It’s believed that merguez sausage originated somewhere around the 13th century in Northern Africa. As with many dishes from this region, merquez has a little heat to it with an aggressive blend of spices common to the traditional cuisines of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
The name merguez is actually a French translation of the word mirqaz which means sausage in Arabic. Islam, the major religion in the region of North Africa, prohibits the consumption of pork, which explains why merguez sausage is made from lamb, beef or a combination of either.
Traditionally, you’ll find grilled merguez on top of couscous, a staple in Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The sausage can also be a key ingredient in a tagine, which is a stew popular in the same region. Over the years, the unique flavors and spices found in this meat has been adopted by chefs throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In France it is known as street food, served in a bun sometimes even with French fries.
The preparation of merguez is similar to the preparation of other types of sausage. Ground lamb and ground beef are mixed together with lamb fat and seasonings. Veal can also be used when stuffing the minced meat into the lamb intestine. The seasonings include garlic, fennel seeds, black pepper, cayenne pepper and a special blend called harissa. Harissa is a sauce made from two kinds of chilies ground up, caraway seeds, olive oil and coriander seeds and a couple other ingredients. The meat and seasoning are stuffed into a sheep casing.
It is common in Northern Africa to make sun-dried merguez sausage, as well. This is done by leaving the prepared sausages in the hot sun for a few days, dropping them in hot oil and then storing them in a sealed container filled with olive oil. This method preserves the meat and intensifies the flavors.
Chef Clifford A. Wright, a chef well acquainted with food from the Middle East, Mediterranean as well as the Arabic cuisine gives a thorough explanation of how to make merguez sausage and even provides a recipe for Harisa, a distinctive ingredient in the sausage. You can also make merguez sausage patties.
Merguez sausage is not usually the main ingredient in a dish, but it is quite versatile. As mentioned before, merguez sausage is traditionally served with couscous, such as in this recipe. It can also be used in a tagine with lamb, carrots, red onions and prunes.
For more recipes and cool restaurants that sell merguez, check out some other pages on our site.