the slices in the beer. Bring the temperature of the beer up to about 180 degrees; don't let it boil. Move the pot away from the hot coals when needed. The object is to simmer your brats in this liquid without boiling them. Place the brats in the beer/onion broth and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
When they are finished simmering, the temperature of the coals should be just right for grilling; they should be burned to white ash without a large flame. Be careful not to puncture the meat, as that would cause the juices to run out. Use tongs and gently remove the brats from the liquid to the grill. Grill them covered on indirect heat (the side away from the coals), turning them frequently to insure both sides cook evenly. It should take about 5 minutes or a tad longer.
Once the brats are done, place two of them on a Kaiser roll. Add sliced pickles, some of the sliced onions from the simmering process, a squirt of ketchup, and the German-style mustard (Dijon is an acceptable substitute). If you like sauerkraut, you can add that too, but that isn't normal fare in The Badger State (They might think you're from Illinois).
If you want to get a bit more involved, steam the insides of your Kaiser rolls to get them soft, and then quickly expose the outsides to the grill to get that side crisp.
* Leinenkugel's beer is readily available in Nashville. You can find it at many area Kroger's, Mid-Town Beverage, Wild Oats, and Frugal McDougal's.
There is a difference of opinion in Wisconsin about whether to serve this potato salad hot or cold. For our purposes, it will be easier to prepare this at home and refrigerate it, serving it cold.
5 lbs. red potatoes with skins, boiled until just tender
5 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
¾ lb. bacon, cut in ½ inch pieces
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup reserved fat from cooked bacon
2 Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
Begin by boiling the potatoes. While they are boiling, chop the celery and onions. Fry the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, add onions to the fat remaining, and sauté until translucent. Reserve 1/3 cup fat in pan and add flour; cook and stir until the flour is somewhat browned. Add vinegar, water, 1/2 tsp. salt, and pepper, making a sauce. Cook and stir until clear and thickened. Quarter the potatoes while still hot. Add the 2 tsp. salt to the hot potatoes. Add onion, celery and sauce to the potatoes and toss gently.