Since I was blessed with two nice, fat deer this year, I have been experimenting with 100 percent venison sausages, i.e., links with no beef or pork fat at all in them.
My first experiment was with British bangers, and it was a success — but my first batch did get a little of that odd mouthfeel that venison fat will give ya. My second batch cut the venison fat in half and subbed in pork fat for the second half. That was a great compromise.
I did the same thing here with my venison merguez sausages. Where the British banger is a homey, comforting sausage, Tunisian merguez sausages are spicy, almost exotic tasting. I’ve made merguez off and on for years, an was in fact featured in Food & Wine for my merguez back in 2010. This recipe is my latest rendition of that one.
Merguez hinges on harissa, a chile paste they use in North Africa that’s a combination of sweet and hot chiles, garlic, coriander, caraway, mashed with a little lemon and olive oil. I buy it in tubes imported from Tunisia. It’s easily available in supermarkets now.
Interestingly, while merguez turns out bright red when uncooked, they lose a lot of that color when grilled. Oh, and if you are worried that these links will blow your head off with heat, think again. Yes, they are spicy, but it’s not really a hot spicy, just interesting.
Merguez is a grilling sausage, but I’ve fried them in clarified butter, and put them in braises and stews, too. They also make one helluva hot dog substitute!
- 4 pounds fatty venison
- 1/2 pound venison fat
- 1/2 pound pork fatback
- 34 grams kosher salt, about 3 rounded tablespoons
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
- 1/4 cup harissa
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup water
- Sheep casings
- Get out about 20 feet of sheep casings and soak them in warm water. If you don’t trust your source, run water through them to check for punctures or weak spots.
- Make sure all your equipment is cold; freeze your grinder's grinding plate and blades, and the bowl you will put the meat into for 30 minutes to an hour. Do the same for the meat and fat. When everything’s nice and cold, mix the meat and fat with the salt and all the dry spices.
- Grind it all through a coarse plate; I use a 10 mm plate. Test the temperature of the mixture, and if it’s 35°F or colder, go ahead and grind it all again through a fine die, like a 4.5 mm or thereabouts. If it’s warmer, put the mix back in the freezer to chill until it hits 35°F or cooler.
- Once the sausage has been ground twice, test the temperature again to make sure it’s cold. I prefer to chill the mix down to 28°F to 32°F for this next stage. Chill the mix and when it’s cold enough, take it out and add the harissa, vinegar and water. Now, mix and knead the mixture in a big bin or bowl with your hands for a solid 2 minutes — your hands will ache with cold, which is good. You want everything to almost emulsify.
- Stuff the sausage into sheep casings rather loosely. It's pretty important that you have a narrow stuffing tube for your stuffer, or the sheep casings will break. I like my merguez to be about 6 to 8 inches long, but it’s your choice. To twist them into links, tie off one end of the coil you just made. Pinch off links with your two hands and roll the link between them forward a couple times. Move down the coil and repeat, only this time roll backwards a few times. Repeat until you do the whole coil. Now look at the links, which will probably have air pockets in them. Use a sterile needle or sausage pricker (set it aglow in your stovetop flame) to puncture the casing over all the air pockets. Gently compress the links together to squeeze out the air pockets and rotate the links a bit more to tighten; this takes practice.
- Hang your links for at least 1 hour if your room is warm, and up to overnight if you can hang them in a place that’s 40°F or cooler. Don’t let them freeze yet. If you are not hanging overnight, let the sausages continue to dry uncovered in the fridge overnight before you seal them up and freeze. Merguez will keep a week in the fridge and a year in the freezer, if you have vacuum-sealed them.