Morbid curiosity led me to make this recipe.
When I was back in Ohio visiting my father, I flipped through old recipe cards from my grandmother. She mostly made desserts. I’ve heard my father say on multiple occasions, “She could’ve opened a bakery.” During my last visit, I learned that she baked treats for weddings of her friends or even for her dentist.
“I remember carrying bags of baked goods for to her dentist when she had an appointment,” my dad told me.
Then I came across a recipe card that didn’t exactly fit in with the rest. Sure, it was wrinkled at the edges like the others with sepia stains and my grandmother’s barely legible handwriting. But the name of this one left me tilting my head to the side like a puppy trying to understand its owner.
“Wieners in Sauce.”
No matter how much I squinted or turned my head, my eyes kept seeing the same thing. Wieners. In Sauce. I asked my father and my aunt about it and they hadn’t the slightest clue. No memories of eating ‘wieners in sauce’ as a kid.
The recipe reads like a playbook for what I imagine of 1950s American cooking. There’s sugar, ketchup, and vinegar mixed with a handful of other ingredients poured over the wieners in a baking dish.
There’s not much in the world of meat that I can say I miss. But if I’m pushed, I do miss just grabbing a bratwurst from a street vendor in Germany and the snap of the sausage when you bite.
Serendipity struck the other day while shopping for groceries. I was on the hunt for the smoked tofu we usually get for udon and stir fry dishes. That’s when I noticed some plant-based meat imitations on the shelves, including a package of three vegetarian bratwursts.
My mind went to one thing and one thing only.
“Time to make some wieners in sauce.”
Making ‘Wieners in Sauce’
There are leftovers I should probably eat first to help clear out our tiny European fridge, but the wieners are calling me. Plus, it’s not just about the novelty of making wieners in sauce. I am genuinely curious to find out how the vegetarian brats hold up.
I scale back the recipe from its recommended 8 or 10 wieners to just 3 because I am but one man and can handle only so many wieners. The watery sauce comes together quickly while the oven preheats. The blend of ketchup, vinegar, and onions tastes like the Fourth of July.
I’m trying not to alter the recipe beyond portion size, but it does call for celery salt (don’t have it, subbed with kosher salt) and more ketchup than I’ve ever had in our apartment. Luckily, Melanie remembers that we have a packet of ketchup from an old takeout order. It’s a little shy of how much I need, even in this scaled-back version, but that pungent ketchup flavor comes through nonetheless.
I place the three brats into my baking dish, pour the sauce onto the brats, cover with aluminum foil, and let it slow bake at 165 celsius for 45 minutes. The warm smell of the brats starts coming through the oven within the last five minutes of baking, likely a credit to how well the veggie brats are imitating the real deal.
I take the baking dish out right at 45 minutes, unfurling the aluminum foil to a quick blast of heat. The wieners in the sauce look, well, like wieners in sauce. Honestly, they could’ve used a bun.
With a small plate in front of me, I started with just two. (Like I said, one man, only so many wieners, et cetera.) The brats are tender, cutting easily with the fork. I take a bite. It’s… not bad, as my parents would say. It’s the kind of thing I could imagine my grandmother (or someone of her era) making in huge quantities for a gaggle of grandkids and their friends. It’s simple and satisfying for the little picky eaters we all once were. The cacio e pepe of childhood.
Want to recreate this strange piece of nostalgia yourself? Here’s the recipe.
Besides writing about wieners in sauce, here’s what else has gone up lately.
Click here to watch how to make my roasted sweet potato Reuben.