For my first home cooking project I decided to tackle making Merguez, those wonderfully spicy Moroccan lamb sausages best appreciated with a plate of frites (French fries) and a big green salad. Ask anyone from Marseilles about Merguez and their eyes will glisten while they conjure images of picnics past. I myself had pictured casually sipping a glass of Claudia Springs Viognier while gleefully grinding the meat, seasoning it, and then filling the sausage casings as the charcoal briquettes turned from cool black to white hot. It should have been a simple enough task for a big Chef with thirty years’ experience cooking in the finest kitchens across America. Unfortunately, that Zen foodie moment wasn’t in the cards, but thankfully I am naturally stubborn and did eventually manage to make a few strands of Merguez.
I come from a long line of frustratingly stubborn people who NEVER take no for an answer. I swear it comes naturally. French people have that reputation, in particular people from Marseilles, and my mother may be the reigning Queen of stubbornness. Words like impossible, never and can’t just weren’t part of her vocabulary. There are many infamous family stories I could share in order to give proper prospective but one in particular stands out. My father was a socialite who enjoyed things like going to the opera and hobnobbing with prominent Chicago socialites. My mother being a true hot blooded Marseillaises with a wildly rebellious streak running through her free spirited veins preferred more visceral experiences . Most of the time the combination worked well, like a perfect vinaigrette composed of two seemingly opposite ingredients, oil and vinegar. Occasionally the dressing breaks and the salad is ruined.
My parents were going to the season opening of the Lyric Opera of Chicago; my father had 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 three hour Opera but she loved my dad and did this for him. All day long my father complained 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 to a picnic, then dad proclaimed ‘for such an illustrious event you had better change and be happy or there will be severe consequences to pay.’ Never ever threaten a Marseillaise. My mother’s eyes eased belying her true emotions as they headed out of the house dressed in their finest evening coats. They arrived at their seats, my father removed his coat and sat down excited for the opera to begin. My mother still in her coat, quietly took her seat and stared blankly at the stage. My father still frustrated by the dress discussion demanded she remove her coat or else. Mom looked at him square in the eye, calmly unbuttoned her coat and revealed she had absolutely no more on than at the precise moment she was born.
I could continue with stories of the pale white color that my father’s face turned when he arrived home from work to find my mom had sawed the legs to the dinner table off for a Moroccan themed dinner party or perhaps the day when after she slipped a disc in her lower back and was sternly warned by her physician not even to get up to pee for six weeks, she tore the wall down between our kitchen and living room in under six hours. You really have to embrace this kind of determination and stubbornness otherwise you will go mad with frustration at any attempts to control or subvert this behavior.
The day began blissfully enough; Beaumont was off to his first day at the new Montessori school and Lisa was on a job interview leaving me alone in the kitchen with nothing to do but make sausages. The ground lamb was 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 in a mixer with the paddle attachment. I learned a home mixer doesn’t have the same capacity or power as the large scale mixers I was accustomed to using as semi frozen cubes of lamb rained down all over the kitchen and onto the floor. The lamb casing I bought at a specialty store had a smaller diameter than the tube used for stuffing the sausages. No matter how much coaxing I tried to finesse, it wouldn’t fit. Leave the kitchen humor aside for a moment and imagine my frustration rising. The super slippery casing stretched beyond it’s natural limits tearing as I tried to finagle it on. Yes, the transition from pro Chef to home cook was going to be rougher than expected. I finally MacGyvered a plain pastry tip onto the end of the tube and fastened it with leftover packing tape from our recent move to Portland. This worked well except the casing kept bunching up on the tip causing the fragile casing to explode with meat at the most inopportune times. Two hours of work and not even one single Merguez to nibble on.
Temporarily defeated, I looked around and noticed the kitchen was in shambles with bits of lamb strewn everywhere and piles of dirty pots and pans covering nearly every surface. I wanted to just sit down and cry. The great thing about cooking in a restaurant is the unsung heros who work the dish pit. If you use a ton of pans and every implement available, someone else will clean up for you. At home there was only me. I started getting despondent imagining my wife Lisa coming home after I so proudly told her it would be a cakewalk, no problem, that we would be feasting on one of my favorite dishes when she returned and then having nothing to show for my efforts. My mind started racing trying to figure alternate scenarios like lying to her and saying I made Merguez burgers instead or running to Portland and finding someone who sold Merguez. Then my French 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.
- 45 grams Sea Salt
- 6 grams Black Pepper
- 10 grams ground Chipotle chili powder
- 60 grams mild Chili powder
- 15 grams chopped, fresh Garlic
- 10 grams Cumin
- 10 grams ground Fennel Seed
- 5 grams Hungarian Paprika
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 5.5 # ground Lamb (70% meat, 30% fat)
- 20 feet of Lamb Casing, rinsed
- Blend all the seasonings together with the olive oil.
- Make sure your lamb is very cold, if it isn't the fat will melt and your sausages will be dry.
- Using a paddle attachment in your mixer, combine the lamb and seasonings.
- Follow the instructions for your sausage stuffer, and fill the casing or form burgers.
- Grill till you reach your desired temperature, about five minutes, and enjoy.