Chorizo. It is one of the most delicious sausages in the world. They were born in Spain after the conquistadors returned from the New World with red peppers. Sweet red peppers were dried – both under the sun and over smoke – then ground to make a deep-red powder called pimentón. Aromatic, but not spicy hot, pimentón contains naturally occurring preservatives to deter bad bugs thriving –something important in the days before refrigeration. Today, it is the unique flavour of pimentón that unites this diverse family of chorizos that spans the Iberian Peninsula-
While it is said that there is a different chorizo recipe for every Spanish village (and a different chouriço for every town in Portugal), they almost always contain a mixture of pork meat and fat, salt, garlic and pimentón. Traditionally, making chorizos was a way of preserving a pig that had been fattened up on summer bounty over the lean cold months of winter. Even today, there are many villages in Spain where the family pig is killed in ‘la matanza’, which translates as ‘the killing’.
Traditionally the hind legs were made into jamón and sold to rich people. The front legs were cured and made into paleta. While the loin was made into lomo, much of the rest of the pig was cut up into small pieces and mixed with salt, garlic and pimentón to make sausages. Some of this sausage stuffing meat, ‘el picadillo’ de chorizo, was cooked to feed the workers who helped with ‘la matanza’. This was also a way to make sure there were enough salt and other seasonings in the chorizo. Some of the sausages were stuffed into narrow skins, and used for grilling within a few days or so. The rest were cured to last.
While it is possible to import jamón from Spain, it is not possible under Australia’s strict quarantine laws to import sausages. This has seen a pent up demand by Australian diners, met by a rapid rise of Australian manufacturers of authentic Spanish style chorizos.
The types of chorizo are chorizo semi curado (semi-cured) and the curado (dry aged). The chorizo curado is the classic firm sausage that is as close as you can get to Spain’s version of the salami. It has undergone fermentation that drops its pH, giving it a clean acidic finish and a long shelf life. It is also air-dried, making it firm and slightly chewy. (In some parts of Spain, particularly the rainy north, chorizo is slowly dried over oak fire smoke – something that some local makers do as well). Chorizo curado is the chorizo you put on the wooden board, take to it with a big sharp knife and cut slices off to serve as a tapa with beer or wine. It doesn’t get more complicated than that.
The chorizo semi surado is for cooking and needs to be cooked before being eaten. The skin is still slightly soft, yet it has good shelf life in the fridge. This is the sausage the Spanish put in their slow cooked stews, such as cocido madrileño or fabada asturiana. It is the chorizo you use to cook with eggs to make huevos con chorizo. It is the chorizo you cut up and put in a dish with rough diced potatoes and put in the wood fired oven. This is the chorizo you slice open lengthways and gently grill or fry. The colour and aroma of pimentón dissolves into the fat – which renders out when the chorizo is cooked. This is perfect when you want the beautiful deep red colour and warm bright flavour to permeate a dish such as potatoes cooked with chorizo. When you’re grilling a chorizo, you need to treat it gently so as to heat it up without releasing all that delicious flavour and aroma.
Chorizo in all its forms was never meant to be eaten alone. This is a simple and elegant food that is best enjoyed with family and friends, perhaps with a glass of tempranillo or some decent red from La Rioja.