Thursday, February 9, 2012

North African Merguez Sliders

I love to barbecue and grill food, and I follow a lot of chefs, BBQ pitmasters, and professional grillers, always looking for ideas and inspiration.  One of my favorites is Steven Raichlen, whose television shows -- BBQ U and Primal Grill -- are always interesting to watch.  When I recently came across Steven Raichlen's recipe for lamb sliders, I thought it would be a great dish for a Super Bowl party.

Raichlen's recipe called for the use of ground lamb and his Planet Barbecue North African Rub.  I did not have any of the rub.  So, I began to think about what I could use as a substitute.  If Steve Raichlen was drawing inspiration from the flavors of North Africa, from countries like Morocco or Algeria, then I needed to focus on a substitute spice mix.  The first thought was Merguez, the mix used to make the sausage of the same name. 

Merguez is a type of fresh sausage (as opposed to dry sausage) that is common throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East.  It is usually made with mutton or beef, with a spice mix that draws from a range of interesting and flavorful ingredients.  A Merguez spice mix typically includes paprika, along with fennel, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and chile powder (or cayenne pepper).  The best part is that Merguez sausage is typically grilled, just like Steve Raichlens' recipe for the lamb sliders. 

So I found a couple recipes for a Merguez Spice from and and set about to make the spice.  The recipe below produces a lot of the spice mix; and, in the end, I used about 2/3 to 3/4 of the mix with the meat.  I tried to eyeball how the spice was being incorporated into the ground lamb to make sure that it was not too little or too much.  I would suggest adding about half of the mix (a little at a time while mixing with your hands).  After that, continue to add a little of the mix, a tablespoon at a time, until it seems like there is enough of the spice mix throughout the ground lamb. 

Recipe is adapted from Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue and
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the Sliders):
1 1/2 pounds of ground lamb
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons of Merguez spice mix
Greek yogurt
Sliced tomatoes
Slider buns or mini-pitas

Ingredients (for the Merguez Spice):
1/4 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons of ground fennel seeds
2 tablespoons of ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon of ground coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1.  Make the lamb slider patties.  Combine the ground lamb, onion and Merguez spice mix.  Form two inch patties.

2.  Grill or cook the patties.  Grill or cook the patties either over high heat on a grill or under the broiler of a stove, approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side.

3.  Plate the dish.  Spread a thin layer of Greek yogurt on the bottom of the slider bun or the mini-pita.  Place one slider on the bun or pita. Top with sliced tomatoes.

This dish turned out really well.  The lamb burgers actually had the spice and the consistency of Merguez sausage.  Although making your own spice mix generally takes more work and a lot more guesswork when it comes to adding it to the ground meat, the end product is often that much more rewarding.


The lamb sliders are spicy, both in terms of piquancy and in terms of flavor.  The use of cayenne pepper provides the heat, but the combination of coriander, cumin and fennel also provide a different type of heat.  Given the different types of heat, a lighter, refreshing beer or wine would be best paired with this dish.  With respect to a beer, a pilsner beer would work very well, providing a refreshing break from the spice.  One such pilsner is the following:

Dogfish Head Ales -- My Antonia
Czech Style Pilsner
Milton, Delaware, USA
Aroma of hops, lighter body with hop taste

If you are looking for a wine, fruity wines like Pinot Grigios and Pinot Gris, as well as Vinho Verdes, will probably not stand up to the trifecta of the coriander, cumin and fennel.  Still, a white wine like a Vouvray, which has honey and floral notes, would work well to complement the flavors of the sliders.  I have not reviewed any Vouvray wines, but, when I do, I will add it to this recipe. 


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