A tale of two depression dogs

One of them is real and one of them I invented.


Read Time: 11 minutes

Shocking almost no one, I ate a lot of sausage this week. For a tiny bit more clarity, it was all merguez sausage. And to clarify even more, most of it was sausage that some guy shipped me in a box.

This week I’m making three different sandwiches with merguez sausage as the main ingredient. The first is a recipe that a friend (and amateur sausage supplier) suggested, the second is one of France’s most popular sandwiches and the third is one I made up based on the voices that keep talking inside my head. Keep reading to learn about these sausage-based sandwiches.

Note: this blog post has nothing to do with clinical depression. I’m certainly not trying to make light of that issue. In Chicago, there is a hot dog style called a minimalist or depression dog that I will cover in-depth down below.

Quick merguez sandwich navigation

Here are some quick links to jump to different sandwich and bread content in this post.

I grilled these sausages indoors because Chicago was sub-35 degrees and somewhat heavy on the precipitation during this week.

I recently received a box shipped to my house from a Twitter friend named Mark. The package contained the thing that all the best packages should contain. Encased meat.

Thanks, Mark!

Mark shipped some sausages for me and I was instructed to share some with Jim over at The Sandwich Tribunal. Jim and I met up for a couple of pints and he informed me that he will be writing about a French sandwich containing merguez at some point because merguez frites is on his list, but likely not anytime soon. Stay tuned.

Mark let me know that his favorite use for his homemade merguez sausage he makes is a Merguez sandwich with caramelized onions, manchego cheese, and harissa mayonnaise that he found a recipe for over at Serious Eats.

I figured there was no other sandwich I should start with on my journey with merguez than the sandwich that Mark suggested so that’s where we’re headed.

This is the first sandwich blog post that I’ve written where the sandwich was suggested by a reader. I created a community on Patreon where I hope to continue this process every month or so and reach out to a patron to suggest my next sandwich. I already have my next victim candidate lined up, so get ready for that in the next few weeks. If you want to be a part of this community and support the blog, you can do so now at Patreon.

All these sandwiches require the same type of bread. So as usual, we’re talking about that first.

French-style baguettes

Don’t tell anyone, but the recipe for these baguettes is effectively the same as my French-style sub roll recipe but it’s using a much different shaping and baking process. I have made the base dough many times at this point, but I’ve only shaped them into baguettes about 4 times. The dough-making process works great and if you’ve ever made bread, you should have no problems whatsoever. But shaping and transferring proofed baguettes and moving them to a hot pizza stone all require a bit of patience and practice.

For this process, I bought a cloth couche and a bread transfer peel, but you could get by with a thick, clean kitchen towel and a piece of cardboard (or two or three cardboard pieces glued together for strength).

You shape the long baguette dough and place each torpedo between folds in a cloth couche or towel. This helps them rise into thin and long rolls.
This is an hour after the previous photo. You can see how the dough logs have risen and filled out the narrow channel that they have available to rise into.

Once the bread is fully proofed and puffy looking you need to transfer it out of this cloth and transfer it into a position for baking. In the case of my recipe, I transfer from the cloth to a piece of parchment that is set on my wooden pizza peel. Then I use that pizza peel to slide the parchment and dough into a preheated oven on top of a pizza stone.

The transfer process isn’t difficult, but you want to be careful not to deflate all the gas out of your risen dough.

Transferring each dough log from the cloth couche to a pan or in this case a piece of parchment is a bit tricky but achievable with patience.
I transfer each dough roll to a piece of parchment on top of my pizza peel. If you don’t have a pizza peel you can use an inverted baking sheet.
Once the dough is on top of the parchment and pizza peel, I try to slash each log 5 times to give it that traditional baguette appearance.

The dough bakes on the preheated pizza stone which lends some serious heat to the bottom of each roll, but we also preheat an oven-safe pot on the very bottom of the oven which we will add water to and that will contribute steam to the regular old home oven that aids in building a solid crust to each baguette.

This recipe process requires baking baguettes on a pizza stone, so you put them into and pull them out of the oven with a peel if you have one.
Here’s a freshly baked baguette.

You can make baguettes without a couche and without a pizza peel or pizza stone, but after a few weeks of testing my recipe, I do think that these tools help to make a better baguette that’s closer to a traditional one.

