Nice Butcher – “Miss, what sort of chorizo do you want – Spanish, Mexican or Portuguese?”
Me – to self “Oh gosh, I have to choose? Geeze, I thought ordering the sausage would be the easy part of this dish. What are the differences? How do I find out what I need without sounding silly? Why didn’t I decide on a recipe with kielbasa“
I eventually determined there was no way to avoid showing my lack of knowledge, and confessed my ignorance, but I vowed to research up on the subject so that the next time I was asked, I could respond with confidence and select the appropriate chorizo. The topic proved a bit more complicated than I anticipated, and the results of the chorizo selection, while not life or death, will certainly affect the outcome of your dish.
Exhibit A – I struggled with how to get the message across and ended up creating a chart of sorts. “Who has to create a chart to document the nuances of a single sausage” I ask you – not even Harold McGee, to my knowledge.
Chorizo can be a fresh sausage, i.e. raw, in which case it must be cooked. In fact, outside of Europe this is often the case.
Spanish chorizo is made from coarsely chopped pork and pork fat, generally seasoned with smoked pimentón (paprika), garlic, and salt. The type of smoked paprika used determines if it is either picante (spicy) or dulce (sweet), and it also gives the chorizo that lovely deep red color, and acts as a preservative. Only the picante variety incorporates guindillas secas (small dried hot chilies) offering a bit of extra zing. Sometimes a bit of white wine is added to speed up the fermentations process, after which, the sausage is cured and that sought after slightly acidic taste develops. This cured and seasoned meat is then stuffed into casings (mostly natural intestines, not artificial) and further dried. In the wet climate of northern Spain, they may be pre-smoked for further preservation. Hundreds of varieties of this sausage exist in all shapes and sizes, often referred to as embutidos including:
Chorizo Extra – a very large chorizo usually weighing in at between one and two kilos and approximately three inches in diameter. The flavour of this chorizo is quite tangy.
Chorizo Duro – although most chorizo sausages in Spain are referred to as “duro” which literally means “hard” this term also loosely describes something cured. This chorizo sausage that has been cured so that it has a firm consistency throughout. The chorizo duro is a larger sausage around 350 – 400g that comes with rope around the top of the sausage. This chorizo has a sweeter flavor.
Iberico Chorizo – come from the Iberian pig – a relative of the wild boar from the Iberian peninsular, these pigs are fed on acorns and produce a nutty flavor in the sausage. Look out for the word “bellota” (acorn fed) on the packaging.
Galician Chourizo - is dark red in appearance, and the traditional and healthiest way of cooking this type of chorizo is to boil it, adding it to paellas, pasta dishes, stews, soups, or cooking it with potatoes and dark green vegetables (wakame seaweed goes amazingly well), it can also be sliced and fried.
A few general rules of thumb:
- Leaner varieties are typically better suited to tapas, and eaten at room temperature. The fattier versions are generally reserved for cooking -grilled or added to stews.
- The thin chorizos are sweeter, while short chorizos are spicy (but exceptions exist).
- Spanish chorizo generally has less fat and is less finely ground compared to the Mexican version.
Portuguese chouriço (sometimes called linguiça) is made with pork, fat, wine, paprika and salt. It is then stuffed into natural or artificial casings and slowly dried over smoke. Many variations exist depending on color, shape, and seasoning. Supposedly, the best Portuguese chouriços hail from Lamego and the mountainous Chaves with their chestnut forests (something about pigs munching on chestnuts that does meat good). This region is across from the Spanish area of Extremadura, a Spanish culinary mecca known for their best chorizo. Despite the physical proximity, there are a few difference – compared to its Spanish cousin, its a heck of a lot less spicy. According to David Leite, the Spanish version has 20% paprika by weight, while the chouriço has more garlic and black peppers. They also throw in some Portuguese wine for good measure. [Leite’s Culinaria]
A popular way to prepare chouriço (called chouriço à bombeiro) especially around Lisbon, is to partial slice it and cook over the flames of buring alcohol (often brandy) at the table. Special glazed earthenware dishes with a lattice top are used for this purpose.
Other types of enchidos include:
- Alheira – this interesting sausage was originally made by any meat other than pork (duck, chicken, turkey, rabbit, veal). Invented by the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition to escape detection – if they were not seen preparing or smoking “pork” sausage at the smokehouses they were easily singled out. They are usually fried in olive oil and served with boiled vegetables and potatoes. Now, that deception is not a requirement, and the Christians discovered this was a good sausage, pork is back in the list of potential proteins.
- Chouriço de sangue – blood chouriço – similar to English black pudding
- Chouriço de Vinho
- Chouriço de ossos
- Farinheira - another sausage invented by the Jews to deceive the Portuguese Inquisition by showing they ate “pork”. This smoked sausage is mainly wheat flour, pork fat and seasonings (white wine, paprika, salt, and pepper). Note, the original version omitted the pork fat.
