Last week, The Beloved chose Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs as the first Recipe Inspiration for our Food52sdays series. Well, we made it last night. And, Oh Dear Lord, was it good! I mean, honestly one of the Tastiest things either of us has eaten in Quite Some Time.
The Beloved wanted to stick pretty close to the original recipe as we aren't really familiar with Moroccan flavors, so we did. Mostly. Kind of. I was going to pick up two of the Key Ingredients, merguez sausage and the Moroccan spice blend ras al hanout, yesterday. But that was before my car decided to die on Friday evening so that it had to be towed to the car hospital. Where it still is. So, The Beloved went out Sunday around lunchtime, and first I thought, "I'll just have him stop and pick some up." And then I thought, "Heck, I will just Make Do with what is in the house."
So make do I did. I looked up merguez sausage on the Hinternets and found a recipe that I Mostly stuck to. (We'd already purchased some ground lamb, so that was good). And I looked up ras al hanout on the Hinternets and found a recipe for that that I mostly stuck to. And then we were good to go. But before I get to the 'splainin' of the recipe, let me 'splain about ras al hanout.
Seems the term means something along the lines of "top of the shop," or the Very Best. In this case, the very best spices that the spice guy has in his shop. So, instead of finding someone else's Best, I looked to my own spice cabinet, and with a List of Spices for Reference, came up with my own Top of the Shop.
By the way, my friend, Awesome Pastry Chef Camille (it's on her business cards) lives in Paris and works with someone from Algeria, and she Conferred with her colleague as to the meaning of ras al hanout. Here's what she reported:
So my colleague tells me it means "head of the shop". "head" in this context meaning something that is essential- as in, if you want to kill a snake, you don't cut off its tail, you cut off its head. So in a way, it's like a mix of the most important things in the shop, its lifeblood. It also carries a connotation of that which is essential to a shop in that every shop, everywhere, must have this- if you were to go to the shop and not find it, it's because the shop is closed.
Thanks for that, Camille. You rock.
Aside from making the sausage and the spice blend, the meal is quite easy to put together. And put it together you should. And then you should eat it. Here's how we made ours.
After inventorying our spice cabinets and consulting our Hinternet-searched-and-found recipe for ras al hanout, we toasted up some whole spices. Clockwise from the top, cinnamon, cardamom seeds, coriander, allspice, fennel and cumin.
And then we thought, what the heck? Let's add in a few dried hot peppers from neighbor Thomas's pepper plant. And some white and black peppercorns. And a few cloves. I didn't do too well with my mis en place, as I was searching for more ras al hanouty spices while I was toasting.
Fresh sausage making just requires some squishing together of ingredients, so that's what I did. And then, to make it look more sausage-y, I formed it into a one-pound link and wrapped it in plastic wrap so the flavors could mature for an hour or two.
Once the merguez was well browned, we added the tomatoes and let it cook. When we tasted, we both picked up a weird bitterness, and we thought the flavors were a bit murky. So, we counteracted the bitterness with a bit more salt and brightened up the whole dish with some orange zest. This turned out to be the magically secret ingredient, because when we tasted it again, we were both like, "Oh, Mama!" Which we rarely say.
Since preserved lemon is a Thing in Morocco, I considered adding lemon zest instead, but I took a cue from the coriander and Belgian-style beers and went all Blue Moon orange zesty. Good choice. If you have the choice between the two, go with the orange. If you don't, the lemon would be great too, I'm sure.
Once the sauce thickened up a bit, we measured out a portion and put it in our smaller cast iron pan. I made three wee wells for the yolks to sit, then cracked in the eggs. Covered with a lid (a random lid--our cast iron pans don't have lids), the eggs were done in about 6 minutes over medium-low-ish heat. You're supposed to serve it with harissa to pass, but we just added about a teaspoon of garlic chili paste to the whole mix, it was plenty spicy enough, what with the hot peppers and cayenne whirred up in the ras al hanout.
Garnished with orange zest, fennel pollen and torn cilantro, this was honestly one of the best things we've eaten in a long time. And if you can find pre-made ras al hanout (my buddies at The Spice Shop carry it, which I found out after the fact) and merguez, this dish can be on the table in about thirty minutes.
Oh, and one note about the serving size. The original recipe says it serves 4. I'd like to see these four people, because after we both ate some of this ragout Sunday night and again last night, there is still enough for us to both have another meal and maybe enough after that for me to enjoy it over rice for a light-ish lunch the next day. (pleasepleaseplease)
Here's how we enjoyed it last night, by the way:
I just reheated the ragout and served it with couscous with mixed braising greens. Couldn't have been easier--the greens braised in 15 minutes, which--magically--is how long it took the couscous to cook. Hooray.
Seriously, you need to make this ragout. The mixture of the rich lamb with the rich egg yolk might have been a bit much if it hadn't been for that orange zest we threw in there, but the ragout would be incredible as a filling for a shepherd's pie or over pasta or layered in a Mediterranean lasagna. Do make some. You will be glad you did!
And thanks to Emily Swantner who is the fabulous cook whose recipe on The Food52 site and in the cookbook served as our inspiration. She is known as epicureanodyssey on The Food52 Site. Go say hi and see her other delicious-sounding recipes.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, small dice
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- kosher salt, to taste (I probably used a total of about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 pound merguez sausage (since mine was "bulk" sausage, there were no links to slice)
- 1 teaspoon Spanish sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon ras al hanout
- 2 15-oz cans fire-roasted tomatoes (I didn't have fire roasted, and the world did not end)
- zest from ½ orange
- eggs for poaching (depending on how many folks are eating)
- large handful of cilantro, torn
- sprinkle or three of fennel pollen
- orange zest
- Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until hot.
- Add the oil and wait for it to shimmer.
- Add the onion and sweat/saute for several minutes until just starting to color.
- Add the garlic and about a teaspoon of kosher salt.
- Dump in the paprika and ras al hanout and stir, letting the spices toast in the oil for a couple of minutes.
- Brown the sausage in the pan with everything else.
- Once the merguez is nicely browned, pour in the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Zest in the orange, and then taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
- If you're feeding an army, go ahead and cook a ton of eggs in the same pan in which you made the ragout. If not, measure out a portion of the ragout into another pan.
- Make little wells in the ragout and crack an egg in each well. Cover and let steam/poach for about 5-6 minutes. I sprinkled a bit of kosher salt on each egg before I slapped on the lid.
- The original recipe calls for bowls, but plates work just fine, too. Garnish with a sprinkling of fennel pollen, a bit of orange zest and a generous amount of torn cilantro.
- Sarah suggests serving with crusty bread. This is an Excellent Idea.
And there you have it! I do hope some of you participated in our first Food52sday! If not this week, maybe you'll be inspired by our next pick, coming on Valentine's Day.
Take care, and have a lovely day.