11 hours and 33 minutes
French-style baguettes

A crispy, crusted bread roll that is still soft and chewy in the middle. Perfect for a fancier sub-style sandwich or even sliced thinly and served alongside meat and cheese on a charcuterie board.

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Merguez sausage

Merguez is typically a sausage made with lamb or beef that is forced into a casing. The meat blend would have been spiced with cumin or chili pepper or even a blend of hot sauce or harissa for flavoring. Merguez sausage originated in Northern Africa and according to Wikipedia, it became popular in France in the 1960s or 70s because of Algerian immigration into that country.

Mark informed me that the merguez recipe that he uses comes from a cookbook called, Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing. He sent me a photo of the ingredients in the recipe, and it calls for both lamb and pork. The original Serious Eats sandwich recipe that Mark shared also has a homemade merguez recipe and a write-up about how to make really good sausage and that one contains pork fat to attempt to get 30% fat to accompany the leaner cuts of lamb. Some merguez sausages are prepared to be halal to abide by Islamic law and those would not contain pork.

Since I ended up making more than just 4 or 5 sausage-focused sandwiches this week, I did buy some lamb merguez from my local grocery butcher shop to go along with the sausage that Mark sent over. The sausages I purchased ended up being leaner and considerably drier than Mark’s so that’s a big win in the column for his recipe.

Caramelized onions

I’ve written about caramelized onions before, and I even have a recipe for them on the site. If you’re not making your own merguez sausage from scratch, these sweet and savory onions are the most time-consuming part of this sandwich. For me, they take about 45 minutes and I think I probably pull them off the stove a bit earlier than other people might. If you’re going for really dark onions, I’m guessing you could go for at least another 10 or 15 minutes.

40 minutes
Caramelized onions

Caramelized onions are a great refrigerator staple when it's time to make flavor combinations. Sweetness and texture additions will complement the savory elements you might already have in your sandwich.

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Harissa mayonnaise

Harissa is a condiment that originated in the Northern region of Africa that is made from roasted red peppers, garlic paste, spices, and herbs that have been mixed in with olive oil to form a spreadable paste.

You should be able to find spicy versions and milder versions of harissa in the international sections of most supermarkets.

For this sandwich, harissa mayonnaise is another one of those sandwich spread recipes where the name is the list of ingredients, so it’s super easy to whip up and you can quickly make it for an individual sandwich if you wanted.

When mixed with mayonnaise, harissa provides a bit of a spicy kick, adding extra garlic and roasted pepper flavor to the spread.

Here’s the harissa that I used this week. It’s not the only brand we’ve tried though.

The Serious Eats merguez sausage recipe

This is a great sandwich recipe. I did find in my different variations that you should slice the sausage down the middle so that it will lay flat on the bread. You can see where I didn’t slice the sausage in half in one of the photos down below and it was just a bit more of a bite and made things a little bit messier.

Here’s a cross-section of the Serious Eats recipe. I’m particularly proud of the crumb shot on the baguette here though.
This is a great sandwich with so many flavors and textures at play. The olive oil grilled baguette along with the tender sausage and salty cheese pairs so well with the sweet onions and spice from the merguez.
If you have a thicker type of sausage, I would not suggest making the sandwich this way, it gets a little messy. Note: I cut the sausage link in half, instead of eating two links, and the perspective makes the sandwich look longer.

For almost all these Serious Eats merguez sandwiches, I butterflied the sausage in half from end to end and laid it out flat so that it worked well inside of a split baguette. Unless your sausages are skinny, I would suggest the same. Allowing the sausages to lay flat improves the sandwich-eating experience.

The harissa mayonnaise and manchego pull a lot of weight in the flavor of this one and they work well together alongside the slightly spicy sausage.
One of my favorite parts of this sandwich is how the baguette is crisped up on the grill with olive oil which adds texture.

Merguez frites aka: Sandwich de Merguez

I’m going to guess that the sandwich I made above was a tiny bit influenced by a popular French street food sandwich known as merguez frites. Merguez frites often have spicy harissa as a condiment and it’s always on a baguette. The other ingredients make the Serious Eats sandwich creative, but I think the original inspiration could have come from this simple sausage and french fry sandwich.

Merguez frites is a baguette stuffed with merguez sausage, fiery harissa, and french fries. It also seems that condiments like Dijon mustard and ketchup are acceptable additions to this sandwich.

