Merguez is a spicy sausage, usually made from lamb or mutton, that is traditionally enjoyed in the Maghreb region of North Africa.
What Is Merguez Sausage?
The Maghreb region, which includes Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, is home to a large Muslim population, and since eating pork is prohibited under Islamic law, merguez sausages are made without any pork or pork fat. It's usually made from mutton or lamb, but beef and veal are sometimes used as well, and stuffed in natural sheep casings.
Merguez is a spicy sausage, with its heat coming from harissa, a fiery condiment, also native to Maghreb, that is made from ground dried red chiles and other spices, along with lemon and olive oil. The harissa also contributes a vivid red color to the uncooked sausage, though this red hue tends to diminish upon cooking.
Cumin, fennel and coriander seeds are traditional seasonings in merguez, and the slender sausages, usually measuring 20 to 22 millimeters in diameter and 20 to 30 centimeters in length, are often cooked by grilling. Dried, the sausage is a popular ingredient in various other dishes, such as lamb tagine and couscous.
Merguez is also popular in parts of the UK and France with large Algerian and Moroccan populations, where it's a favorite street food, often eaten in sandwiches and with French fries.
What Is Merguez-Style Seasoning?
Merguez-style seasoning is a spice mix made up of the spices and seasonings that go into traditional merguez sausages. This mixture can be made up in advance and used for seasoning sausages, as a dry rub for roasted meats, as well as for seasoning meatballs, stews, lentils, and other dishes. There are numerous variations on merguez-style seasoning, but it typically features paprika, toasted ground fennel, coriander and cumin seeds, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, salt and sugar.
How to Cook Merguez
If you want to try making your own merguez sausage, a stand-mixer with the meat grinder and sausage stuffer attachments will make things easier. Lamb or mutton (which has a higher fat content, making it preferable for making sausage) are the traditional meats, sometimes mixed with beef.
Typically, merguez sausage is ground twice, once with a coarse die and then again with a finer die, producing a forcemeat with a very fine, smooth consistency. Harissa is definitely the key to merguez sausage, and while it's fairly widely available these days, making your own is pretty simple if you have a food processor, blender, or even a mortar and pestle.
Whether you make your own or source them fresh from a butcher who specializes in North African cuisine, cooking merguez sausage in the traditional manner involves grilling them, but you can also fry them, braise them, and smoke them.
What Does Merguez Taste Like?
Merguez has a spicy flavor, though it's balanced by the slight sweetness of the spice mix along with the citrusy flavor of the harissa. And of course, lamb has a distinctive flavor, which can vary depending on whether it's grass fed or grain-fed.
Merguez kibda bi’l-liyya is made with mutton liver and mutton fat, along with harissa, salt, and a Tunisian and Algerian spice mix known as tabil.
Merguez baqri is made from finely ground veal along with harissa, tabil, aniseed, and preserved lemon and then dried in the sun.
Merguez dawwara is another sun-dried sausage prepared with the organ meats of veal, including the liver, kidneys, tripe, heart and lung.
Merguez sayim is made with mutton and mutton fat and seasoned with rose petals, along with harissa, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
Here are a few recipes that call for merguez sausage, or for making your own merguez sausage.
Where to Buy Merguez
If you live near a halal butcher, you should have no trouble procuring fresh merguez sausage. Additionally, a number of specialty food stores, such as Whole Foods and others, may stock it, either fresh or frozen. And you can also purchase frozen or dried merguez online.
If you purchase fresh merguez sausage, it's best to cook it the day you bring it home. If this isn't possible, store it in the fridge for at most a day before cooking. Alternately you can freeze it immediately, then thaw it overnight in the refrigerator when you're ready to use it. If you purchase it frozen, you can store it in the freezer for a month or two. Dried merguez will keep for several months in the refrigerator, and even longer if vacuum sealed.