Merguez, Memories

My obsession with lamb spans over my entire life, and I have strong reason to believe I’ve passed it on to the next generation. [Lulu wasn't walking when this picture was taken]

There is no meat like it – flavorful, delicate, versatile. It is native to Romania and, as luck would have it, native to Colorado. The best restaurants in the country from New York to San Francisco feature prominently Colorado lamb, often rack, proclaiming it the best. Which brings me to the puzzle my mind goes through every time I see New Zealand lamb at my local Whole Foods, but that is a story for another time.

Every Saturday from spring to fall, I head up to Boulder to the market. There is one stand I hit first – Leistikow Farms. And for good reason: they have lamb. Amazing, beautiful, flavorful, tender Colorado lamb. I stock up each week fearful that the next week they won’t be here, or they won’t have what I need, or I won’t be able to make it, or there will be a Lambaggedon and no lamb will be out there available for consumption, all of which seem like a major tragedy.

Nearly a year ago, Tom Colicchio used lamb shoulder in a cooking demonstration at Aspen Food and Wine. He made merguez, and his recipe was shared in the Tasting Notes festival book. I made it, several times, and loved it. It is a classic, simple yet complex, a staple of Northern African cuisine that seems to transcend seasons- it just tastes great no matter when you make it. I made it now to soothe my absence from the incredible event that is Aspen Food and Wine. I’m a tad bitter to stay home,I won’t lie. My money is on lamb to soothe me through the bitterness.

Merguez, a Tom Colicchio recipe, adapted.

Ingredients: 2 lbs boneless lamb shoulder; 8 ounces pork fatback; 4 teaspoons kosher salt; a healthy pinch of hot pepper flakes; 4 ounces piquillo peppers, drained and minced; 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roasted; 2 teaspoons smoked paprika; 2 teaspoons dried oregano; 2 ounces harissa (you can buy it or make your own; plus more for serving); 2 ounces dry red wine; 2 ounces sherry vinegar. [Makes: a lot- enough to feed 4 easily.]

Cut the lamb shoulder and fatback into small cubes. Keep them as cold as possible. Grind them through a meat grinder adjusted to the largest setting. I would run it through the grinder twice and consider your preference for texture- if you like it less coarse, grind it finer.

Toss the ground mixture with the salt, pepper flakes, roasted garlic, piquillo peppers, smoked paprika, dried oregano, and harissa until combined.

Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and add the vinegar and wine. Whip the mixture until it is uniform in texture.

Form it into your desired shape- patties, balls, or sausage and roast or saute until cooked through. Serve alongside a healthy scoop of harissa, ideally with couscous or a homemade fresh flatbread.

Photography by Jennifer Olson [minus the blurry picture of my child]

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  • marina

    I wonder the same about Whole Foods and smoked trout. There is great, local smoked trout that they sell at my SAFEWAY and yet all they have at WF is from elsewhere. Shame!

  • marina

    PS- what a beautiful plate!

  • Lori Lynn

    Sorry you don't get to go to Aspen F&W. I enjoyed reading your review last year.
    The lamb sounds fabulous.

  • Bethany

    Love your writing! I'll definitely have to make this before there's ever a Lambaggedon. 'Baa baa!'

  • Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen

    Your time making and writing about merguez is time well spent. Yum.

    P.S. You know, I only like 5 minutes away…

  • Susan Lindquist

    I have been having fun with some north African dishes of late … perhaps I can pick up some lamb at our local Farmer's Market and try this recipe! Looks wonderful and I agree that a nice couscous would be perfect beside those lamb patties!

  • Monet

    Smile. I loved these photographs (especially the first!) And now I'm eager to get into the kitchen. This looks so good! Thank you for sharing such a delightful meal. I hope you are having a wonderful evening. Hugs and love from Austin!

  • SilvanaMondo

    Lovely post about a subject close to my heart:lamb. Growing up, my grandfather, his sons and brothers & various others, visitors maybe from down south, would set up the spit at the edge of his great lawn, dress the lamb with spices and roast from early in the morning till sometime in the afternoon, when it was perfectly done (and they usually sunburnt and festive from a touch of Slivovic here and there. There is not much that compares to delicious lamb. Lambaggedon indeed! Nice recipe, cool pictures, good writing. Thanks, Silvana