Mexican Chorizo

Last week’s queso featured Mexican chorizo, and I found myself bummed out that I didn’t have room to expand on this truly delightful member of the international sausage family. Since it’s grilling season, and something new is far more exiting than the same old, same old, I think it’s high time we checked it out in depth. While it certainly has its roots in Spain, Mexican chorizo is unique – a perfect reflection of the big, bold flavors that define cocina Mexicana – So let’s dive in.

First off, the differences between Spanish and Mexican chorizo are broad, (and like the ongoing battle over ‘real’ manchego cheese, both sides pretty much disdain the other’s version). Spanish chorizo is a cured, chopped pork sausage with a lot of paprika therein, which gives it its trademark color. These are stuffed sausages in an edible casing, almost always smoked, which adds to its signature flavor profile. As paprika is offered in hot, sweet, and bitter, so is Spanish chorizo. Other variants include garlic and fresh herbs, or Spanish wine. Size varies based on where the stuff comes from. The lion’s share of Spanish chorizo is eaten as is, with bread and wine and cheese, or added to tapas plates. It is used in Spanish cooking as well, added to soups, and stews, and paella. 

Loosely based on Spanish chorizo fresco, (the uncurled fresh version), Mexican chorizo has evolved into a wide range of fresh and cured sausages – Mostly fresh though. What started out as a purely pork powered thing now encompasses beef, game, poultry, and vegetarian/vegan options. Local varieties often reflect a specific historical or ethnic consideration of a given area – It’s fascinating and delicious stuff. Mexican chorizo is ground, not chopped, and the fuel for its (usually) signature red color are chiles of considerably higher octane than the Spanish stuff. Regardless of what the main protein is, pork fat is often added, along with generous slugs of vinegar, and other herbs and spices. These guys are almost always relatively short links, air dried for anywhere from a day to a week. 

Since it’s uncured, Mexican chorizo needs to be cooked. It’s probably safe to say that, more often than not, the sausage is sliced open and removed from its casing before cooking, then used as a loose meat filling for tacos, eggs, tortas, soups, and stews. That said, plenty of this stuff is grilled and eaten as is, too, but since so much Mexican chorizo is eaten loose, you won’t always find these made with natural, or necessarily edible casings – That’s a thing to keep in mind and ask your local carniceria about – but for the record, most mass market chorizo found in grocery stores is sold loose, and it’s the really cheap stuff that comes in casings you can’t (and shouldn’t) eat.

In Mexico and savvy parts of los Estados Unidos, chorizo might show up at any time of day – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For breakfast, chorizo con huevos is delicious, as is chorizo con papas – potatoes diced and fried with chorizo. For lunch, chorizo con frijoles refritos, (refried beans), is a popular spread for tortas – The sublime Mexican sandwich. For dinner, chorizo might be added to tacos, or whipped into queso as we did last week, and served on fresh corn tortillas. 

So what about those varieties? For us up here in El Norte, the version we’re probably accustomed to is the chorizo most popular in the northern and central highlands, the altiplano. It’s that brick red, notably spicy stuff, with readily discernible notes of vinegar, chile heat, garlic, and herbs like cumin, Mexican oregano, and thyme. That said, almost everybody makes their own, and has their own recipe, so you know the drill – You should try some you like, ask about what’s in it, (because the good places and people will tell you), and develop your very own favorite.

House made chorizo

Chorizo from the Yucatán is also a deep red, mostly from the addition of achiote paste – a sublime mix of annatto seed, cumin, chipotle, allspice, and nutmeg. It’s moistened with naranja agria, (sour orange), and sometimes banana vinegar, flaunting its Caribbean roots.

Chorizo Norteño - Probably what you’ve tried

Chorizo Norteño is likely the most high octane version you’ll ever try, fueled with arbol, and/or birds eye chiles, both of which pack a serious wallop. It’s more about heat than herbal, and it’s often grilled whole and eaten that way.

Fresh chorizo seco
Fresh chorizo seco

Chorizo Seco is usually offered as a drier version of whatever the locals make, with maybe a more pronounced vinegar note, (it’s the most often used preservative for cured sausages). It may come as anything from still quite fresh and cookable as a loose sausage, to something very dry and more like Spanish chorizo in consistency – either way, the soul of it will most definitely be Mexican. If you’ve got a local carniceria, ask, or look around and see if you see anything hanging to dry.

