For my first home cooking project, I decided to tackle making Merguez, the wonderfully spicy Moroccan lamb sausages best appreciated with a large plate of frites and a big green salad. Ask anyone from Provence about Merguez and their eyes will glisten with images conjured of past picnics or maybe even a favorite bistro lunch. I had pictured myself casually sipping a glass of wine while gleefully grinding the meat, seasoning it, and then filling the sausage casings as the charcoal briquettes turned from cool black to white-hot.
What should have been a simple enough task for a big Chef with 30 years’ experience cooking quickly turned into a real kitchen nightmare.
THE QUEEN OF STUBBORN
I come from a long line of frustratingly stubborn people who NEVER take no for an answer. While I have noticed that many French people have that reputation, the most stubborn are from Marseille. And my very own mother may actually be the reigning Queen of stubbornness.
Words like impossible, never, and can’t just aren’t part of her vocabulary. There are many infamous family stories I could share in order to lend a proper perspective but this one, in particular, stands out. My father was a socialite who enjoyed the finer things like going to the opera and hobnobbing with prominent Chicago socialites. My mother preferred more visceral social experiences. Most of the time the combination worked well, like a vinaigrette magically composed of just oil and vinegar. When it is perfectly emulsified it is a thing of simple beauty, but when it breaks it is ruined.
My parents were going to the premiere of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. My father had gotten great box seats and was excited to go. My mother, on the other hand, hated opera, and probably would rather shove a hot poker in her eye than sit through a boring 3 hour Opera. The entire day my father complained about how my mom’s hair looked, how she didn’t want to go; the focal point became what dress she was going to wear. This one wasn’t appropriate, that one you wear only for a picnic. In utter frustration, my dad proclaimed ‘for such an illustrious event you had better change and be happy or there will be severe consequences to pay.’ The first piece of advice I give to you, my dear readers, never ever threaten someone from Marseillaise.
My mother’s eyes turned jet-black like a great white shark narrowing in on an unsuspecting seal dinner. Her calm demeanor belied her true intentions as they headed out of the house wrapped in their finest evening coats. When they arrived at their seats, my father removed his coat and sat down excited for the opera to begin. My mother still adorned in her jacket, quietly took her seat, and stared blankly at the empty stage. My father’s anxiety hit a crescendo fueled by the earlier dress discussion demanded that she immediately remove her coat and enjoy the opera. Mom calmly looked at him square in the eye as unbuttoned her coat slowly, revealing she had absolutely no more on now than at the precise moment she was born. My father’s body went limp as he slumped back into his chair. He had been bested. At some point you have to embrace this next level of stubborn determination otherwise you will simply go mad with endless new realms of frustration just waiting to be discovered.
The day began blissfully enough. My son Beau was off to his first day at the new Montessori school and my wife Lisa had a job interview leaving me alone in the kitchen with nothing but make sausages to make. The ground lamb I used was still partially frozen, so I cut it into small squares hoping it would thaw quicker. Growing impatient, I decided to speed things up by beating the meat into submission with the brute force of a mixer. What I learned instead was that a home mixer doesn’t have the same power as the large scale mixers I was accustomed to using as cubes of lamb rained down onto my kitchen floor.
The lamb casing I bought had a smaller diameter than the tube I hoped to use for stuffing the sausages. No matter how much coaxing and finesse, it just wouldn’t fit. I read these words seconds after I wrote them and the adolescent in me started making some rather juvenile internal commentary. Try to leave the kitchen humor aside for just a moment and try to imagine my frustration levels rising.
The super slippery casing was stretched well beyond its natural limits. Tears began appearing as I tried to finagle the damn thing on. It was abundantly obvious that the transition from chef to home cook was going to be rougher than I had earlier anticipated. In desperation, I MacGyvered a plain pastry tip onto the end of the tube and fastened it with leftover packing tape. This worked for the time being except the casing kept bunching up on the tip causing the fragile casing to explode with meat always at the most inopportune moments. Two hours had passed and I did not have even one single Merguez to nibble on.
I looked around and noticed the kitchen was in shambles. Bits of lamb were strewn everywhere and piles of dirty pots covered every surface. I wanted to just sit down and cry. I started getting despondent imagining my wife Lisa coming home after I so proudly promised her it would be a cakewalk, absolutely no problem, that we would be feasting on one of my favorite dishes when she returned. My mind started racing, trying to figure alternate scenarios like lying to her and saying I invented Merguez burgers or running to Portland and finding someone who sold Merguez.
Then my mother’s stubbornness kicked in. I was going to prevail and I eventually managed to squeeze out a few perfect strands of Merguez and began the seemingly endless task of cleaning the kitchen before she got home. Sometimes plain old fashioned stubbornness pays off.
MY RECIPE FOR THE BEST MERGUEZ YOU WILL EVER EAT
Give my recipe a try this weekend. I have taken all the frustrations out and offer some easy tips to follow. Enjoy these tasty merguez with a plate of frites and a big green salad.
Merguez, Moroccan Lamb Sausages
A spicy lamb sausage perfect for picnics.
- 5 pounds ground lamb, a good blend of about 70% meat, 30% fat
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 15 grams garlic chopped
- 45 grams of sea salt
- 6 grams black pepper
- 10 grams ground chipotle chili powder
- 60 grams mild chili powder
- 10 grams ground fennel seed
- 10 grams cumin
- 5 grams sweet paprika
- 20 feet lamb casing thoroughly rinsed
- To make the merguez, in a large bowl, combine the lamb, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder, fennel, cumin, and paprika until well mixed. Cover, refrigerate, and let the flavors develop overnight if possible.
- Follow the instructions for your sausage stuffer, and fill the casing. OR you can save yourself a world of frustrations and form patties or even roll into a sausage shape and grill to your desired degree of doneness, turning once, 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
This is a recipe I would recommend for someone who has some experience cooking or is stubborn. It is a large batch with roughly 28 servings. Vacuum pack and freeze whatever extra sausages you may have.
I warn you, they are addictive and you probably will eat more than you should. If you do not have a sausage stuffer or mixer you can simply roll the mixture into finger-shaped sausages or form paddies and grill them as is. Try serving a cooling Tzatziki sauce on the side.
Buy yourself a cheap scale that easily switched from ounces to grams. Using teaspoon measurements is not accurate and is easily avoided by spending $30 on a decent scale.