Spicy ketchup

Since harissa and ketchup are often used as condiments in a merguez frites sandwich, I whipped up some harissa ketchup. If you like ketchup and you enjoy a bit of spice, this condiment will become a favorite for your future french fry dipping.

This is straight up a good “recipe” or just the proportion of two ingredients to remember. It’s just 1/2 cup of ketchup and 1 tablespoon of harissa. This leads you to a slightly spicy ketchup but double the harissa to 2 tablespoons for extra heat.

A spicy sausage and some spicy ketchup make this sandwich a bit exciting.
These are not homemade fries, but they’re my favorite close substitute.

These Merguez frites were good sandwiches, but during the process of making them, I started thinking about attempting another sausage and fry-focused sandwich. For that experience, we’ll need some more fries.

French fries frites

The fries I made for the merguez frites [above] were Ore-Ida brand “fast food fries” because I was pressed for time that day. And as I have said before, the “pan method” for those sorts of fries is almost as good as a deep-fried method.

But for the next sandwich, I did double fry my own fries into a skin-on, hand-cut rustic sort of fry. I think this is probably my favorite style of french fry to eat and it’s my favorite to make.

I have another similar fry recipe for cajun “Bojangles-style” fries, but the one below has thinner-cut fries that work really well with a double fry cook.

This isn’t exactly like the fries you’ll get at fast food establishments, but it’s exactly the sort of fry you find at Chicago-style hot dog joints and they’re usually perfect for depression dogs. These types of fries are soft in the middle and crispy and crunchy on the exterior; just like fries are supposed to be.

Seasoning fresh-cut fried fries works well in a bowl where you can toss them around right after frying so that they all get a chance at getting seasoned.
1 hour and 15 minutes
Crispy, hand cut french fries

Crispy french fries. There. I said it. That's all. Enjoy this recipe.

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Two depression dogs

or one depression dog and un hot-dog de dépression

Since we have learned that there is a sausage and french fry sandwich that is popular in France, I got the idea that I could simply merge that concept with a sausage and french fry sandwich that exists where I live, in Chicago.

Many people might not be aware, but there are two different hot dog varieties in Chicago. There’s the vegetable-heavy, dragged-through-the-garden one you’re likely already aware of—and I’ve written about—and then there’s also the minimalist/depression dog. The depression dog is my favorite version aside from one minor omission.

First off, the depression dog should have a different snap or texture than many hot dogs you find at the grocery store. Both Chicago hot dog varieties will have similar all-beef interiors, but the depression dog almost always has a natural casing hot dog which requires a human to help ensure the dog is cased properly and shaped to length. Most non-depression hot dogs in Chicago will be “skinless all-beef” versions which don’t give quite the same bite experience as the natural casing variety.

Second, the depression dog drops the tomato slices and dill pickle spear. These ingredients are fine but, in my experience, they usually don’t improve the hot dog. For one thing, the tomato is never of good quality at hot dog stands that serve them year-round, so it’s never a good option anyway.

I ate this hot dog almost eight years ago; in July 2015. Always celebrate National Hot Dog Day.

The one omission on the depression dog that I really appreciate in a Chicago dog is the celery salt, but if you’re making this at home, you can add that anyway. I won’t tell anyone.

What’s in a depression dog?

The typical Chicago dog and the minimalist/depression dog share a lot of common ingredients and I’ll outline the similarities and differences in this nerdy hot dog table below.

Chicago dogDepression dog
Poppy seed bunX
Skinless all-beef hot dogX
Natural casing all-beef hot dogX
Yellow MustardXX
Diced white onionXX
Pickle relish (neon-green)XX
Tomato slicesX
Dill pickle spearX
Sport peppersXX
Celery saltX
Fresh hand-cut french fries on top or
wrapped up with the hot dog
X
I’m sure there are some hot dog stands that blend the two of these styles and I’m sure that I forgot that your favorite hot dog stand differs from my list in some way. Add this to the comments down below if you have a hot dog gripe you’d like to register.

My two favorite depression dog serving hot dog stands in the Chicago area are Gene and Jude’s (which was voted the best hot dog in the country at one point) and my local hot dog stand, RedHot Ranch. Both serve fantastic depression dog experiences as well as great fresh-cut, skin-on, crispy fries.

A depression dog and fries from Gene and Jude’s in River Grove, IL, just outside of Chicago. This is diced white onion, pickle relish, sport peppers, yellow mustard, a natural casing, all-beef hot dog on a plain white hot dog bun. With hand-cut fries.
A French depression dog that I made at home with some shallot, diced cornichon, sport peppers, Dijon mustard, and merguez sausage on a freshly baked baguette. Topped with hand-cut frites to gild the lily.

