This week I finally got around to trying a dish recommended to me by a fellow translator rather a long time ago. It’s Rougail saucisse, or Sausage rougail. This dish hails from Réunion, a French overseas département and island in the Indian Ocean but is also enjoyed in nearby Mauritius and Madagascar (196flavours.com). Both Mauritius and Réunion have significant South Asian populations, and this is reflected in the local cuisines (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
The dish itself, as portrayed in my source recipe, is a tomato-based sauce flavoured with onion, garlic, ginger, thyme, and chilli. Sausages are sliced into pieces, fried, then added to the sauce, which you cook down a little, before serving with rice.
What is a rougail?
I’d never heard of a rougail before. Apparently, the word itself is Tamil, which is widely spoken on Réunion (The Petit Gourmet). And there are several different types of rougail, served either hot or cold (196flavours.com). Meanwhile, the Larousse Gastronomique defines it as follows
‘A highly spiced seasoning used in the cooking of the West Indies and Réunion. Made from vegetables, shellfish or fish and pimientos, it is simmered in oil and can be eaten hot or cold, with rice-based West Indian dishes.’
Creole sausages – clear as mud
My recipe and plenty of others I checked, all called for saucisses créoles, or creole sausages. I had no idea what that might be. I started off with a simple search, in both French and English. This brought up numerous results related to a type of sausage used in North America, described on Food.com as ‘a classic New Orleans spicy, spicy sausage. Made from fresh pork and seasoned with garlic, cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, salt, ground bay leaves, paprika and sugar.’
It seemed unlikely this New Orleans variety was the same as the one used in Réunion, although there are of course French influences in both places, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. And indeed, apparently the New Orleans andouille sausage originated in either France or Germany (The Spruce Eats).
This had me thinking about the word ‘Creole’. It’s one of those words that means something different to different people. If you’re Anglo-Saxon, I bet you’re more likely to think of North America. If you’re Francophone however, I’d hazard a guess you’re more likely to think of the French DOM-TOMs. Even the OED has several definitions, some of which are fairly broad: ‘Any person of mixed ancestry born in a country previously colonized by white Europeans; (in later use typically) such a person speaking a creole as his or her first language.’
Creole refers not only to a people (or several different peoples, as we've seen), but also, by extension, to their cuisine and language. As for Creole Cookery, the Larousse Gastronomique explains, ‘In the broadest sense, the term Creole is used to describe a cuisine that has evolved from two or more distinctly different styles of cookery.’
Anyway, I digress… back to the meat of the issue.
Since the sausages are a pretty key ingredient in this dish, I didn’t want to get it wrong. Fortunately, many recommended possible alternatives:
‘Sausage rougail is all about good sausage, preferably Creole. Unfortunately, it is not really easy to find them in Los Angeles. Never mind, good sausage, fresh or dry, smoked or not, all will do.’ (196flavours.com)
My source recipe also provided substitutes, recommending either using smoked sausages like the French Montbéliard, or fresh ones.
To be honest, I was still pretty unclear about what a Réunionais creole sausage is actually like. But Catharine, French to English translator based in Réunion who recommended this dish originally, came to my rescue on twitter; 'Sausages should be pref. pork and preferably smoked but they don't have to be. But they should be big and fat, so they can be cut into big slices for the cooking process.' So there you have it.
Beyond the sausage debacle, the recipe was easy to follow. In case you’re interested, I used some good quality pork sausages from my local butcher. They weren’t smoked, and probably pretty unlike Creole sausages, but they were full of flavour!
The end result was fantastic. Garlicky, with the perfect amount of heat from the ginger and chilli, and the rich flavour of the sausages.
Recipe and substitution ideas
No revolutionary substitution ideas here, just good old common sense. Use whatever sausages you like, provided they’re tasty. Use canned tomatoes or fresh, depending on what you have and what’s in season. If you don’t have fresh thyme, use dried.