One of the most famous lamb sausages in the world is merguez: a spicy sausage flavored with a caramelized chili and spice paste called harissa. The sausages are originally from Northern Africa, but have also adopted by the French.
Our merguez, made with Shepherd Song grass-fed lamb or goat is easy to make at home, even without a sausage stuffer. Traditionally they’re stuffed in sheep casings, but Chef Bergo rolls his into small cigars when he doesn’t have casings, or if time doesn’t allow.
With merguez, it’s all about the harissa paste, and the very slow cooking of garlic, peppers, and spices until they caramelize, and change in flavor. Just like our recipe with Ras-al-Hanout, traditional recipes can include a long list of ingredients, but Chef Bergo shares a recipe for preparing a simple one on your own. Commercially made harissa paste is also available in just about any grocery store that has a selection of Middle-Eastern foods, however.
Since this is a lean lamb sausage, another important thing to know is that it should be left pink to help keep it juicy, but if you prefer your meat more done feel free, just know the texture may become crumbly.
This recipe is by chef Alan Bergo. A chef from Minnesota, Alan is a 15 year veteran of the culinary industry, former executive chef of acclaimed Lucia’s Restaurant, and the Salt Cellar. Founder of the website Forager Chef, he’s best known as a respected authority on Midwestern foraging. Learn more about Alan and his hunt for mushrooms, wild and obscure foods at Forager Chef.
2 lbs ground lamb or ground goat
3 Tablespoons smoked paprika
5 teaspoons kosher salt
5 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large red bell pepper
1 large red bell pepper
3 large cloves garlic
¼ cup rendered lamb fat, or substitute flavorless cooking oil
- Roast the bell pepper on a burner until charred all over, then put in a plastic bag, seal and allow to cool, then peel, de-seed, and coarsely chop. Combine the pepper with the garlic, oil, cumin and 1/2 of the smoked paprika in a blender or food processor and puree until very smooth.
- Transfer the puree to a small pan and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is deeply caramelized, it’s orange color will change to a deep red. Alternately, the pepper paste can be baked in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes being stirred occasionally, until deeply colored.
- Reserve the harissa, you should have about 3 tablespoons of paste. Meanwhile, put the lamb in the freezer for 15 minutes while you allow the paste to cool. The harissa can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
- Combine the ground lamb with the harissa, the rest of the paprika and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with thepaddle attachment, and blend on low speed until tacky, about 2 minutes, drizzling in the red wine vinegar as it blends. You can also wear gloves and mash the meat around with your hands if you don’t have a mixer.
- Cook a small piece of the sausage and taste to see if you like the heat/spiciness, adjust as needed, traditionally merguez is very spicy. I like to chill the sausage overnight before cooking, but it can be cooked straight away in a pinch.
- From here, the sausages can be formed into hand rolled sausages and cooked, or put into sheep casings, which is more traditional. When cooking the sausages, brown them well on high heat quickly, but don’t overcook as they’re best eaten pink or medium rare.
Serve the merguez with rice, cooked greens, as part of a mixed grill, or a lunch as pictured here with fresh butter lettuce, winter radishes, greek yogurt with a sprinkle of sumac and quinoa with crunchy walnuts.