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What We Want: Merguez Sausage



J.P. Thimot

Smoke curls from the side of a small and tidy storefront nestled on Amherst Street just before Grant. The intoxicating smell of bacon fills the air, causing hunger pangs among even the most sated passers-by. In addition to handsome slabs of bacon, Spar’s European Sausage creates several dozen styles of smoked and fresh sausages every week, filling its glass butcher’s case with recipes that span centuries—weisswurst, bratwurst, landjaeger, bangers, andouille, and chorizo, to name a few. Traditional Italian and Polish fresh sausages are always available, and at Christmas and Easter, a marjoram-heavy pork variety reminds customers of their Polish grandmothers’ cooking. The rest of the shop is lined with shelves of imported Eastern European dry goods.

But of all the choices (and there are many), owner Joe Kennedy’s French-style merguez is my favorite. A nice alternative to the pork sausages common to our area, it is an excellent addition to anyone’s summertime grilling repertoire. In my mind, after a winter of brown stews and grey skies, the deep color and invigorating flavors innate to Kennedy’s merguez make it ideal for cold-weather consumption.

Hailing originally from North Africa, merguez sausage (taken from the Arabic mirkâz) is characterized by its deep red color and spiciness. In most cases, this fresh sausage is made of lamb, but some regions may use a blend that also includes beef. Merguez’s notable red shade is imparted by a key ingredient—harissa, a Moroccan seasoning paste made of hot chili peppers, cumin, caraway, and coriander.

During their colonial rule of North Africa, the French adopted a version of merguez now considered part of France’s national cuisine. French-style merguez tend to be long and slim, their red color attributed not to harissa or chili peppers, but to the inclusion of dry red wine and roasted red peppers.

Kennedy’s take on things stems from an unfortunate childhood memory: “I am not big on lamb due to my mother’s insistence on cooking mutton for us as kids,” he says. “But when I tasted the merguez all fears left because it is nothing like my mom’s mutton. Lots of people are afraid of lamb because it is considered gamey, but when you add great ingredients like a robust red wine, roasted red peppers, and spices, it gives the consumer entry into a world of delicious taste possibilities.”

Merguez links make a killer Sunday afternoon sandwich, paired with crusty French bread, a swipe of harissa-infused mayo, a slice of red onion, and a few sprigs of fresh parsley. Inexpensive and easily prepared, the red links also work well as the focus of a weeknight meal. Seasoned with harissa and sumac, the couscous dish featured here is the perfect stage for merguez, adding pizzazz to even the dreariest of days.

Kennedy encourages this kind of culinary exploration as a way of moving beyond the familiar. “Sausage can be like a little foray into a culture’s cuisine, and buying sausage can be like drinking—one might be all you need to taste, but are two or three more really going to hurt?”

 

MERGUEZ WITH COUSCOUS

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 cup diced shallots
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. sumac
1/2 tsp. harissa paste
8 oz. merguez sausage, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup chopped red pepper
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
3 tsp. chopped parsley
1 8 oz. can of chickpeas, (drained and rinsed)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup instant couscous

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds; stir for a moment and then add the shallots and fresh red pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes and add the oregano.
Add the sausage and sauté for an additional 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the harissa and roasted red peppers. When grease starts to appear and the sausage is brown, add the stock. Simmer for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and the couscous, stir well, and turn off the heat. Cover the pot immediately and let the dish steam for 6–7 minutes.
Fluff with a fork, adding the sumac and parsley and combining gently, then serve.

 

Spar's European Sausage

405 Amherst St., Buffalo

876-6607

www. sparseuropeansausage.com

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