Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If you take one look at Merguez, and then one sniff, you’ll know nothing proves that old adage quite like this Moroccan sausage. The smoke comes from the cumin seed and the waft of the grill; the fire from the flames that lick its charred casing, and the burning heat of chili that you find within.
If you read my weekly column French in a Flash, then you know that I tend to produce what might be called artistic French home cooking. And if you read that column you’ll also know that I have a French-Moroccan grandmother. What you may not know, my best worst-kept secret, is that I absolutely live and breathe for greasy street food and fast food. All things said and done, it is no surprise that I met the love of my eating life in the South of France.
I have made Merguez sandwiches before. But on this past trip in the port town of Cassis, I stopped at an ice-cream-crepe-pan bagnat-merguez frites corner shop. I ordered one Merguez Frites. It was a million degrees, with a blazing Mediterranean sun outside, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going home without one of these.
Four Euros later, I walked out with a whole baguette (shorter than the ones we would recognize, but enormous all the same) stuffed with four long but hot-dog-skinny sausages charred to black, smeared with fire engine red harissa, and absolutely inundated with perfect double-fried frites. I love New York City street hot dogs, but this thing made those look like mewing kittens in the face of a roaring lion. The baguette was airy and soft on the inside, crumbling-crisp without. The sausage was grilled so that the outside snapped, and the inside burned like chili fire, with that smoky Moroccan lamb flavor. The harissa was just a delicious smack in the face. And the frites were everywhere. There is nothing fancy about this. It is just a simple stack of flavors and textures that light a fire under your probably-getting-bigger-with-every-bite you know what. I loved it.