Merguez: Sausages & Stories

Spices on offer at a North African market

A dazzling display of spices and herbs at a Maghreb market stall

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.

Piles of spices: salt, sugar, green pepper, paprika, marjoram

The spices & seasonings for my Merguez sausage: salt, sugar, paprika, green pepper, pepper flakes, and marjoram

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!

My sausage making setup with a bowl of stuffed merguez

Stuffing the merguez forcemeat into lamb casings

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.

A bowl of merguez forcemeat stuffed into lamb casings

A bowl of merguez forcemeat stuffed into lamb casings

After finishing the stuffing, I twisted the sausages into links, and bagged them in meal-sized portions for the freezer.

Merguez sausage twisted into links

Merguez sausage twisted into links

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.

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Green and red peppers roasting on the grill

Green and red peppers roasting on the grill

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San & mor cleaning the grilled peppers

San & mor cleaning the grilled peppers

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Merguez sausage cooking on the grill. They're perfect in this photo ..

Merguez sausage cooking on the grill. They're perfect in this photo ..

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Dinner: tabouleh, grilled peppers, over-cooked merguez sausage and mom's bread

Dinner: tabouleh, grilled peppers, merguez sausage and mom's bread. The sausage is *just* overcooked ..

P.S. Giant love to my bulky, cheesy, winey sweet-hearts at the Co-op :-)

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About mosaica

Ugly & fabulous, warm & obsessive, brilliant & dorkmeisterish: striving to be a warrior in her little context.
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17 Responses to Merguez: Sausages & Stories

  1. That entire meal looks so good! I think the links between food and memories are one of the strongest we have, and it’s interesting to see how some chefs are using that in developing new dishes. However, nothing beats your own memories of making your own food :)

  2. Cathy says:

    I love hearing the stories – it’s why Charcutepalooza was born! Your merguez looks crazy good. I must find some lamb casings for my next batch…

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing all your hard labors of love – I look forward to it!

  4. MrBelm says:

    Beautiful looking sausage. Glad you incorporated harissa, my new go-to grilling spice.

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks Mr. Belm! How do you use harissa in your grilling? And do you use paste or a form of dried harissa spice? I really liked how the harissa gave heat and a sort of floral brightness. Yum!

  5. Wonderful post, and your merguez looks and sounds amazing! Thanks for bringing up the connection between memories/stories and the things we do — it’s not something I have often considered (but should), and it rings so true! Lovely to think about.

    • mosaica says:

      Thank you! It really is a delight to succeed even a little in conveying a bit of my own experience & thought process, and I’m glad that this notion of a link (heh) between avocation & narrative brings you pleasure :-)

  6. Darlene says:

    Wow that sausage on the grill looks awesome!

    My favorite dish with merguez was a skillet of spicy tomato sauce cooked with the sausage Just when it’s to be served, eggs are cracked into the skillet and cooked until the whites are just set. Then you dip crusty bread in it and the yolk oozes out and mixes with the sauce. So good!

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks kære Darlene! I really feel like you are a kindred spirit. Can I adopt you as sister? This was exactly the dish I wanted most to make with the merguez, and I did make it three times in the last month, and now my merguez is all gone :-)

      Do you happen to know what the Moroccan or Tunisian name for this dish is?

  7. So happy to see this picked as one of the best Charcutepalooza posts – totally well deserved. I’ll be bummed if you don’t win that trip to France, somehow I think no one will get more out of the experience than you!

    • mosaica says:

      Ah, J, my favorite comments-buddy :-) I read this comment a week or so ago, and you really made me happy :-) I didn’t know about the top-ten thing, in fact, ’til I read your comment! I would indeed be very thrilled and utterly absorbed by the trip, but I’m staying focused on really enjoying the process as there are some amazing gifted folks involved in this charcutepalooza project, and we’re only, what, half-way through? Anyhow, big warm thanks for the good wishes :-)

  8. Martin says:

    The sausages look excellent!!!!

    ~Martin

    • mosaica says:

      They were really good! I’m out of merguez, but this is one I’ll do often, I think. I have a great source of mutton, and I really love that sheepy flavor, not to menton all the spicy/fruity north African flavors. Thanks for coming by :-)

  9. Mr Fitz says:

    Am making Merguez for the first time tomorrow.. quite excited! was thinking of using piece of lamb shoulder outta the deep freeze.. after reading your post.. I agree i think i gotta go hook up some musston… the lamb can be done greek stylee instead.. will let you know how it goes! the up-scaling of the paprike and using a mix of sharp sweet and smokey is noted and is gonna be used for sure!! Thanks!!

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