Truth be told, I don’t have much experience with North African cuisine only having eaten such food on two occasions: once at the 1-star Michelin Aziza and once at a small place in Monterey, California. Both places were Moroccan and came recommended by my cousin’s Moroccan husband. The impression that was left on me was a positive one as I’m a huge fan of cuisines that heavily rely on spices.
Since this would be my first time making an encased meat and Moroccan food, I decided to play it safe and replicate the merguez offering currently featured on the menu at Franks ‘N' Dawgs and devised by Bob Zrenner of Hubbard Inn. The item is a merguez sausage nestled between a lobster roll topped with pear chutney, Stilton cheese, black pepper Greek yogurt, sumac, toasted pistachios, and mint. I wanted to avoid alterations, but chose to add roasted red bell peppers to the chutney because I had some left over from making the merguez. I also used an Assyrian roll that I’ve recently fallen in love with instead of a lobster roll.
Initially, I was honestly not as excited as I usually am for Charcuteaplooza challenges because I’d simply be recreating something ingredient for ingredient rather than cooking something that required some sort of creativity or originality on my part. This lack of enthusiasm quickly came to an end when I visited Marketplace On Oakton.
Luckily for me, they were selling and butchering a lot of whole lambs in preparation for Easter. As a result, they had a bountiful stock of fresh lamb casings (still with traces of poop and hay in them), lamb fat, and lamb offal. Upon laying my eyes on these offerings, I got really excited. Lamb heart and lamb fat would become the backbone of my merguez with lamb spleen and lamb kidney sprinkled in for character. I arbitrarily decided on a balance of two-thirds heart, one-sixth spleen, and one-sixth kidney.
When it came to grinding the meat, I knew the tricks of the trade as I’ve ground meat many times before. The spleen and kidneys were a little tricky, though. I had to freeze the two well beyond the typical “stiff yet pliable” state because they were so delicate and I didn’t want them to completely liquefy in the grinder.
The fresh lamb casings were a lot narrower than I expected. Before this challenge, I’d never worked with any type of casing but for some reason I expected them to be wider. Cleaning the casings proved to be interesting and time consuming. Being paranoid that the traces of poop lining the casings might make me sick, I flushed the casings 4 times and put them in a salt water brine for a day.
Although grinding the meat was easy, stuffing the casings was a little more challenging. After realizing there was no way I could stuff the casings by hand, I turned to the Kitchen Aid casing stuffer attachment. Generally speaking, it did a decent job, but I ended up having to start over a couple times due to my inexperience. For example, on my first attempt, the casings filled up with air like a balloon because the meat wasn’t primed and staged at the tip of the extruder. Interestingly, the meat went from a deep red to brown while being held in the fridge overnight.
With extra lamb fat on hand, I rendered it down and sauteed the sausage. The fresh lamb casings turned out to be very delicate and unfortunately did not provide much snap. Thankfully the pistachios provided texture to each bite. In terms of flavor balance, things came together well. There was sweet and spicy from the chutney, salty and spicy from the merguez, salty from the cheese, sweet from pistachios, sour from the yogurt and sumac, and herby from the mint.
Overall, the Franks ‘N’ Dawgs recreation turned out well. More importantly, I learned how to stuff sausages in the process and made something Moroccan for the first time. However, next time I make a sausage, I think I’ll use salt-packed pork casings to see if they provide more of that all-important snap to each bite.
Pear and Roasted Red Pepper Chutney
Mise En Place
- 400 g pears, diced
- 200 g roasted red bell peppers, diced
- 15 g ginger, minced
- 100 g (~2/5 cup) sugar
- 8 g (~2 Tbsp) paprika
- 8 g (~2 Tbsp) sumac
- 120 g (~1/2 cup) cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp butter
- Melt butter over medium-high heat
- Cook pears, about 2 minutes
- Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer gently until thickened, about 30 minutes
- Add salt and Sriracha to taste
Bob Zrenner’s “Le Merguez” Featured At Franks ‘N’ Dawgs
Mise En Place
- Your favorite roll or bun
- Your favorite chutney
- Your favorite bleu cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Black pepper
- Toasted Pistachios
- Fresh mint
- Place the everything in the bun using a ratio of ingredients to your liking