Würstlstände are sausage stands. They punctuate the sidewalks of every city in Austria. People from all walks of life crowd around these kiosks for, say, a quick lunch, or a post-bar snack: a sausage, fried or steamed, served with some manner of bread, mustard, and beer or pop.
While certain types of sausage appear on almost every würstlstand menu, it can be frustrating trying to pin down their characteristics, as a huge variety of sausages can go by the same name. Bratwurst, for instance, is sometimes based on pork, sometimes on veal, sometimes stuffed into slender lamb casings, sometimes into wider hogs…
Here are some very general descriptions of the most common würste:
- Burenwurst – Apparently a corruption of “boerwurst,” a hearty South African sausage distinguished by its coarse texture.
- Debreziner – Debrec is a city in Hungary. The only characteristic that seems to unite all debreziners is the liberal use of paprika.
- Waldviertler – The Waldviertel (literally “forest quarter,”) is a region in Lower Austria, famous for rustic cuisine. This sausage is lightly smoked and made of pork.
- Frankfurter – A very long, slender, boiled sausage, with an extremely fine interior similar to most North American hot dogs. In Frankfurt these sausages are called Wieners. Go figure.
- Sacherwurst – In my experience, these are indistinguishable from frankfurters.
- Bratwurst – The familiar “brat,” a frying sausage.
- Bernerwurst – More common in cafeterias and restaurants than sausages stands, this is a sausage stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon.
- Weisswurst – One of the few sausages that always takes a very specific form. Literally “white sausage,” though it is usually more grey than white. Made from veal and pork fat which are very finely ground and emulsified. A delicate sausage, it is boiled and taken out of its skin before being served. It is very much a Bavarian sausage. Within Austria it is only commonly found in Salzburg, which is right by the Bavarian border. Traditionally eaten before noon, with a brezel (pretzel), sweet mustard, and white beer.
In North America the term “hot dog” refers to both the dish (ie. a wiener in a bun), and the style of wiener itself (ie. an emulsified link flavoured with garlic and smoke). In Austria a “hot dog” is a sausage shoved into a long, crusty roll. You can therefore have, for instance, a bratwurst hot dog, or a burenwurst hot dog. If you don’t specify “hot dog,” your sausage will probably be served with a round crusty bun on the side, as below. Note the ceramic plate.
While outsiders recognize wiener schnitzel as the national dish of Austria, I think most Austrians acknowledge a special sausage called käsekrainer (“KAY-zeh KREYE-ner”) as their greatest culinary achievement.
“Käse” means cheese. I have no idea what “krainer” means, and neither do any Austrians. (Editor’s Note: see comment section below for the origin of the word “krainer.”) Käsekrainer is a sausage with a finely ground interior that is riddled with cubes of cheese that melt when the sausage is cooked. It is the crown jewel of Austrian streetfood.
Within twenty four hours of returning to Canada I had procured the ingredients for a käsekrainer test batch.
Käsekrainer: A First Attempt
- 1000 g pork shoulder
- 200 g Sylvan Star Gruyère, rind removed, diced into 3/16″ cubes
- 16 g kosher salt
- 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
- 1 pinch sodium nitrite>
- 2 cloves garlic (the Austrians call them “toes,” which I thought was cute…), minced
- 1 bay leaf, ground
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp mustard powder
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground, toasted coriander
- 1 pinch cayenne
- fresh ground black pepper
- 5′ hog casings, soaked and rinsed
I chose to experiment with Gruyère because of its famous melting properties (it is the go-to cheese for fondue and raclette). To my surprise, Sylvan Star has their own version of the alpine cheese:
Cut the pork into 1″ cubes. Spread on a tray lined with wax paper and keep in the freezer until “crunchy” but not frozen solid. Grind the meat through a 1/4″ plate. Add the salt and spices to the ground meat. Spread the ground meat onto a tray lined with wax paper and return to the freezer for about 15 minutes. Regrind the mixture using a 3/16″ plate.
Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, slowly mix the forcemeat while adding the corn syrup. When the force binds and becomes tacky, fold in the cubed cheese.
Fry a small piece of the mixture and taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Stuff the mixture into the hog casings and twist into 6″ links. Hang on a wooden dowel to dry for an hour.
On Cooking Käsekrainer
On the streets of Vienna there are actually two types of käsekrainer. They result not from different methods of manufacture, but from different methods of cooking.
The first, when passed through the würstlstand window, looks like any other sausage; it is only upon biting into the link that you discover the cheese. The second has a crunchy crust of cheese fried onto the exterior of the sausage. I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining why the latter is superior (the nutty-tangy taste of browned cheese, the accentuation of the textural contrast between sausage skin and interior…)
Having only cooked a couple of käsekrainer links myself, I am still working on my crust development.
Inevitably (and especially in homemade links) some cheese will leak out the ends during cooking. My working theory on crust development is that the sausage must be rolled through this cheese while it is still gooey, so that the cheese adheres to the skin. Otherwise the cheese will brown and stick to the pan, instead of the sausage. As a rule of thumb, move the käsekrainer frequently while cooking.
The sausage must be eaten very hot, or the cheese will re-congeal.
This recipe and cooking process result in an acceptable approximation of an Austrian käsekrainer. I think that most of the versions I had there were lightly smoked. While the smoked paprika in my recipe goes some distance to capturing that flavour, I think the next test batch will have to be cold-smoked before frying.