Chorizo Verde - Not just another pretty face

Chorizo Verde is something really special. It’s the signature food of Toluca, a valley and namesake city due west of Ciudad de Mexico, and widely lauded as the chorizo capital of Mexico. This stuff is simply heavenly, deriving its color and flavor from healthy doses of green chiles, tomatillos, cilantro, and garlic.

Loganiza - OK, if you like offal...

Longaniza is indeed chorizo, but it’s the cheap seats, made from offal rather than shoulder or butt. Its texture is closer to Spanish chorizo, and it too is sometimes aged. It tends to be very chile heavy, perhaps in an effort to balance out the offal funk.

Chistorra is interesting stuff – It’s a Basque speciality that migrated with expats to the area around Mexico City. It translates well to Mexico, because it includes extra pork fat and healthy doses of paprika and garlic.

Chorizo Obispo - It’s not brains...

Chorizo Obispo, (Bishop’s chorizo),  was supposedly once made from brains, (and was even called rellena de sesos back then), though there’s no evidence I could find to support that claim – I suspect it was a ruse used to freak out squeamish kids. It’s a pork sausages reinforced with fat, and flavored with tomato and onion, chiles, garlic, and epazote.

Moronga - Mexican Blood Sausage

Moronga is Mexico’s version of blood sausage, and if you like such things, it’s a good one. This too features tomato and onion, backed by mint, oregano, and garlic. There’s not that much blood in the good stuff – enough to color things appropriately, but not so much that the signature metallic flavor note dominates.

Although they’re not chorizo, per se, I have to mention salchidas, AKA frankfurters, because they are a forcemeat sausage, and they are really quite ubiquitous in Mexican home cooking these days. There’s nothing special about them, really – They’re found down south made from beef, pork, chicken and occasionally godknowswhat, just like up here. The interesting thing is that you’ll actually find them in recipes titled ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional,’ and as such, ya gotta respect that – And I really do respect a good hot dog, especially when it’s got chiles, onions, and a shot of hot sauce on board. 

What I’ll say at this point is that you should get out there, try what’s available to you, determine what’s in it, decide what you like or don’t about that, and then tweak things to make them your own. We make chorizo here at the house from whatever cut we’re using, run through the grinder attachment for our Kitchenaid mixer, which does a fine job indeed. If you own the mixer, the grinder attachment is not expensive – $35 for a perfectly serviceable plastic unit, to $89 for a really nice, heavy duty stainless version, and all of those will include what you need to stuff casings, too. Casings can be found online, or from your local butcher or carniceria. If you eat meat, you want one of these frankly. If nothing else, you’ll make the price of the attachment up pretty quick with the ability to make some pretty fancy stuff at home – And it’s easy and fun to do. 

Of course you can readily find fresh ground pork, beef, chicken, turkey, and sometimes even game locally, so if you’re not up for grinding your own, save time and just buy what you like. Considering that most Mexican chorizo doesn’t require curing, and is most often eaten loose, you won’t be missing a thing. If you’ve never gone up to your local grocery store meat counter to ask what they can and will do with what they sell, you should – These folks generally know their stuff, and truly dig working with people who love to cook – Something as simple as, ‘If I buy pork shoulder, can you grind that for me,’ will usually get an enthusiastic ‘you betcha’ response. 

A note on acquiring pork fat – This can be easy or hard depending on where you live. The less shopping diversity around you, the harder it is to find. Ask your local meat counter, butcher, or carniceria if they sell it, as many happily will. Before you ask, no – you cannot sub lard for pork fat when making sausage – It will liquify and make your sausage a mushy mass of ickiness. In any event, if you buy pork with any frequency, and then trim your own when you’re prepping it, (which, by all the food gods, you better be doing), then save the fat and fatty trimmings. It’ll freeze just fine if properly packaged, and you can then grind or mince up what you need. 

