Merguez Lamb Burgers

Lamb Burger with caramelized onions and harissa

Spring is officially here and what better way to usher in the warm weather than to dust off the grill and make some burgers? I’ve been patiently sitting on a vacuum sealed packet of grass-fed ground lamb that the nice folks over at Lava Lake Lamb sent me last month, just waiting for the season to turn and the mood to strike.

Well, today was the day, and after a leisurely picnic in the park, I came home and started thinking about how to spice my Merguez. When it comes to this Moroccan sausage, my inclination is towards something intensely spiced, deeply garlicky, and piquant with the heat of the North African sun.

To get the depth, I started out with some cumin and coriander that I pan roasted until golden brown. Like roasting coffee or caramelizing onions, this changes the flavour profile of the spices, giving them a deeper earthier fragrance. After a whirl in the grinder, I added the spices to a generous helping of grated garlic and a trio of pepper products for the right balance of sweet and spicy heat.

Home made Merguez sausage in a lamb burger

In Japanese cooking there’s a term called kakushi aji which literally translates to “hidden flavour”. It describes a hidden layer of flavour that bolsters the main ingredients in a dish, deftly tweaking your taste buds in just the right way, to elevate the taste of the entire dish. I know these Merguez Lamb Burgers are about as far way from Japanese cuisine as you can get, but kakushi aji is a concept that can be applied to any dish to make it just a bit more complex on the palette.

For my version of Merguez, I’ve added some sumac to give it a hint of tartness. This helps balance out the salty, sweet, spicy, bitter, sour equation without being overtly tangy. I’ve also added a bit of fennel pollen, which has the same anise-like flavour of the seeds, only sweeter and more floral. It’s not a traditional Moroccan ingredient, but it plays off the peppers and garlic nicely.

A sweet onion jam to accompany the Merguez sausage

To finish the burger, I made some curried caramelized onions to add a sweet, jammy counterpoint to the briny sausage. It’s the perfect condiment for this lamb burger, but these onions would be good in a lot of things. It took great restraint not to eat this straight out of the pan with a spoon, and I can imagine eating it on crackers, with cheese, or with some scrambled eggs. Given the amount of time it takes to properly caramelize onions, you might want to double or triple the recipe.

Curried Caramelized Onions

2 Tbs olive oil
2 medium onions
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp lemon juice

Slice the onions as thinly as possible; this makes them caramelize much faster. Add them to a heavy bottomed pan with the olive oil. Add the sugar, garam masala and kosher salt and fry over medium low heat until the onions are a deep brown color (about 40 minutes). If it starts to burn or brown unevenly, turn the heat down. When the onions are done, they should look and taste like a fragrant oniony jam. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Merguez Lamb Burger

1 lb. ground lamb
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp sumac
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp fennel pollen (you can substitute fennel seeds)
1 Tbs harissa (plus more for the bun)
3 cloves garlic grated
salt to taste
2-4 buns

Put the cumin and coriander seed in a pan over medium high heat and roast, shaking the pan regularly, until dark and fragrant. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind the spices. Combine the roasted spices with the sumac, paprika, cayenne pepper, fennel pollen, harissa and garlic in a bowl and mash together into a paste.

Add the ground lamb and use a fork to mix the paste into the lamb. If your ground lamb is very lean, add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the meat moist. The spice mixture should be evenly distributed, but avoid over-mixing, or the finished burger will end up dense and chewy. If your harissa is as salty as mine, you won’t need to add salt, but if it’s not, add some salt to taste (put a small piece of lamb mixture in the microwave for a few seconds to cook it before tasting). Shape the lamb into two to four 1/2″ thick patties.

If you made your patties ahead of time and refrigerated, take them out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you are ready to cook them so they come to room temperature; this ensures they will cook evenly. If you are grilling the lamb burgers, get the grill nice and hot and grill each side until golden brown. The burgers are best when cooked to about medium, otherwise they will start to get dry. If you are using a broiler, move the rack to the top position and put a wire rack on a cookie sheet and preheat under the boiler. When the rack is nice and hot, place the patties on it and broil each side until golden brown.