- Linguiça contains finely chopped or ground pork and is most used in cozidos, although it may be eaten uncooked.
- Tripa enfarinhada
Mexican chorizo is adapted from the uncooked Spanish chorizo fresco, and ingredients include fatty pork (although beef, venison, even vegan versions exist). The meat is ground rather than chopped and different seasonings are used. In Mexico, chorizo and longaniza are not considered the same thing in Mexico. Toluca, Mexico, known as the capital of chorizo outside of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), specializes in a green chorizo which is made with tomatillo, cilantro, chiles, garlic or a combination of these. However, most Mexican chorizo are a deep reddish color and largely available in two varieties, fresh and dried, though fresh is more common.
Chorizo and longaniza are popular in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, but both countries’ longanizas and chorizos differ in taste and appearance to their Spanish namesakes. Seasoned meat is stuffed into pork intestine and is formed by hand. It is then hung to air-dry. Longaniza is often fried in oil or cooked with rice or beans.
In Latin America a few key differences in the sausages from Europe include the use of artificial casings instead of the traditional intestines, and the use of anchiote or artificial coloring. Chorizo is the most famous of the South American sausage options.
Argentina - Argentinian chorizos are fresh sausages, and not always just pork – often beef is added too. Spices added here, that are not found in the Spanish variety include: nutmeg, fennel and cloves, green onions, cumin, cilantro. Here, longaniza is not just any chorizo, but a very long, cured and dried. It is flavored from ground anise seeds, resulting in a very distinct aroma, and a mildly sweet flavor that contrasts with the strong salty taste of the stuffing. It’s used mainly as an appetizer or in sandwiches, and very rarely cooked.
Brazil - In Brazil there are many varieties of Portuguese-style chouriço and linguiça used in many different types of dishes, such as the Feijoada.
Chile – The chorizo is similar to the Spanish variety. The fresh version of chorizo is called longaniza, and is often eaten during a barbecue with bread as a choripan. The city of Chillán is known for its longanizas.
Colombia – Chorizo refers to any coarse meat sausage. Spanish-style chorizo is also available, and is distinguished by the name “chorizo español” (“Spanish chorizo”).
Ecuador – Sausages may not be the most popular, but at the top of the list are Spanish chorizo and longaniza. The longaniza is a thin sausage containing a mixture of meat, fat or even cartilage, smoked rather than fresh. The chorizo is a mixture of chopped pork meat and fat, salt, whole pepper grains, cinnamon, achiote and other spices give it a deep red colour.
Guatemala - Has a white sausage called a longaniza without any paprika in the seasoning mix.
Uruguay - Its chorizo, thanks to early German setters, is closer to a kielbasa – salty and garlicky, but not spicy.
In Goa, India, chouriço has made a deep impact among the local community owing to over 400 years of Portuguese rule. Here chouriço are deep red sausage links made from pork, vinegar, chili, garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric and other spices and are extremely hot and flavorful. The meat mixture is stuffed into chitterlings (beef intestines). Note that vinegar substitutes for wine in this area, along with the addition of local spices: ginger, cumin and turmeric.
Goa offers three kinds of chouriço: dry, wet, and skin.
- Dry chouriço is aged in the sun the longest (3+ months)
- Wet chouriço has been aged for about a month
- Skin chouriço, also aged, is rare and difficult to find. Skin chouriço consists primarily of pork skin and some fat.
All three chouriço come in hot, medium and mild, and of course different sizes. Typically the wet variation tends to be the longer sausages than the dry variation, which makes sense when you think about water loss and the time it takes to dry a bigger sausage.
In Goa, chouriço is often simply called “sausage” which causes it to be confused with “Goan Frankfurters” another sausage entirely. They share the similar appearance of sausage links, but Goan Frankfurters are more like the Portuguese linguiça, with the coarse meat tasting strongly of peppercorn.
Longaniza (longganisa) are Philippine chorizos flavoured with indigenous spices. Longaniza-making has a long tradition in the Philippines, with each region taking great pride with their sausages distinctive flavors and characteristics, for example: Lucban is known for its garlicky longanizas, while Guagua is famous for its salty, longanizas. Longganisang hamonado, by contrast, is known for its distinctive sweet taste. Unlike Spanish chorizos, Filipino longanizas protein options are plentiful: chicken, beef, and even tuna.
Again, the Filipino longanizas are considered a subcategory of chorizo, a generic name for sausages in the Philippines, and they are fresh sausages, as opposed to chorizo which are the dried variety. Here both the Spanish and Chinese influences come to play and can be found in such dishes as Philippine-style paella, and pancit Canton.
Most longganisas in the Philippines are either hamonado (sweet, matamis) or (garlicky or mabawang, sour and/or salty).
So there you have it, or at least as best as I can figure out – the unnecessarily complicated, but otherwise delightful world of chorizo.