Merguez is a fresh sausage popular in North African cuisine. Usually made with lamb — or a mixture of lamb and beef — it’s spicy but not too hot, heady with earthy seasonings like cumin, garlic, fennel, paprika, and just a hint of cinnamon. Although it contains many of the same spices as Ras el Hanout, the flavor is completely different flavor because of the proportions of the spices. Spice alchemy!
I’ve been tempted to try making my own merguez sausage for years; I even have a Kitchenaid with the right attachments! But I wanted the taste of merguez now, so I decided to skip the pesky “fill lamb casings” step and rely on friendly, two-bite sized meatballs instead. I recommend using a food processor to blend the ingredients for a tender, smooth texture, but if you’re in a hurry or don’t have a food processor, you can just mix the ingredients by hand. This recipe makes enough Merguez Spice Blend for several batches of meatballs, so you can keep it on hand for meat-related emergencies.
A few words about buying lamb: I’m a new and forever fan of Lava Lake Lamb; read my review here. I should tell you that I received a lovely package of complimentary lamb from Lava Lake, but from now on, I’ll be buying my own. It’s that good, and I have zero interest in eating the somewhat bland lamb of questionable origin available at the grocery store.
Prep 10 min. | Cook 25 min. | Makes about 36 meatballs
Spice Blend Ingredients:
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 lbs. ground lamb, beef, or a combination
3 cloves fresh garlic
4 tablespoons Merguez Spice Blend
1/2 cup fresh parsley or cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon aleppo or cayenne pepper (optional)
2 eggs (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
2. In a small bowl, mix all the Merguez Spice Blend ingredients with a fork. Inhale the aroma and set aside.
3. If you’re using the food processor, place one pound of lamb in the processor with the remaining meatball ingredients. Process on high until it forms a smooth paté and all the ingredients are incorporated. Dump out into a large bowl and add the other pound of lamb, mixing by hand. You might need to run your hands under cold water to keep the mixture from sticking to you. Place the bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes to allow the meat to chill; that will make meatball rolling so much easier. (For details on the science of mixing meatballs, read this.)
4. Moisten your hands and a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon with cold water and shake to remove excess. Measure a level tablespoon of lamb and roll into a ball between your palms. Line up the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Slide the meatballs into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
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