Lynda Balslev: Falling for merguez
If it’s possible to express sentiment over a sausage, then the merguez would be considered my first true love. I had my first taste of this North African sausage when I lived in Paris. It was unlike any I ever tasted. Finger-thin and fiery red-hot, these lamb sausages were taut, feisty and not to be underestimated. They were abundant in the myriad couscous restaurants sprinkled throughout the city, from street vendors, and sold in specialty markets. Eaten alone, with couscous, or in a bun with frites and sauce, merguez were fragrant with cumin, coriander and fennel, dry and hot like the desert heat, and fiery red with harissa. One bite, and you were transported.
Since then, and following moves farther north in Europe and to the U.S., the Parisian merguez became a wistful food memory, reminisced over at the dinner table and used as a point of comparison when encountering other sausages. Nothing seemed to match the memory; so, to that end, I began tinkering with making my own bulk sausage meat.
Bulk sausage is easy to make, since it’s simply spiced ground meat, and it was key to first nail the flavor before attempting to actually stuff the meat into casing. It’s also crazy simple to do — so much that I frequently return to the ground meat method and mix it into stews and sauces or form it into patties.
These patties are easy to eat, grilled or pan-fried, stuffed in pita, piled on couscous, and drizzled with a garlicky yogurt sauce. To be honest, at this point I can’t say if they precisely replicate my first love, but they sure do hit the spot.
Merguez Bulk Sausage
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus chilling time
Yield: Makes 1 1/2 pounds
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 pound ground lamb
1 cup Greek whole milk yogurt
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Toast the fennel, coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar with pestle or spice grinder and finely grind.
Transfer the spices to a large bowl. Add the garlic, harissa, salt, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne and mix to form a paste. Add the lamb and, using your hands, mix to thoroughly combine without overmixing.
Test the flavor of the meat by pan-frying a spoonful in a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. The meat should have a robust flavor, full of spice and heat, and not shy of salt. When the flavor is to your liking, form the meat into 1 1/2-inch patties and place on a plate. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. In batches, pan-fry the patties, without overcrowding the skillet, until brown on both sides and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.
Whisk the yogurt sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve the patties warm with the yogurt sauce, pita bread, harissa sauce and fresh mint leaves.
Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area.
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