Merguez. Sounds vaguely Spanish to my Anglophone ears, but it’s actually an Arabic word. In a sausage context, that is. Merguez sausage. Merguez sausage is a red, spicy, garlicky sausage popular in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It’s made with lamb or beef. The red color comes from the addition of Tunisia’s famous hot chili paste, harssia.
Yep. I Made Sausage
I’m a whole foods ingredient, scratch cooking kind of person. I’m definitely not one to shy away from going back to basics in the world of food. In fact, I’ve adopted it as an ethos and it informs the overall approach to cuisine in this blog. I pickle and ferment things, for example. That takes a bit of time, labor, and commitment. I also make my own Mediterranean pantry staples like harissa paste, za’atar, and preserved lemons. These are things you could buy at the store (of course they’re not as good). But sausage? Making sausage represents a whole other level of commitment.
First, let’s just go there. Let’s be honest. There is something kind of gnarly about sausage making. Surely you’ve heard the expression “Nobody wants to see how the sausage gets made.” I shouldn’t have to remind you that this metaphor comes from sausage making. This presents a barrier to making sausage for a lot of folks, myself included.
Second, even if I was willing to go there, the techniques and equipment alone seem overwhelming. There’s gear to buy: grinders, stuffers, casings and whatnot. Go there and you’ve adopted a whole new lifestyle. There are probably sausage guilds to join and secret handshakes to learn. I’m just not ready to go there.
Merguez sausage is different. Merguez sausage is easy. It’s a “fresh” sausage, which means it’s not cooked and cured like, I don’t know, salami or chorizo. It’s really pretty simple. And you don’t have to stuff it into casings if you don’t want to (I certainly didn’t).
You just add some toasted spices, garlic, and harissa paste to ground lamb or beef and mix it up. Then you grab an egg-sized bit of the merguez sausage mixture and roll it into a little cigar shape and you fry it in a skillet. Done. It’s really that simple.
What do You do with Merguez Sausage?
What lead me down this sausage making path? Tunisian ojja. I’ve been on a Tunisian cuisine kick of late, and I wanted to make ojja. What is ojja? Well, it’s basically shakshuka (I have a recipe for it here). Shakshuka (ojja) is a zippy, zesty, spicy breakfast. You cook up onions, tomatoes, and peppers in a skillet, and then you crack a few eggs right on top and let them cook right in.
I might be totally wrong here, but I think of ojja as a slightly fancier version of shakshuka. There is, for example, a deluxe version served in Tunis that’s full of shellfish and seafood rather than eggs. But the more common version is Ojja Merguez. And there you go! I needed some Merguez Sausage. Unfortunately, as a person who lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Merguez sausage is not a common grocery store item where I live. So yeah. I made some.
You certainly don’t have to make ojja merguez to enjoy Merguez sausage though. As you see from the photos, I ate them with some eggs, feta, and olives for breakfast. They’re also good in sandwiches and tagines. They’re super flavorful and spicy–definitely not boring.
One final added bonus: if you learn to make Merguez sausage you’ll have at least one item in your repertoire of 12th century Berber cuisine. So yeah, check that item off the bucket list. I know you’ve been wanting to.
- 1 Pound Ground Lamb (or Ground Beef if you prefer)
- ½ Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
- ½ Teaspoon Coriander Seeds
- ½ Teaspoon Fennel Seeds
- 1 Teaspoon Spanish Paprika
- ½ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- 3 Cloves Garlic, finely minced
- 1 Tablespoon Harissa
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Make sure the ground lamb is well chilled in the refrigerator before working with it. You want the fat to stay solid when you mix in the ingredients.
- Toast the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until they become fragrant and just begin to take on some color. Transfer to a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder) and grind into a powder.
- Add all ingredients to the ground meat and mix well.
- Form the sausage mixture into cigar shaped sausages about one inch in diameter and about five inches long. Chill them in the refrigerator if they become too soft and sticky.
- Fry the sausages in batches in a skillet on the stovetop until they’re browned on all sides and cooked through.