Thursday, August 14, 2008

More Than A Sausage

One of the things I love about the greenmarket is that there's much more than just fruits and veggies there. On any given Saturday there can be a number of unexpected natural products on sale, from hides, to soap, and even merino lambs wool. I've bought a lot of meat products at a few of the stands (mostly pork) and I've always made it a point to stop by the seafood stand to see what's freshest catch that day (I often make it too late and miss out on the good stuff). Last weekend I spotted one of the chefs from Craft (Tom Colicchio's restaurant) scooping up huge boxes of heirloom tomatoes and other fresh veggies. By the time I ran into him on my way home, his huge cart chock full of fresh seasonal ingredients put my overflowing canvas bag to shame. But then again, I'm just feeding myself for a week.

One stand that I'm guessing the chef did not visit is the one that sells merino wool. Although it's enveloped in yarn and sheepskin rugs, occasionally there's a sign that hangs over the stand announcing the arrival of sausage. I usually buy from the same purveyor, but the lovely ladies with the merino wool won me over. I was disappointed to find that my normal supplier was out of merguez sausage (again!), so I sauntered over to the merino wool ladies and found that they had an entire fridge of the stuff. I'd had a craving for it for months and was having trouble finding some, so I quickly snatched up a few rolls. Merguez is a North African sausage (particularly popular in Morocco) that's just teaming with spices, both hot and fragrant. From paprika to cayenne and cinnamon, there's a whole lot of flavor in one merguez sausage, and each one is different. It doesn't always have to be super spicy, but it often contains harissa, so there is definitely the possibility of lots of spice. I personally like the sweet and spicy factor that's rare in most sausages that aren't served for breakfast.

I served my merguez over couscous after grilling and quickly braising it. I added some chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes to the braising liquid, which worked out really well. The sun-dried tomatoes plumped up in the warm broth and the chickpeas added great flavor and texture to the couscous. There was a little extra braising liquid which kept the whole dish nice and moist. This would be an amazing quick dinner for a busy night, since it really only took 15-20 minutes to make from start to finish. You could definitely put more veggies into the braising liquid, including frozen ones (carrots, peas, and even asparagus would be delicious). I also put in some olives (mostly as a garnish) for a nice briny contrast to the sweetness and heat of the sausage. Here's what I did to make mine:

Quick Braised Merguez with Couscous and Chickpeas

8 merguez sausage links
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
1 cup couscous (I used vegetable flavored)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
vegetable oil

1. Cook sausage in a skillet on medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Lower heat to medium and add 1 cup broth, sun-dried tomatoes and chickpeas. Cook covered until sausages are cooked through, about 7 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring remaining 1 cup of broth, butter and olive oil to a boil. Add couscous, season with salt, and cook until couscous is ready, about 5-7 minutes or according to your package directions.

3. Plate couscous and top with sausage, chickpea and sun-dried tomato mixture. Garnish with roughly chopped olives. Enjoy!


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