Merguez meatballs with yoghurt sauce and parsley salad
In essence a rissole is mincemeat, usually beef or pork, sometimes with onion, sometimes with carrot, sometimes with both. In England, a rissole at the local chippy usually consists of corned beef that has been mashed with onion and potato, formed into patties and deep fried.
The accompanying recipe is a rissole recipe, but it’s also the base recipe of a merguez sausage – a North African sausage, celebrated for its spice. Because it has no pork in it, I would guess it came from Morocco or another Muslim country. It is often served with couscous or used in tagines. Traditionally, I think mutton would be used rather than lamb, hence the strong spicing. Of course, this is just me speculating.
The recipe I got originally was given to me by Gay Bilson 20-odd years ago. It was during an Adelaide Festival, where I assisted her with several dinners. I quite like the fact that recipes are to be shared, not kept locked away. There is a generosity of spirit in restaurants now that has made cooking much stronger and more interesting. Once upon a time every chef had a secret notebook of recipes in their top pocket, which was rarely shared. As you become more experienced and more confident and have your own style of cooking, you realise the recipes are important but not all of it – it’s about timing, and finesse and what you do with the recipe.
Since Gay gave me this recipe it has morphed into many shapes and guises. In the restaurant we would either put it into skins or wrap it in caul fat – a much more romantic way of saying stomach linings. More often than not we grill it to medium and serve it sliced alongside fresh-shucked oysters. This preparation was made popular in France in the 1970s – a spicy sausage followed by a briny oyster. We can rely on the French to discover a combination like this that actually works.
Depending on tastes, the flavour – the punchiness – of this recipe can be softened by removing the harissa and maybe some of the black pepper. All recipes are guides, and all are open to interpretation. In this case, the yoghurt also tempers the heat. At the butcher, I always specify lamb shoulder or lamb neck to be minced because it has a higher proportion of fat than, say, the leg, which can be a little lean. There are also benefits to preparing the merguez the day before. It allows the flavours to develop and settle a little.
The parsley salad I’ve been making forever. I used to do a pizza bianca – a white pizza – with a few big spoonfuls of this salad in the middle. Like the merguez, it is a recipe that can be taken in many directions. You could add a diced red onion and some dry chilli and serve it with grilled chicken or a piece of fish. Or delete the pine nuts, add a handful of burghul and call it tabouli.
Time: 30 minutes preparation + a few hours refrigeration + 8 minutes cooking
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 4 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3½ tsp salt flakes
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1kg lamb shoulder, minced
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp allspice
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 tsp harissa paste
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp tahini paste
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup natural yoghurt
- 2 bunches parsley, picked, washed and dried to yield at least 2 cups of leaves
- 5 spring onions, finely sliced
- ¼ preserved lemon, skin and pith diced (about 1 tbsp)
- 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Toast the whole spices in a moderate oven for two minutes, then remove and grind in a spice grinder.
- Use a mortar and pestle to pound the garlic and salt and slowly add the olive oil.
- Combine the minced lamb, all the spices, garlic oil, harissa, honey and egg. Place the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and mix on low speed for three minutes.
- Weigh the sausage mix into 50-gram portions and roll into rissoles. Place the rissoles in the fridge for a few hours, uncovered, until ready to use.
- Over a moderate heat, pan-fry the rissoles with a few drops of olive oil until coloured. I don’t like the rissoles well done and find cooking them to medium-well done is best.
- Mix the tahini, lemon juice and salt together until smooth, then stir in the yoghurt. If it seems a bit thick, thin the sauce with a teaspoon of hot water.
- Chop the parsley and place in a mixing bowl with the spring onions, preserved lemon and pine nuts.
- Just before serving the salad, dress it with the olive oil and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt if required.
This recipe is from The Saturday Paper archive. Andrew McConnell is on leave.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 29, 2023 as "Spice whirl".
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