The June Charcutepalooza challenge involves stuffing ones choice of sausage forcemeat into casings, and I’ve chosen to make merguez since I have an inordinate fondness for the strong taste of mutton, particularly when it is combined with the richly spicy and fruity-peppery flavors of North Africa.
When I say mutton, I mean mutton, not lamb. Lamb is very nice, but I tend to prefer more mature meats in general. Mutton is meat from an older sheep and has a stronger and more delicious sheepy flavor than milder-tasting lamb. This particular mutton comes from my old friends Mary and Bob Pratt at Elihu Farm, two of the smartest, warmest, loveliest farmers I know.
Merguez, for which there are several spellings in Arabic (mirkas (ﻤﺮﻛﺲ), mirkās (ﻤﺮﻛﺎﺱ), markas (ﻤﺭﻛﺲ) and mirqāz (ﻤﺮﻗﺲ) is a mutton or mutton and beef sausage made and eaten all over the Maghreb, and is especially popular in Tunisia, where it is thought to originate, and Morocco. Though the first written recipe for merguez sausage is in an anonymous thirteenth-century Hispano-Muslim cookery book, I chose to make this first batch according (roughly) to the recipe in Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
During the last month or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the stories which are associated with the things we do, particularly with the things we love to do. For instance, knitting. When I knit a sock or a hat or a beautiful scarf, whatever I’m thinking about or watching or listening to while knitting gets incorporated into the garment, so that when I pull on, for instance, my lovely green Hedgerow sock, I recall the apartment where I lived, the Anne Linnet CD that I was listening to, and my then obsession with David Tenant in his role as Doctor Who, all of which formed the context in which I knit that specific sock.
It’s the same for me when I prepare food which will be stored, either in vacuum sealed jars in my larder, in my freezer, or in jewel-like bottles containing liquors, vinegars, and flower and herb-scented syrups. All of these are created within a context which can include delicious novels, New Yorker articles, Star Trek episodes, early music programmes, conversations with friends or family –any number of events can form a distinct provenance, memories simmered or ground or stirred into a dish –become part of a little narrative– which later I might recall as I eat or share the food.
This batch of sausage will be eaten over the next several months, and when I eat it I will surely think about the peonies which are currently exploding over at Harmony Farm, the home of my largest garden (not to mention my dear friends). And I’ll think about the adventure-filled road-trip I just took to hear the Russian quartet at my beloved monastery, New Skete, about the pomegranate liquor which Brother Marc sent home with me –delicious!
So, as usual I tweaked the recipe a bit: I used a mix of sweet and half-sharp paprika, with a bit of smoked paprika as well. I think I tripled or quadrupled the amount of paprika overall. The marjoram & oregano in my gardens are still small, but I have a nice large bag of dried marjoram from last year’s garden, and that worked fine. I also added a bit of harissa for heat and flavor, and a bit of lemony sumac for brightness. I used store-bought roasted peppers, and more garlic than the original recipe called for. Also, I scaled the recipe up for 5lbs of meat, since that’s what I had.
The meat and spices spent the night in the refrigerator to give the flavors plenty of time to permeate the meat. In the morning, after frying off a little rissole and tasting, I added a bit more harissa and pepper, and then proceeded to stuff the forcemeat into lamb casings using my KitchenAid sausage-stuffer attachment.
After finishing the stuffing, I twisted the sausages into links, and bagged them in meal-sized portions for the freezer.
I’m at mom’s now, and the charcoal is settling into embers out in the grill. I’ve made a beautiful big bowl of tabouleh salad, and I have a mess of green and red sweet peppers which I’ll be grilling, along with the sausage. My brother and I are sitting in the cool dim dining room, sipping iced coffee and each tending to our digital bits.
P.S. Giant love to my bulky, cheesy, winey sweet-hearts at the Co-op