What Are Merguez Sausages?
Pork is a common ingredient in many types of sausage, which is why merguez sausages are popular in many pork-free diets around the world, particularly the Northern African countries of Algeria and Tunisia where the recipe originates. Instead of a pig, the meat comes from lamb and perhaps some beef. This is ground to a malleable mush and kicked up with spices like cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika, fennel and the chili paste known as harissa — a flavor profile with a distinctively spicy-hot demeanor.
Also known as mirkās or mirqāz in Arabic, the spelling merquez is attributed to the influence of France, where the dish is prevalently served in 2011. The exact origin of the name is unknown. Food author Zouhair Zairi, in his book Moorish Fusion Cuisine: Conquering the New World, writes that the word "sausage" in the North African language of Berber is a close cousin to amergaz, which was slightly shortened over time.
Making merguez sausages is a time-honored tradition dating back generations in areas where eating pork is largely frowned upon. It is ground lamb, sometimes mixed with ground beef, then infused with a simple blend of paprika, cayenne and harissa. According to a recipe from renowned Mediterranean food writer Clifford Wright, making 3 lbs. (about 1.4 kg) of merquez sausage requires 2 lbs. (nearly 1 kg) of diced lamb shoulder and 0.75 lb. (about 340 g) of diced lamb fat. For this size of a batch, Wright uses 10 feet (about 3 m) of sheep intestine and a precise amount of spices: four garlic cloves, 1 tsp. () of harissa, 1 tsp. of pepper and 1 tsp. of fennel.
The final preparation of merguez sausages is the same as for many sausages. All meats and spices are fully blended, and then sit covered in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, the meat is fed through a meat grinder that feeds the fully ground product through a special sausage stuffing attachment. Before the casing is placed over the attachment and the grinder is activated, Wright advises holding it under a faucet and letting water run fully through the entire casing. This is to clear out any preservatives that might have been placed there. Finally, merguez sausages end with running the grinder and gently feeding the meat mixture through, stopping every hand's length or more to gently twist off a link.
Margues sausages can be cooked on a grill, in an oven, or on a skillet. Aside from being served alongside prevalent side dishes like cus cus, rice or scalloped potatoes, it is just as often dropped into a bun or pita for a simple coating in condiments. Some chefs go even further in the preparation process though, making sun-dried sausages that are boiled in oil and then stored in oil-filled jars until it is time to eat them.
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