For sausage lovers, Germany is a land of plenty, where techniques for creating the best "wurst" have been honed to a fine culinary art throughout centuries of tradition. Relatively few of about 1,500 of the country's sausage varieties can be sampled outside Germany. However, bratwurst, liverwurst and frankfurters (the prototype of the hot dog) are international favourites.
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Three Main Classifications
Most varieties of German sausage fit into one of three categories, all of which have several subcategories. "Bruhwurst" are sausages scalded in broth, hot water or steam, then hung and smoked, like frankfurters. "Kochwurst," or cooked sausages, are typically made from scalded or boiled meat and bought ready to eat, like liverwurst. "Rohwurst" includes German salami and cervelat, both uncooked but preserved by salting, curing or smoking, then hung to age and air-dry. Some sausages such as bratwurst may slot into different categories depending upon whether they are completely uncooked, scalded or smoked.
According to Bruce Aidells, author of "Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book," German sausage makers generally take a subtle approach to spicing. White pepper and mace are common elements but, depending upon regional traditions and individual specialities, garlic, cloves, cumin, coriander and caraway, and herbs including marjoram, thyme and sage, may also be used to impart flavour. The German Foods website adds cinnamon, anchovies and shallots to those flavourings. Popular condiments include a variety of mustards and in Austria, freshly-grated horseradish. Some sausages may be steamed or boiled in beer, which is also the beverage of preference for washing them down, especially during Oktoberfest.
The Dual Ancestry of the Hot Dog
In the German-speaking world, Austria's capital, Vienna, is spelt "Wien," and "Wiener" merely means "Viennese." In the English-speaking world, wiener and frankfurter are interchangeable words for the cylindrical piece of meat intended for insertion into a hot dog bun, and therein lies the seed of the dispute about origins. Frankfurt, Germany, claims the prototype was invented there in the 1850s, yet Germans call the sausage "Wienerwurst." The Austrians maintain that it made its debut around 1805 in Vienna, but call it a "Frankfurter" because the Viennese chef had allegedly trained in Frankfurt. As for the "dog," the story is this: a Frankfurt butcher who wanted to pay tribute to his dachshund figured out how to give the sausage the slightly curved shape of his pet's body. Eventually, the nickname "dachshund sausage" evolved into "hot dog."
Cooking German Sausages
How, or whether, to cook German sausage varies according to type. Bratwurst is usually grilled, sometimes after being boiled first. With frankfurters, the challenge is to let the meat expand to the point of rendering the casing as taut as it can be without splitting. They have already been cooked by scalding, so boiling a pan of water, turning the heat off, putting the franks in and allowing them to remain covered for 10 to 15 minutes should suffice. The German Food Guide is a great resource for cooking tips.
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- BBC: A Selection of German Sausages
- German Foods: Guide to German Sausages and Meat Products
- Kate's Global Kitchen: Know Your Wurst! A Guide to German Sausages
- What's Cooking America: History and Legends of Hot Dogs
- Epicurious: Sausages for Oktoberfest by Megan Steintrager
- "Rick Steves' Vienna, Salzburg and Tirol"; Rick Steves, 2009