As I mentioned above, there are vegetarian and vegan version of chorizo, so there’s nothing holding you back from making your own versions of those as well. Adding whatever you like for a protein or protein sub can easily be done in a 1:1 ratio for starters. Fresh, firm tofu is amazingly delicious stuff, and makes fantastic sausages. Wild rice and beans seasoned as whatever chorizo you like is also sublime, as is something a bit more exotic, like pulled jackfruit. Firm roasted veggies, like cauliflower does a great job, too. If you’re into it, get into it.

Rather than provide a bunch of recipes, I’m going to offer just two – One red and one green – my go to’s for chorizo. For anything else, (and I mean anything, from virtually anywhere in the world), I’ll turn y’all on to one of my secret (not) sources for all things charcuterie – It’s a website called Wedliny Domowe, (The English language version is found at meatsandsausages.com), a labor of love by Polish sausage maker and wunderkind Miroslaw Gebarowski. There, you’ll find a vast resource of recipes and information that are accurate, thorough, lovingly researched and shared, and generally sized for folks like us. Look up any of the stuff I referenced above and you’ll be on your way. And remember, please –  a recipe is a guideline at best. It’ll show you ingredients, proportions, and process, but you really do need to make that your own – Anybody who posts a recipe and gets upset if you tweak it isn’t really there to share, anyway…

 

Chorizo de Urban

NOTES – 

1. This recipe requires overnight refrigeration to come to full fruition – Plan accordingly.

2. As usual, there are variances in some of the ingredients – Here, it’s chiles. While the recipe requires some to be correct, how much is quite up to your personal taste.

2 Lbs ground Pork (if you’re doing your own, I use shoulder or butt)

6 ounces ground Pork Fat

1 Cup Cider Vinegar

2-4 Tablespoons Chipotle Chile flake

2-4 Tablespoons dried Ancho Chile (whole dried or powder)

2-4 Tablespoons dried Guajillo Chile (whole dried or powder)

4-6 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Tablespoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Mexican Oregano

4 whole Cloves

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon Marjoram

1/2 teaspoon Coriander Seed

1/2 teaspoon Cumin 

1/2 teaspoon Allspice 

1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

2 whole Bay Leaves (I like Turkish)

If using whole dried chiles, place them and the dried chipotle flake in a non-reactive bowl and cover with at least 2” of boiling water. 

Allow the chiles to steep until softened, 20-30 minutes. drain, stem, and skin soaked chiles and rough chop.

Whether or not you’re using whole or ground herbs and spices, combine them all in a spice grinder or molcajete y metate and grind to an even mix, (and yeah, you can throw the bay leaf in there too).

Peel and trim garlic cloves, and cut into quarters.

Add chiles, garlic, and vinegar to a blender vessel and process to a smooth mix.

In a large non-reactive bowl, combine ground pork, pork fat, herb and spice blend, and chile purée. Mix by hand to thoroughly combine all ingredients.

Tightly cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to 24 hours – This allows the flavors to marry and fully develop, and is critical to real deal chorizo.

Next day, your chorizo is ready to go. It can be frozen if packaged properly (no air, tightly wrapped), or processed into casing if you’re equipped/so desire.

I won’t elaborate on stuffing casings here, because frankly, we rarely do it with this chorizo. Check below in the chorizo verde recipe for instructions if you’re fired up to do it.

 

Urban Chorizo Verde

NOTES – 

1. This recipe requires overnight refrigeration to come to full fruition – Plan accordingly.

2. As usual, there are variances in some of the ingredients – Here, it’s chiles. While the recipe requires some to be correct, how much is quite up to your personal taste.

2 Pounds ground Pork (Shoulder or Butt is my preference.)

6 Ounces ground Pork Fat

1/2 Pound fresh Tomatillos

1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar

2 fresh Poblano Chiles

2-4 fresh Serrano Chiles

2 Tablespoons Chipotle Chile flake

1 Tablespoon ground Guajillo Chile

1 Bunch fresh Cilantro (about 3 ounces)

3 fat cloves fresh Garlic

2 teaspoons Coriander Seed (whole or ground)

2 teaspoons Salt

1 teaspoon Cumin Seed (whole or ground)

1 teaspoon fresh ground black Pepper

Place Chipotle flake in a non-reactive bowl and cover with at least an inch of boiling water. Let them step for 15 minutes, until softened.

