During this past weekend's burst of warmth -- enough to melt the ice ruts on the roads, thank fortune -- I joined a lot of other Madisonians in emerging from our snowcaves to stock up at the supermarket. I was in line at the meat counter at Hy-Vee behind a fellow who happily announced: "It's warm enough to grill!"
Which is exactly why I'm not going to say that The Brat Book, a new, self-published cookbook by Madisonians Liz Baranowicz and Noel Benedetti, is coming out at the wrong time. You might think that June is a more optimal date to introduce a cookbook devoted to Wisconsin's prime griller. But honestly, if football is still being played somewhere in the lower 48 and the temperature is above 20 degrees (Ten? Zero?), the Weber is not going to be staying in the garage.
What, you ask, is so complicated about grilling a bratwurst? You slap 'em on and haul'em off. Yeah, that's thinking inside the bun. The Brat Book is interested in opening up new sides of the brat's personality. And most of the recipes don't call for a grill at all.
Certainly there is precedent in the state for inventive use of the brat; Sheboygan's Brat Days celebration has featured brat tacos, brat pizzas, brat gyros, Hmong brat-stuffed chicken wings and more. But Baranowicz and Benedetti go further even than Sheboygan does, with biscuits and brat gravy, brat scones, brat egg foo young, and bratloaf. Yup. Bratloaf.
In certain instances, you have to think outside the casing as well as outside the bun; the authors recommend heading to a butcher and asking to buy ground brat meat by the pound for some of these recipes. Or, you can just knock the sausage out of its casing.
While some concoctions (Brat quiche with goat cheese and spinach, or the brat and broccoli casserole, or the brat curry) may not immediately move to the head of your "gotta try this" list, "Sconnie Fondue" (beer, brats and melted cheese a sure winner) and brat chili do make an awful lot of sense. And in fact some of you have probably pressed leftover bratwursts into service in similar ways over the years (in the likes of brat pasta or brat jambalaya).
As for the bratloaf, wherein one pound of brat meat is mixed with breadcrumbs, egg, onion and a Granny Smith apple, do try it and let me know how it tastes.
The impertinent and imaginative Brat Book is for sale at local bookstores, The Frequency, and through the authors by emailing thebratbook [at] gmail.com.