Homemade Merguez

Homemade Merguez

For this month’s Charcutepalooza event, we were challenged  to make our own bulk sausage, either as breakfast sausage, merguez or chorizo. This one had my full attention. If it’s possible to express sentiment over a sausage, then the merguez would be considered my first true love in the charcuterie department.

I first ate merguez when I lived in Paris.  They were unlike any sausage I ever tasted. Finger-thin, lean in fat and fiery red hot, these North African sausages were the wizened angry little men of sausages – taut, feisty and not to be underestimated. They were easily found in the myriad couscous restaurants sprinkled throughout the city, from street vendors and specialty markets. Eaten alone, with couscous, or in a bun with frites and sauce – merguez were the essence of Morocco. Fragrant with cumin, coriander and sumac, dry and hot like the desert heat, and fiery red with harissa – one bite and you were transported.

Since then, and following moves further north in Europe and to the U.S., those merguez have become a food memory, frequently reminisced at the dinner table and used as a point of comparison (without success) when encountering other sausages calling themselves merguez. So far, nothing I have eaten replicates the North African merguez I tasted in France.

So, this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was particularly exciting. Why not try to make my own merguez? While I had no illusion of immediately recreating my distant memory of perfection, I would use the bulk sausage challenge as an opportunity to tinker with flavor, spice and heat before any fussing with stuffing the casings. I would form simple patties which I would stuff in pita bread. While the patties may be the lazy oafish cousin to the taut, skinny merguez sausage, the hope was that the taste would be undeniably related.

Merguez Bulk Sausage

I followed the technique for making bulk sausage from Charcuterie and formed the meat into small patties, or keftas. As for the spices, I concocted a heady mix of harissa, coriander, cumin, fennel and sumac. If needed, I planned to add lamb fat rather than pork fat, since the merguez I ate in France were Halaal. This proved unnecessary, however, since lamb shoulder provided enough fat for my taste.

1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons harissa paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound ground lamb shoulder
Olive oil

Toast fennel, coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat until fragrant, 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar with pestle or spice grinder, and grind until fine. Combine in a bowl with all of the remaining ingredients except the lamb. Stir to form a paste. Add lamb and thoroughly mix together with your hands. Form into 1 1/2 inch patties. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add patties, without overcrowding, in batches. Cook, turning once, until brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and keep warm. Repeat with remaining patties.
Serve with pita bread, harissa sauce, Greek style yogurt and fresh mint leaves.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes

Bavette aux Echalotes

At the risk of repeating myself, I will tell you that I love French bistro cooking.  Simply put, it makes me very happy.  In fact, bistro food should make all of us happy.  It’s comforting, generous, convivial and unpretentiously rooted in French tradition.  How can anyone not like it?

I became familiar with bistros when I lived in Paris and Geneva.  Found in every neighborhood, the bistro was the go-to restaurant for consistent, delicious, and fun food.  Welcoming, bustling, and casually elegant, it was home away from home – satisfying and soothing in its predictability, its well worn ambience, and its dedicated timelessness.  Now, years later, there isn’t a bistro in my neighborhood, but I do seek it out in restaurants and cook bistro fare at home.  It’s perfect for entertaining and families, and since my family was raised eating bistro food in Europe, it’s one of our preferred cuisines  for home cooking.
So, needless to say, I was very excited when Johanna at the Passionate Cook announced Bistro Food as this month’s theme for the foodblogging event Waiter There is Something in My… (or WTSIM) – I knew I couldn’t miss it.  Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots or Bavette aux Echalotes is a classic item on bistro menus.  The less expensive cut of meat is pan-fried on the stove and then served heaped with sautééd, caramelized shallots.  It’s quick to prepare, delicious to eat and economical on the wallet.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes
Serves 4

4 skirt steaks, approx. 8 oz./250 g. each
2 tablespoons high heat oil (canola or grapeseed)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 large shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1/3 cup/80 ml. red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare Steak:
Use 2 skillets or cook in 2 batches:  Heat one tablespoon canola oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter to skillet and swirl around to brown.  Add steaks, 2 at a time to skillet.  Cook turning once until seared and cooked through to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare.  Transfer steaks to platter and tent with foil to rest.

Prepare shallots:
Add one tablespoon olive oil to skillet.  Add shallots and sauté over medium heat until golden brown, about 6 minutes.  Add red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is absorbed.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, thyme and any juices from meat to the shallots. Cook, stirring, to incorporate, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange steaks on individual plates or serving platter.  Top with shallots and serve.