Remove husks from tomatillos and slice in half.

Peel and trim garlic, leave cloves whole.

Place tomatillos, whole chiles, and garlic on a baking sheet, on an upper middle oven rack.

Broil veggies until the chile skins are charred and tomatillos are bubbling.

Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.

Stem and skin roasted chiles.

If you’re using whole spices, grind them to uniform powder.

Mince a lightly packed cup of cilantro.

Combine vinegar, chiles, drained chipotle flake, guajillo powder, garlic, cilantro, tomatillos and spices in a blender vessel and process until you get a smooth, thick paste.

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine pork, pork fat, and the seasoning paste. Mix by hand to fully incorporate.

Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Your verde is now ready to cook, freeze, or stuff.

To Stuff Fresh Sausage into Casings – 

What casings you buy are up to you – Natural are a bit fussier than manmade. Some people don’t like the fact that natural casings are intestines, while others don’t like the fact that the other stuff is manmade. There are edible and inedible manmade casings – namely collagen, fibrous, and cellulose. For chorizo, I use and highly recommend the 30mm clear edible collagen casings, which I buy from Butcher and Packer online. They don’t require soaking, are easy to use, don’t smell, and have a very low footprint on your finished product. Enough to stuff 14 pounds of sausage will cost you five bucks. If you go to their website and search for that term, you’ll find them, along with all the other varieties and decent explanations of the pros and cons of each.

You’ll need only a portion of casing – 3 feet or so will be plenty. Measure off a length of casing, cut it, and tie a double knot in the end.

You want your sausage very cold before you stuff – Doing this operation heats up the ingredients somewhat, and we need to counter that as much as possible – Don’t pull the meat out until you’re truly ready to rock.

Set up a work station – Mixer, bowl of sausage, clean catch surface – something to hold finished product, like a clean sheet pan. Best case scenario is to work with a helper, who can keep the sausage flowing while you focus on filling the casing.

When you’re ready to go, carefully slide all but a couple inches of casing over the sausage stuffer nozzle.

Fill the reservoir on the grinder/stuffer attachment with sausage.

Turn the mixer on to a low setting, 2 at the most – If you’re flying solo, use one hand for the tamper, to press the mix down into the attachment, and keep your other hand on the casing, right at the tip of the nozzle.

As the casing starts to fill, let it do so as fully as possible, but not to the pint of stretching the casing at all. The collagen casings are not as flexible as natural, and if you overfill them, they will certainly burst when cooked.

Keep adding sausage and filling casing, working slowly but steadily.

When you’ve filled all you’ve got, lay the coil of sausage on your clean work surface. Chorizo should be about 5” or so in length, so measure that out, and twist the casing at that point. 

Measure another 5” and twist in the opposite direction, and so on, until you’re done.

Use dried corn husk (you can get that from a good Latin grocery), or butchers twine, tie a knot at each twist, and cut the ends short.

Use a clean toothpick to randomly prick the casings down the whole length, which will let any trapped air escape.

Ideally, you’d like to hang your chorizo in a clean, cool place for a day, but that’s not always easy in this modern world. We do a jury rigged set up in our fridge which works just fine – Make sure you have a drip tray under your chorizo, as some vinegar will make its way out during the shirt drying process.

Now your links are ready to go – You can grill, or freeze as you please. If you’ve got a vacuum sealer, this is a great job for that – Air is the enemy when freezing chorizo. Refrigerated, it’s good for 2-3 days, but don’t push uncured fresh sausage any farther than that.

Enjoy.

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2 thoughts on “Mexican Chorizo”

  1. I live in a Missouri Ozarks town of 10K. There are two ‘super mercado’s’ and one Mercado ‘barrio’. All have carniceria’s. FYI: each Mercado represents a different region of Mexico.
    I have enjoyed tasting the difference in their chorizo varieties along with their take on hot to very hot salsas.

    Plus their prices are usually less than even our big box store.

    1. Absolutely, Steve – The culture is that imbedded, and the food that good! And for fans of how service used to be at your local grocery or butcher, this is where you’ll find exactly that, today.

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