1,001 Arabian bites: Franks, dogs, sujuk, makanek – if it’s a sausage, it will be good
As kids, we found plenty of dumb ways to kill time. For awhile, my cousins and I were committed proponents of “Opposite Day”, a popular unsanctioned holiday that could be declared as spontaneously as a thumb war or the right to ride shotgun. The idea was to turn meanings upside down in an effort to baffle our parents and outlast each other; “yes” was to mean “no”, “chocolate” was to mean “vanilla”, and the winner was the last kid standing who hadn’t blundered. Not surprisingly, adults didn’t find Opposite Day as hysterical as we did. I still feel bad about a small group of us driving my aunt to the brink of meltdown in the grocery store with our mews and whines for “cold cats, cold cats”. We wanted hot dogs.
Observant Muslims in America can avoid buying meat products that might contain pork by shopping the kosher aisle, also home to superior accompaniments to sausage such as mustard, sauerkraut and dill pickles. Every once in a while, someone driving in from another town might find a Jewish butcher who carried fresh beef Polish sausage, which were juicy 150-gram beasts that dwarfed our modest supermarket franks.
Some sausages were available with natural casings, which had serious snap. It helps not to be squeamish when talking about natural casing (intestinal submucosa) or sausages in general, as they have maintained a reputation that’s neither flattering nor just, for being composed of trimmings since the 1800s, when the American poet John Godfrey Saxe suggested that the making of sausages, like laws, best goes unseen.
But the storybook image of roasting sausages on sticks over an open fire is also one of sustenance, simplicity and robustness. Commonly attributed to the Sumerians, the first sausage was probably conceived 6,000 years ago in and around modern-day Iraq. Nowadays, we can boil, steam, deep-fry, grill, char, sauté or smoke a sausage and, if it’s a good sausage to begin with, the result will almost certainly be delicious. Over the years, I’ve eaten sausage made from venison (which people constantly want to spoil with berries, when salty and piquant sauces are so much less cloying), turkey, chicken, tofu, duck, lamb, mutton, beef, lamb, elk and veal.
While purists thrive, the riffs keep coming. The Gyro at The Meat Hook, a butcher shop in New York, consists of a lamb and beef sausage seasoned like its Greek namesake and served on a bun slathered with tzatziki.
Great sausages you should have no trouble finding at Emirati meat counters will include merguez, a red, spiced and beloved North African lamb sausage. (Today, most merguez end up stuffed in a baguette with frites on the streets of Paris.) There’s also sujuk, an Armenian lamb sausage that is fantastic with eggs. My favourite is makanek: plump Lebanese lamb sausages the size of a man’s thumb. Also called nakanek, beware that juice cafes use the name as a generalised term for sausage and you’re likely to end up with a frankfurter on a bun if you aren’t ordering in a traditional Levantine restaurant.
Don’t be scared to bring some home from the market, though. They fry up to be incredibly sweet and fragrant, with a curiously nubby texture that comes from ground pine nuts and are delicious drizzled with sweet-tart pomegranate molasses, or with nothing at all.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico
Updated: June 4, 2014 04:00 AM