I don’t often write about Mauritius around here, but I lived on the island for 7 years and my memories there make up a big part of my childhood. “Rougail saucisse” is a classic Mauritian dish that is very easy to make but requires some patience as each part of the meal needs to simmer so as to acquire maximum flavour.
This is the kind of meal that you prepare for Sunday lunch with dozens of distant-but-close family members that you can’t remember your actual relation to. Phoenix beers and cold, watered down rosé wine are shared for hours before anyone even thinks of sitting down for lunch. After having a swim, you stand with your bare feet on the boiling hot stones around the swimming pool, dripping water everywhere and reapplying sun tan lotion for the 18th time that day. You will still be sunburned come nightfall.
Once you finally make it to the table, you are ravenous. It will take a while for you to serve yourself, as there are many people at the table and a lot of dishes being passed around. First comes the basmati rice, then the green lentils simmered with garlic and ginger. You then add a hefty dollop of the sausage rougail and add cucumber and/or tomato “chutney” – which is really just a vinegary salad – on the side of your plate. You then ask someone on the other end of the table to pass you the “piment”: the chili paste that has invariably been made by the host or their housekeeper. The taste and texture of the chili paste will be a hot topic (sorry) at the table as you all tuck in. Words of appreciation such as “mari bon” will be shared liberally.
I have eaten rougail saucisse in Paris many times since I moved away from Mauritius. My Mauritian aunt makes it for me occasionally in her little kitchen, adding crispy bacon bits to the mix, and sends me home with big ice cream boxes full of the leftovers that I savour over the next few days. I have also happily eaten sausage rougail with Mauritian friends passing through Paris, who make theirs with cocktail sausages that are just the right size and very easy to cook. My mom also makes this dish for me and my brothers when we occasionally manage to gather in the UK, and it always goes down a storm.
But funnily enough, I had never made sausage rougail myself until last Saturday.
I had had a long week and woke up in a funk on Saturday morning, feeling annoyed and nostalgic without quite knowing why. I went for a walk to try to cheer myself up and just happened to find some fat British pork sausages on sale in the local M&S. I bought them, walked home and got to work: I had all the other ingredients on hand. The sharp yet refreshing smell of ginger was a treat in itself, and I could almost taste it on my tongue while I was chopping away.
When I sat down with Maxime to eat this meal, I felt elated and nostalgic all at once. I had brought an important childhood memory into my new home, and I had added a new dish to my cooking repertoire. It felt good to hold on to the tradition that the meal represented and to serve the good food to my non-Mauritian boyfriend. But it also made me feel terribly, terribly homesick. It made me wish all over again that I lived closer to my family.
Mauritian sausage rougail with lentils and cucumber chutney
Serves 3 (aka 2 with leftovers)
- 400g sausages*
- 1 big yellow onion
- 400ml tomato purée
- 4 cloves of garlic
- A piece of fresh ginger about the size of a thumb
- 3 pinches dried chili flakes
- Olive oil
- 400g canned green lentils
- Half a large cucumber, about 300g
- Splash wine vinegar
- 200g basmati rice
*You can make this with pork chipolatas and give this dish a bit of a British feel, which I think is appropriate for a dish prepared in an ex-British colony. This is my favourite way to do it because it reminds me of how my mom started making her rougail saucisse when we moved to Mauritius from England 13 years ago. We naturally turned to ingredients that were familiar, so chipolatas were key. However, over the years we tried the small red Chinese sausages that were easier to find in Mauritius and also gave the dish the slight Asian vibe you experience when walking down the street in Mauritius.
Recipe for Mauritian sausage rougail
- Boil the rice according to the instructions on the packet, about 10minutes. Leave in a colander in the sink to be reheated later.
- Peel and chop garlic (or crush it in a garlic press if you have one) and put 2 cloves in a large frying pan, the other 2 cloves in a medium sized saucepan. We’ll be making the lentils in the saucepan and the sausage rougail in the frying pan.
- Drizzle olive oil in both the saucepan and frying pan, turn to medium heat.
- Peel and chop the onion, split between the saucepan and frying pan.
- Remove the skin on the ginger by rubbing it with the side of a teaspoon. Rinse the skinless ginger and slice into half-moons. Add to the saucepan (and not the frying pan).
- Lower the heat on the frying pan so the garlic doesn’t burn. Let the onions soften in both receptacles.
- Pour the canned lentils – juice and all – into the saucepan. Give it all a stir, cover and turn down the heat. Let simmer for 15min, stirring regularly.
- Chop the raw sausages into bite-sized pieces and add to the frying pan along with the chili flakes. Let them cook slowly so the skin is crispy but not burnt, about 10minutes.
- While the lentils and sausages are cooking, prepare the cucumber salad. Wash and peel the cucumber, chop and put in a bowl with a splash of wine vinegar and some salt and pepper. I added some alfalfa to mine because I happened to have some in my kitchen, but that is in no way traditionally Mauritian.
- By now the sausages should be cooked. Add the tomato purée to the frying pan, stir and leave the sauce to thicken for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. It will taste sweet at first but it will be spicier in a few minutes.
- Reheat rice by boiling water in a kettle and pouring hot water over the rice in the colander over the sink.
- Serve the sausage rougail with a generous dollop of cucumber chutney and some chili paste. Harissa will do, if you don’t have Mauritian chili in your fridge ;)