Before and After

I confess that when I first moved to Paris to study cooking, I was somewhat inflexible in terms of feeding myself.  Here I was, twenty-something, educated, professional, and, at least in my opinion, worldly. Now, this is my own small story, but I will dare say that I conformed to a rather structured, and, perhaps American, way of viewing diet and exercise: compulsive, rigorous and disciplined. This translated to a philosophy that excluded butter, red meat, caffeine, little alcohol and included fresh fruit, veggies, fish and so on. It also included a regimen of daily exercise, even if it meant rising at 5 a.m. to squeeze a workout into an active, fully-booked life. A day without exercise was unthinkable; deviation from my super healthy diet bordered on cataclysmic.

So, wouldn’t it make perfect sense that I would apply to cooking school in Paris? Not only cooking school, but the revered, classical, traditional French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. Goodness knows what I was thinking. Perhaps it was a subconscious acknowledgement of the starkness of my present routine and the need to just live a little; the gap of an ocean and the excuse of a new culture to step away from life as I knew it. Or perhaps it was the lack of meat protein in my diet that impacted my reasoning skills. Whatever the case, off I went to cook and eat in the land of butter, cream, pastry, runny cheese and terrines, at a school that for over 100 years held the distinguished and elite position of teaching classical French cuisine et pâtisserie.

And guess what? Nothing untoward happened. In fact, lots of delicious, sensual, pleasurable, yummy, gooey, and rich experiences befell me. The foods I wistfully admired from the sidelines of my healthy regimen back in the U.S. became the daily staples of my new Parisian life. I had an encyclopedia of cheeses at my disposal, bakeries on every street corner displayed gorgeous oven-baked breads and flaky croissants, cafés dotted every neighborhood serving comforting French bistro fare. Open air markets peppered the city, and depending on the day I could alter my route to school to pass by stands displaying a rainbow of fresh seasonal produce, glistening fresh meats and a sea of fish. Cheeses, pâtés, and more breads were prominently displayed along with a kaleidescope of cut flowers readily available for the finishing touch to the table.

For exercise I walked to school every day – literally across town – from the 18th to the 15th arrondissement. I risked life and limb crossing streets and boulevards, skirting the occasional mob of striking postal workers, protesting students and subsequent swarms of police, allowing 20 minutes at the minimum to navigate across the sweeping Place de la Concorde as I would officially cross from the right to the left bank over the Seine. Each day I would change my walking route, either purposely or more often erroneously, discovering new streets, neighborhoods, shops and cafés. I had a short list of favorite cafés where I would stop for my morning tartine (avec beurre) and café au lait (avec caféine.) Outside of the school I learned which bakeries had the best sandwiches – simple, satisfying packages with thickly sliced Comté cheese or paper-thin tongues of jambon sechée, a little butter and mustard, and perhaps a cornichon for garnish on a crusty, airy baguette the length of a forearm. So satisfying and so uncomplicated. An afternoon pick-me-up between classes or along my walk home would include an espresso and perhaps a tarte au citron – a dollop of perfectly balanced sweet, tart and very lemony curd nestled in a palm-sized shell of pâte sucrée. If I could bear to make dinner after a day of cooking in class, I would improvise a light dish with some of the purchases from the market or head out to a bistro or restaurant on my un-ending list of new places to try. Simply put, my life in Paris revolved around eating, cooking, walking and eating more.  I was very happy.  Bon Appétit.

Tarte au Citron

Lemon Tart – Tarte au Citron

Makes one 9″ tart

For the pastry – Pâte Sucrée
1 1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in 1/2″ pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice water

Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor.  Add butter, using on/off turns until the mixture becomes crumbly.
Stir together egg yolk and water in small bowl.  Add to flour mixture.  Pulse until dough begins to clump together.
Press dough into bottom and up sides of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Trim edges.  Pierce crust all over with fork.  Freeze 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line crust with foil.  Fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake until crust is set, about 15 minutes.  Remove foil and beans or weights.  Continue baking until crust is lightly golden, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to rack to cool while preparing the filling.

For the Lemon Filling:

6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium sauce pan.  Mix well to combine.  Add remaining ingredients, except for the lemon zest.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  (Do not allow to boil or the mixture will curdle.)
When the mixture changes to a bright yellow color and thickly coats the wooden spoon, remove from heat.  Pour through a fine strainer.  Discard the residue.  Stir in lemon zest.
Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell; it will continue to thicken as it sets.  Let it sit at least one hour.  Serve at room temperature or cold.