Building the French depression dog

When I went to the drawing board to replace all of the Chicago depression dogs ingredients with French counterparts, the one ingredient that I didn’t try to replicate in French fashion is the sport peppers. I replaced the diced white onion with diced shallot. The pickle relish was replaced with diced cornichon and the yellow mustard was swapped out with Dijon mustard. Natural casing Vienna Beef hot dog was changed out for a grilled merguez sausage and the plain white hot dog bun translated into a sausage-length of French-style baguette.

Sport peppers remained in their place as sport peppers because, if you know, you know. If you can’t find sport peppers where you live, you can use pickled jalapenos or even pepperoncinis.

Add some homemade fresh cut french fries and that’s how you make a French depression dog. If you need the recipe, it’s below.

Here’s an action gif of the building process for a French depression dog. Now you have all the ingredients for success.
A close-up of a French depression dog, skin-on fries, and all.

One reason this sandwich works for me is that the sausage is denser than a hot dog and so is the French-style baguette, so they both require additional effort from your jaw to bite. For me, this makes the sandwich texturally balanced and teams these two items together into a great bread and sausage pairing. The other ingredients like cornichons and Dijon mustard complement the whole sandwich with some great vinegar and zesty flavors.

A handful of French sausage and frites goodness.
You might be tempted to brush all the fries off the top of the sandwich, but it’s important to enjoy a crunch fry or two in each bite.

French depression dog recipe

Here’s how you can make your own French depression dog at home. This is a good sandwich and in my opinion a lot more interesting than just the merguez frites. The addition of pickles and mustard elevates the flavor of this sandwich in a very effective way.

French depression dog view printable page for this recipe


Ingredients:

Fresh cut french fries
  • 1 russet potato, sliced in 1/4 inch
  • peanut oil or another neutral frying oil
  • salt or other seasonings
Sausage grilling and sandwich assembly
  • 14 shallot, finely diced
  • 4 cornichons, finely diced
  • 1 merguez sausage
  • Dijon mustard
  • 2 or 3 sport peppers or pepperoncinis
  • handful of fries (from above)

Directions:

Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut your potatoes into 1/4-inch planks and then into 1/4-inch spears of potato.

Add all your potatoes to a large bowl of water for at least one hour. This allows the excess starch to be removed from the potatoes.

After an hour or so, drain the potatoes and dry with paper towels. Attempt to get them as dry as possible. 

Add your oil to a large heavy bottomed pot. You need your oil to be at least 3 inches deep in the pot.

Bring the oil temperature up to 300 degrees F and fry all your potatoes in batches for 3 to 5 minutes. This first stage is to cook the potato all the way through. This isn't going to make your fries turn brown and crispy. That comes in the second fry.

After 3 to 5 minutes, move the par-cooked potatoes to a rack to cool and cook the rest of your potatoes in batches. 

Once your potatoes have been fried once, raise temperature of your oil to 375 F. 

Once again fry your potatoes in batches until they turn golden brown for 1 to 2 minutes. 

Move each batch of fries to a bowl or plate and salt immediately while they are still warm. If it will be a long time before you are ready to sandwich, you can keep the fries warm on a sheet pan in a 200 degree oven.

Dice a quarter of a shallot and 2 or 3 cornichon pickles into a fine dice and add to a bowl or plate for serving.

Grill merguez sausage on a grill or grill pan until it is fully done and registers 160 degrees F (71 C). Merguez links vary in shape, so this may take anywhere from about 10 to 15 minutes on a hot grill. If you have an instant read thermometer it's best to cook the sausages over indirect heat (not directly over the hot coals) with the lid on until the inside of the sausage hits around 150 degrees and then move the sausage to the hot side of the grill to finish off and get some dark color.

Once the sausage is cooked, slice a baguette 3/4ths of the way through, add the sausage and top with a tablespoon of diced shallot, around 2 tablespoons of diced cornichons, 2 or 3 squirts of Dijon mustard and a few spicy peppers. Top everything with the fresh cut fries and serve.

Check back next week for more sandwiches, maybe

Who knows. I’ve eaten so much sausage, I might be into soup by then!

But I bet it’ll still be about sandwiches.


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