While studying abroad in Lyon, I discovered the wonders of bistro and bouchon dining, opening my eyes to the many nuances of French food. I tasted beyond the stereotypes of cream and butter and discovered a gastronomic world deeply influenced by the Algerian culture. To a girl raised on oyster sauce, these new spices piqued my interest and my appetite. Just the mere thought of a sandwich filled with crunchy French fries and fiery lamb sausage makes my mouth water.
When I got my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment this past Christmas, my second thought was to replicate the spicy Algerian merguez sausage I had loved so long ago. My first thought was to make a pork fennel sausage (like the one at Mozza Pizzeria), but I opted for the lamb since it's much harder to find a good merguez. Like any good student of charcuterie, I did lots of homework in order to find the right fat-to-meat ratio, spice mixture and technique. I always wondered why sausage was so delicious and I discovered that it could possibly, maybe, most likely be due to the amazing amounts of fat. So lots of fat equals deliciousness just as I had suspected. Don't worry. Most of the fat renders out during cooking so sausage is practically a health food. :)
I found many different recipes for merguez, but preferred the ones using harissa, a spicy chile paste. It just seemed more authentic to me. The harissa itself contains ground caraway, coriander and garlic in addition to the reconstituted New Mexico and Guajillo chiles. So it's plenty complex on its own. I diced up my meat and fat and seasoned it with harissa, toasted fennel seeds and salt. Overnight all the flavors melded together. The next day, I ground up the meat and discovered the scarcity of lamb casings in Los Angeles. Everyone seemed to have hog, but when it came to lamb, I had no luck. Caseless sausage was the easy way out, but I have pledged to order them online for round two.
I made tiny patties figuring that each pita half would fit two, or three for ambitious eaters. Other pita fillings included hummus, roasted red peppers, red leaf lettuce, cucumber, tomato & feta salad and harissa yogurt dip. The harissa dip was simply the harissa paste thinned out with Greek yogurt. Easy to make and way too easy to eat.
Sides included roasted vegetable couscous and potato & chickpea stew.
My first foray into the charcuterie world proved to be both addictive and delicious. Now I'm completely hooked!