Merguez sausage is one of those things I should like, but don’t really. But why not? Tasty lamb meat spiced with harissa and other goodies then stuffed into slender tubes. Bring it on! But for some reason I find that merguez sausages never quite deliver the kind of sausagy goodness I regularly get from Italian sausages, smoked “farmer’s sausage,” and zingy bratwurst.
Let’s be clear; I don’t dislike the merguez. I just don’t love ’em as much as I expect to. I’m thinking about this because I had merguez sausages for dinner tonight (which, as usual, I liked but didn’t love). It brought to mind the first time I had a merguez sausage. Oh, you want to hear about that? Sure thing. Read on.
It was late October, 1993. I was in St-Tropez, in the south of France, by myself, taking photographs for a travel guide. I’d been on the road for six weeks and hadn’t had a home-cooked meal or even much of a conversation with anyone since I’d left Montreal. All I knew about St-Tropez before I got there was that I didn’t belong and that I saw Rachel from Another World go there “to escape,” back when I was a teenager home from school with the flu and we had only two channels on television.
My resources were meagre (this wasn’t a high paying job) so when it came time for lunch I skipped the fancy cafés along the quais (deserted as they were – remember this was late October) and looked for something more modest. Near a small square I found a sandwich kiosk that was open, a rare thing this long after the tourist season. The only thing he sold was grilled merguez sausages on chunks of baguette, which at the time seemed rather perfect.
So I ordered one, along with a can of Coca-Cola. The grumpy proprietor, who said not a word to me but sighed audibly at least four times, placed two red merguez sausages on an electric grill for approximately five seconds, then dropped them into a split piece of yesterday’s baguette. No mustard, no sauce. That, with the cola, came to something like 80 Francs, which I remember translated to about $12 Canadian. (Remember, that was almost 20 years ago.)
I ate it. It was tasty enough but really could have used some mustard and another five minutes on the grill. Whatever, I moved on, eating better and spending less in other towns down the line (Fréjus, Cannes, Nice, Manosque, Apt, and then the long road back to Paris).
Since then I’ve had merguez sausages many times, usually as part of a couscous royale. It’s never bad. It’s never great. But I keep trying. Perhaps what I need to do is revisit the original situation, even if only in spirit. I need to grill a couple of fresh merguez sausages – for at least five minutes – and put them on a fresh chunk of split bread (something softer than a baguette) along with an enormous blob of Dijon mustard. And I should open a cold beer to go with it (perhaps a crisp and crackling summer lager). Maybe that would re-boot my perception or at least boot out my prejudice.