To assemble your burger, toast a bun, put down a thin layer of harissa on one side of the bun, put your merguez lamb burger on the bun and top with caramelized onions. If your harissa is to pasty to spread evenly, just mix it with some olive oil or mayonaise.

  • sippitysup

    “…North African sun…” now that's writing that puts pictures in my head. Very clever to take the great flavors of the sausage and recreate them in a burger as well! GREG

  • zenchef

    I like how we're both on a burger kick this week. It must be the season change.
    You combined the best of both worlds in this one… merguez + burger. How come i didn't think of that!? Brilliant, Marc. I take mine with extra harissa on the bun!

  • woodsmanq

    This sounds really tasty. I very much enjoy lamb burgers. I use Zatar,cumin and garlic in mine.

  • Sandy_S

    Wow, am I excited to see this recipe! I have two pounds of gorgeous ground lamb (which I butchered myself) and I can't wait to try this!!! Looks fantastic.

  • Sook

    The burger looks amazing! I don't think I've ever tried a lamb burger but I know lamb meat is one of the healthiest meat. So I can't wait to try this.

  • katiek

    It's getting warmer in SF. Burger time! I recently made the zuni burger, which is salted the day before and hand cut. I highly recommend salting a day in advance. Sublime.

  • staceysnacks

    Marc, I see you and Stephane are on the same wave length.
    We are going to The Breslin this weekend, so may try the lamb burger……
    I love that onion relish!

  • aruna

    That's a gorgeous gorgeous click i must say!!!

  • Anh

    Amazing burger there! I am making it with the curried caramelised onions soon! And in honour of the Aussie spirit, I'll have beetroot in mine :)

    PS: Love your blog by the way!

  • thelacquerspoon

    I've never tried lamb for burgers, but your juicy patty with the melting onion is so mouth-watering!!

    PS. Spring is officially upon Tokyo too 😉

  • Trissa

    There is absolutely NO way that you can create a more flavourful burger than this! That patty is so fat and juicy – if only I could sink my teeth into one of those burgers right now! Yum!

  • The Rowdy Chowgirl

    Awesome post, and so timely! I've been wanting to try another recipe that calls for Merguez, but I assumed I'd have to try for a similar sausage if I wanted 100% grassfed meat. It would never have occurred to me to buy ground lamb and spice it myself. Thanks!

  • diva

    The concept of kakushi aji is definitely something I like. And usually if it takes me ages to deconstruct and find out what's totally making the dish, I love it even more! That's clever cooking. Beautiful burger. Gotta love pairing garlic and spices to lamb for sure. x

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  • Manggy

    I love that there's so many layers of flavor, even just in the onion. I made the ones from Momofuku and they were okay, but the acidity and the spice just give it a lot of extra oomph. Plus, I'm a guy and I love burgers of course.

  • Divina

    Wow Marc, these burgers are up close and personal, I want to have a huge bite on it. I'm still curious about fennel pollen. I haven't encountered those yet and the hidden flavors are wonderful which is what I always want to create in a dish. I never thought that there's a Japanese term for it. Now I know. Beautiful.

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  • Thailand Breeze

    I love that first picture! I bet it taste fantastic too.

    Can't wait to try your tips about sumac and fennel pollen.

  • Robin Rockin5

    Yumm!!! Do you make your own harissa ? If so, would love to get the recipe. If not, what kind do you use?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Nope, I haven’t tried making my own yet, but that sounds like a fun
      project. I don’t use one brand in particular, but right now I’m using
      a jar of Alili harissa and it’s delicious.

  • bouyamed

    this is looks damn delicious. is it ok to put some cinnamon? I have seen some people add it, and i dunno what does it taste like?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Cinnamon sounds like a great addition. I think it will work well.

  • bouyamed

    Can you show me please how to make some falafel sandwich with your twist?cheers from Nagoya


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