There's a New Spice Making Heat Waves in Restaurants

Chef Thierry Rautureau turns up the heat with Harissa

Move over, Sriracha, there’s a new hot number in town. Harissa, a North African sauce or paste made from a blend of Moroccan peppers, preserved lemon, oil and spices, ranges from mild to fiery. Thierry Rautureau, chef and owner of Luc, in Madison Valley, and Loulay Kitchen & Bar, downtown, counts on harissa to enliven his dishes and provide subtle heat. A self-confessed “spice weeny,” Rautureau says, “Harissa is heat with flavor.”

“The first time I tasted harissa was in paste form in France,” Rautureau says. “My father was making a roasted goat, and the marinade was in a bucket that had wine, oil, harissa and thyme.” Traditionally paired with couscous, harissa can be used to enhance the flavor of mild foods.

In his restaurants, Rautureau uses harissa mostly in aioli and as a finishing sauce; it is served as a thick spread on the bacon sandwich at Loulay and in an aioli for dipping french fries at Luc. For brunch at Loulay, he makes a harissa hollandaise sauce for poached eggs served over root vegetable hash, and stirs a spoonful into the beet-juice Bloody Marys.

At home, Rautureau uses harissa as an easy marinade for a grilled leg of lamb (like his father’s) or coats a whole side of salmon. “I combine olive tapenade and harissa and rub it on the salmon.” From there, he grills the fish for 10 minutes before removing the fish and leaving the skin behind for another 5 minutes to crisp. “It gets crispy, and the harissa acts like a rub—it makes a wonderful dinner.”

Why you should try it: “Discover a new heat [that offers] texture and flavor all in one place. Try different kinds to find out what you like best,” Rautureau says.

How to use it at home:
The heat from harissa makes it a great counterpoint to creamy condiments. Combine harissa with sour cream for a cucumber dip. Or add a spoonful to mayo (or homemade aioli) and use as a spread on sandwiches or a dip for crudités or as a topping on crispy roasted potatoes.

Where to find it: Rautureau prefers Mustapha’s Mediterranean harissa, available at, Metropolitan Market (various locations; and Whole Foods (various locations; Marx Foods (Lower Queen Anne, 144 Western Ave. W; 206.447.1818; carries a locally made harissa from Villa Jerada.


Luc’s Harissa Aioli

2 egg yolks
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon of harissa*
1 teaspoon of very finely chopped garlic
Juice from half a lemon
Ground black pepper to taste
2 cups of good olive oil

In a food processor bowl, place all the ingredients except the olive oil. Mix thoroughly for about 1 minute and drip the olive oil slowly into the mixture. If the aioli gets too thick during the process, add a little bit of cold water to the mix. Keep refrigerated.

*Harissa differs in heat strength depending on its purveyor.