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Merguez, also called mirquaz, is a spicy sausage that is markedly red in color. It is made from beef or mutton that has been ground and stuffed into a casing of sheep intestine. Merguez is generally grilled, but can also be served dried, particularly sun dried. This sausage is most common to the areas around Tunisia and Algeria, but it is eaten in many parts of the world, including France and parts of the United States. It is sometimes called spicy Tunisian-style lamb sausage.
This sausage is used similarly to chorizo, and adds flavor to a variety of meals, but it is more dense, harder, and lower in fat than chorizo, which is often served in a paste. In contrast, merguez is often sliced or cut into small pieces before it goes into the dish. Some burgers, generally called merguez burgers, are spiced like merguez, but they contain only beef and have no casing. It can also be stuffed into vegetables, like peppers.
Merquez is flavored with garlic, fennel, and pepper. It also contains a Tunisian olive oil and chili paste called harisa, plus sumac, cumin, and coriander. The sumac gives it a tart, sour flavor while the coriander adds an essence of citrus to the mix. Cumin contributes an earthy note to the spicy sausage.
When using packaged lamb casings to make homemade merguez, it is important to wash the casings, even if the packaged casings say they are ready for use. This is not only because cleaning them at home ensures a thorough job, but also because the casings can grow bacteria in the package that can contribute an undesirable smell or flavor to the merguez. There are also preservatives on packaged casings that should be washed away before use.
An easy way to clean casings is to fit them over a faucet in a clean kitchen sink and rinse them out. When rinsing casings, turn the water on slowly to avoid busting the casings with too much water pressure. Rinse both the insides and the outsides of the casings before setting them aside for use.
Compared with other types of sausage, merguez is hotter, thinner, and lower in fat. It is heavily spiced with hot, red peppers, giving it a red color and a markedly spicy taste. When it is used in dishes, this ingredient is commonly used in small quantities, almost like a condiment. It is made from leaner meat than most other types of sausages, and it is approximately the width of a chubby index finger.