German burger recipe

Frikadelle Burger with Sauerkraut and Bratwurst
Our next stop on the culinary adventure is Germany.  Germany is one of those countries that I think most of you are familiar with, so I’ll keep the upfront pretty brief here.  It’s located in central Europe and surrounded by Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands and has coastline on both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

So much German history is really the history of the 20th century and I don’t see any reason to go into it here.  But German history goes way back and the influence of the German culture goes back centuries.  You guys probably know a lot of that too, so let’s just get to the food.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

I have to admit that I had one scarring incident with German food on a business trip to Cologne about ten years ago.  There are two challenges for me when presented with a menu in a German restaurant.  The first problem is that I’m allergic to beer and Germans really like beer.  I also prefer red wine to white wine – again, totally out of sync with Germans – I had dreadful red wine in Cologne.  No big deal, I can drink water or soda, so I adapted.  The second problem is the meat.  I have become more adventurous in my eating habits over time, but I still cringe a little at strange meat cuts.  Germans, like many people around the world, eat as much of the animal as they can.  Pig knuckles, in particular, seemed to be popular on the menus of restaurants in Cologne.

I’ve never attempted to eat a pig knuckle, but I’ve watched my husband tackle one – I’m sure it’s tasty, but it seems a lot of work for your food…lots of fat and connective tissue to fight through to get to the meat, not my thing.  It was also really hot, over 80°F, and I don’t know about you, but really heavy meaty food doesn’t really appeal to me when I’m really hot and drinking bad wine.  So, I thought I would try the sausage instead, cause I like sausage.  I don’t think about what’s in it, I just eat it and that works for me.  I got served a giant plate of sausage with sauerkraut and potatoes – not exactly the light option I was hoping for.  And, the sausage was blood sausage.  I ate a few pieces, but it’s not really my thing – please pass the bad wine.

All that aside, I do like German food, really, I do.  The Germans like hearty food filled with meaty richness, it isn’t a bad place to start creating any recipe, but especially a burger recipe.  Frikadelle (or Frinkandelle) is a meat patty usually made with a combo of pork and beef.  The exact perfect ratio of beef to pork is hotly contested.  This mixture is then combined with stale bread that’s been soaked in milk, some onion and some herbs.  Then you coat the whole thing in breadcrumbs before frying it in butter – YUM!  I used buttermilk instead of regular milk to get a little extra flavor and I used panko for the breadcrumbs for a little more crunch.  Lastly, since I had cooked some bacon for a German potato salad side dish, I cooked the burgers in the bacon grease, cause I could.  J  Feel free to use plain milk, plain breadcrumbs and butter instead, you’ll still have a good burger.

The sausage was really the most interesting part of the recipe creation.  Germans make a ton of sausage; the real question is what sausage to use for a burger topping.  Knockwurst is a little too close to a hot dog, so we eliminated them as a choice.  The other readily available German sausage (at least in my neighborhood) is bratwurst.  I tried a couple of brands of bratwurst – one of which looked and tasted a lot like your standard American breakfast sausage, and found one the was perfect.  I like bratwurst (even though it looks strange), because it has a nice mild flavor that just adds a bit of a kick to a dish without overpowering it like some of the bolder spicier sausages can.

For the sauerkraut mixture I added some apple and onion to the bratwurst and sauerkraut to mellow the tartness of the sauerkraut a bit.  Then put some Gouda on the burger (not smoked gouda, smoked cheese is just wrong), and a good German mustard on the bread.  What you get is a super hearty, smoky and tart combination that is just packed with flavor.  Even the ¼ pound burgers seem huge (of course they are because of the bread and bread crumbs), so you might want to make six instead of four so that you don’t stuff your self or your guests.  Either way, bring your appetite, make a great German potato salad (vinegar, no mayo) and serve with a nice amber beer or a fruity Riesling.  This is easy to make and a real crowd pleaser – even my cranky father enjoyed the burger and pronounced it “ok”.

German Burger
2 stale hamburger buns (or 2 slices white bread)
1 pint buttermilk (or regular milk)
12 ounces 80% lean ground beef
4 ounces ground pork
1 small onion diced
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 eggs
¾ cup panko (or plain bread crumbs)
Butter or bacon grease for cooking
Gouda cheese – about 4 ounces
8-12 slices of Dark Rye/Pumpernickel bread
Coarse German mustard
Sauerkraut and Bratwurst (recipe below)
Italian parsley chopped (optional)

If your bread isn’t stale enough to be dry, toast lightly to get the moisture out (not too much though, you don’t want to brown it).  Soak the bread in buttermilk until it’s completely moistened.  Squeeze out the excess buttermilk from the bread.  Add the bread to the meat, onion, marjoram, salt pepper and eggs and mix until evenly combined (I find the only way to do this is with your hands – it’s messy, but allows you to be sure the ingredients are evenly blended).  Form 4-6 patties (depending on big you like them).  Press both sides of each patty into the panko and coat the whole patty with panko.

In a large cast iron pan, heat the bacon grease until shimmering.  Add the patties and cook to desired temperature.

About 1-2 minutes before the burgers are done, add the Gouda and cover lightly to melt the cheese.

In the meantime butter and grill the bread slices.  Then spread the grilled side of half of the slices with the German mustard.

To serve, place the cooked patties on top of the mustard coated bread then top with the sauerkraut and bratwurst mixture.  End with the second piece of grilled bread, grilled side down.

This is what the burger looked like the night I first made it – shows that this is pretty easy to make and make it look good.

Sauerkraut and Bratwurst
1 pound of sauerkraut
1 small onion chopped
2 bratwurst chopped into ¼ to ½ inch pieces
1 granny smith apple, cored, peeled and diced
1 Tablespoon bacon fat (or butter)

Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat then add the sausage.  Brown the sausage stirring regularly for about 5 minutes, add the onion and brown for 2 minutes stirring constantly, now add the apple and the bacon fat and cook for another 2 minutes stirring constantly.  Add the sauerkraut and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat.  Serve warm.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach

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11 Responses to German burger recipe

  1. Danie says:

    Why is smoked cheese “wrong?” I love smoked mozzarella…

    • linda says:

      Lol, I guess there’s nothing actually wrong, but I really dislike smoked cheese – that smoke flavor just overpowers, it’s cloying and icky…other than that, I guess it’s okay 🙂

  2. Janet says:

    Oh god yes.
    The food of my ancestors

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  5. GermanBoy says:

    OMG why so stereotypical? I think that Burger couldn’t be worse..

    • linda says:

      I think that when you are trying to bring traditional flavors to a dish, it can read stereotypical, but I’m not trying to emulate modern cutting edge cooking, I am going for the traditional. And frankly, the burger is delicious either way. Sorry it doesn’t sound good to you – try the Estonia Burger – that’s one of our favorites.

  6. D.o. Panin says:

    Be sure, pig knuckles ar not really common. Even there are some strange things. Sausage with Blood is typical für very rural style food and also belongs to Colonge Food Culture. Anyway, I don’t like ist. By the way, the Beer there is called Kölsch and not considdered to be beer anywhere outside this city!

    • linda says:

      Kolsch, yuck!

    • C says:

      Depends on where you are in the country if you’ll find a pork knuckle or not on the menu. Germany is actually not a unified culinary culture but actually many culinary regions. My assessment is that pork knuckle is very common in parts of Bavaria for example.

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