It was about 100 years ago that the Nuremberg poet Helene von Foerster sang the praises of her favourite sausage: "surely nowhere else in the world are the sausages so small, so crisp and so good." But are the sausages so crisp because they are so small – or are they so small because that is what makes them so crisp?" A journey back in time through the history of the bratwurst provides the answer. The bratwurst tradition in Nuremberg can be traced back to 1462. Throughout the imperial city, the sausage kitchens of the fifteenth century would finely chop and season the best pork, fill it into sheep-gut casings, fry them until they were crisp, and serve them. While big bratwurst sausages were served in the countryside, the people of Nuremberg, who had become accustomed to the abundance afforded them as a trading centre, preferred them in a somewhat smaller and finer format.
In the second half of the sixteenth century, the prices fell, and the Nuremberg butchers could no longer afford to make their high-quality bratwurst. So rather than reduce the quality, they decided to reduce their size – even further. In so doing, they not only created an unmistakeable speciality, but they also achieved considerably higher kilogram prices. The crisis was thus averted and the first chapter of a long success story of culinary excellence had been written!
As the Middle Ages became the early modern age, only specialised pork butchers were permitted to make Nuremberg bratwurst. Sworn butchers and market masters – predecessors of modern meat inspectors – inspected the quality of the products in the meat stalls. Has the recipe been adhered to? Does the sausage meat mixture comply with regulations? Does it have the right water content? Meat sellers and sausage makers who mixed 'bad meat among the good meat' faced draconian penalties. The word 'bratwurst' is not derived from 'braten' which would denote its preparation on a grill, but from the word 'braet' (originally 'praet'), which denotes finely chopped or ground sausage meat. While a pureed, pastier form of sausage meat became popular outside Franconia, the butchers of Nuremberg adhered to their traditional recipe. They did not grind their meat in a meat cutter but chopped it until it was fine, or put it through a mincer. The medium-coarse granularity that it then has is to this day what characterises the Nuremberg bratwurst, and emphasises its hearty and robust flavour.
Authentic specialities are characterised not only by their carefully cultivated quality recipes and traditional production techniques but also by their specific culinary tradition. How is the speciality prepared, what side dishes is it served with, and how is it served and eaten?
In Nuremberg's public houses, bratwurst is served to this day in the original style on a pewter plate, sometimes in the shape of a heart: fresh from the beech wood grill, boiled in a stock of onion and vinegar, or raw in a roll or on bread. Bratwurst fans should familiarise themselves right away with the canon of traditional Nuremberg bratwurst dishes!
6, 8, 10 or 12 sausages from the charcoal grill – with sauerkraut and bread or potato salad, plus horseradish.
- Typical Franconian:
6, 8, 10 or 12 'saure zipfel' (Nuremberg bratwurst, boiled in a stock with vinegar, onions, juniper berries and bay leaves).
- From a bratwurst stand, for example at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt:
3 sausages in a bread roll.
- A bit different, as mincemeat in a roll or on bread:
The meat is squeezed out of two raw sausages and spread with some onion on a roll or slice of bread.
- A quick, tasty, appetising snack: 1 Nuremberg bratwurst simply eaten from a fork.
There are many amusing legends surrounding the size and shape of the Nuremberg bratwurst. They would have it that the speciality sausage is so small because…
- The public houses were too small for the thick Franconian bratwurst sausages to fit inside.
- It allowed publicans to continue selling it even after closing time or after the city gates had shut – through the keyhole of the tavern or the city gate!
- It allowed Kaspar Hauser (the legendary and mysterious foundling who, apparently after being imprisoned for years, turned up in Biedermeier-era Nuremberg) to become reaccustomed to eating meat after living on a vegetarian diet.
- So called 'Lochwirte' ('dungeon innkeepers') were then able to supply prisoners in Nuremberg's 'hole dungeons' (cellars or holes in the ground) with the small delicacies by pushing them through specially bored holes.
Today, bratwurst fans all over the world are able to enjoy authentic Nuremberg bratwurst. They are sold by retailers in top quality vacuum packs. And of course you don't necessarily need a grill to prepare the delicious sausages. They are irresistibly crisp and delicious even when fried in a frying pan.
They can also be enjoyed in the form of heavenly, aromatic 'Saure Zipfel'. Bring half a litre of water to the boil with two tablespoons each of vinegar and sugar, a teaspoon of salt, three onions cut into rings, plus juniper berries and bay leaves. Place the sausages in the liquid and leave to simmer for ten minutes.
Classic grilled or fried Nuremberg bratwurst is not only delicious with the traditional side dishes of sauerkraut, potato salad and horseradish, but it is also delightful in combination with exotic carrot and ginger soup. Eaten together with rocket and white radish, the Nuremberg delicacy tastes crisp and fresh, while bratwurst dumplings on vegetables are fast becoming a favourite dish.
The small sausages are also a big hit in fast cuisine. Fried and cut into slices, they suitably adorn a hearty pasta salad, savoury potato soup, or strudel with their refined Nuremberg seasoning.
There are many nooks and crannies all over Nuremberg's old city where the bratwurst tradition can still be seen. Here in the Pegnitz is where the stilted buildings of the pork butchers used to stand, 'between the meat stalls' is where the meat inspections were performed, and there, at the location of the cooks of St. Sebald, is where the first bratwurst dinner bell rang. You can order the small accompanying book from the Schutzverband der Nürnberger Bratwürste e.V. (Nuremberg bratwurst trade protection association)
There are around half a dozen bratwurst kitchens in the heart of Nuremberg that offer hospitality and culinary culture in the good old tradition.