Cooking For Others: Merguez Grill Breads with Fennel-Arugula Salad

Here’s a big old disclosure: this dish isn’t really all that compatible with the kinds of limited resources we talk so much about. It doesn’t really save on space–in fact it uses quite of a few pots, pans, and bowls. Time? Not with all the rising of the dough and washing of the fresh arugula. Money? It certainly is economical to make bread from scratch, and the merguez in this dish gets stretched. But merguez, like most meat, isn’t exactly cost-free either. And skill? Depending on your confidence level, you won’t find anything here hard, per se; but the meal does require a good sense of kitchen timing, and the patience to leave bread dough alone long enough that it can get a good rise.

Okay, then. Why am I featuring these grill breads? If you looked at the picture and salivated, or read the title and drooled, then the answer is obvious. These things are damn good. With a little bit of planning (the merguez filling and the dressing can be prepared ahead of time, the dough can be made in the morning and left to rise in the fridge, and the vegetables can be prepped and sliced beforehand) and perhaps a sous chef for the moment of assembly, you can indeed whip these up. Your stomach and your partners in dinner crime will thank you, even if you feel like you could use a good long nap when you’re done cooking. Hey, sometimes you gotta go all out.

Like a lot of what we have been/will be posting this summer, these breads work great on a grill. They get blistery and pockmarked, creating lots of little crevices where extra olive oil can soak in. I was curious if they’d work at home on a grill pan, and lo and behold they did. As with a real outdoor grill, you have to work fast as you make these–kind of like with stir fry, you’ve got to have everything ready to go in advance. Then you can be stretching dough, brushing it with oil, grilling, scattering merguez, and tossing a salad, practically all at once. It’s kind of a feat.

To make matters worse, on the day I was dead set on making these, I couldn’t find merguez at any store. I ended up following Mrs Wheelbarrow’s recipe for Homemade Merguez. I bastardized it so as not to make myself a martyr, and it really wasn’t too hard. Still, unless you adore juggling, I’d suggest buying some at the store (or homemaking it days in advance) if you plan to use it in this recipe.

So there you have it. If nothing else, hopefully this recipe will give you a sense of me when I’m in my element in the kitchen, four pans going on the stove, probably something spilled on the floor, and sweat dripping off my chin. Fun!

From my kitchen, throwing bread on the grill, to yours,


Merguez Grill Breads with Fennel-Arugula Salad
Serves 4

1/2 onion
3/4 pound merguez
1 recipe grill bread
Olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 bunch fresh arugula, rinsed well and dried
1 small bulb fennel, cut paper thin, preferably on a mandolin

To make the filling: Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat and film it with olive oil. Add the merguez and cook, flipping a few times, until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate, and, when cool enough to handle, use your fingers or a knife to crumble into smaller-than-bite-sized piece. Turn the heat down to low and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, translucent, and slightly golden, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Return the merguez crumbles to the pan and return the heat to medium-high to get some of the sausage pieces nice and brown. Keep warm until ready to make the grill breads.

To make the salad: combine the shallot, orange juice, red wine vinegar, and mustard in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together well. Slowly drizzle in 6-8 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking as you go. (For more on how to make salad dressing, click here.) Add a pinch of salt, then taste for balance of flavors, adding more salt or olive oil as you like. Scatter the fennel slices on top of the dressing, then add the arugula. Don’t toss yet–set aside.

Place your grill pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Let the pan heat for 5-7 minuts until it’s almost too hot to hold your hand just above the surface of the grill.

Bring over the four balls of dough you’ve made (see below), and form the first one into a rough rectangle or circle about 10 inches across. Brush the top generously with olive oil, then place it on the grillpan, oil side down. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is cooked and has grill marks. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then flip the bread. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the second side is cooked. As the second side cooks, scatter one quarter of the merguez crumbles across the top, pressing in slightly. When the second side is done, slide from the grill onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining three balls of dough.

Toss the salad with the dressing and scoop a big handful on top of the merguez on each grill bread. Eat immediately!

Grill Bread
Adapted from Let the Flames Begin
Makes enough for 4 breads

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 1/2-3 cups flour
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
1/2 cup beer
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/2 cup of the flour. Add the warm water and mix until blended. Cover with a damp towel and set aside in a warm-ish place in your kitchen for about 30 minutes, until bubbly.

Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and the beer to the yeast mixture and mix well. Add the cornmeal and the 1 teaspoon salt; mix again. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing as you go until you have a soft dough. Turn it onto a board and knead for 5-8 minutes until satiny and smooth.

Wash and dry the mixing bowl and coat it with olive oil. Place the dough back in the bowl, turn it to coat with the oil, and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.

Divide the dough into four pieces and form each into a bowl. Set them on a cutting board and cover again. Let rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. (You can also refrigerate the dough at this point. Remove it from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking).


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