Chorizo – You Strain My Brain

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

image from oxideradi.co.uk

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.

When most people think of chorizo, they think of Spain, and they’d be right, but they mustn’t forget Portugal, Mexico and Latin America – oh and India, well Goa actually (because as you know the Portuguese ruled there for four hundred years and were not about to do without their beloved sausage).  If all that was not complicated enough, there’s another sausage called longaniza or some variation there of, that can be the same thing as chorizo,but sometimes its not.  In fact, longaniza is often a sub-catagory of chorizo, but not used interchangeably with chorizo.  Are you following this?  Good, you are doing much better than me, because my head is spinning.

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

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.

Spanish sampler

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

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.
  • Cacholeria
  • Chouriço de sangue – blood chouriço – similar to English black pudding
  • Chouriço de Vinho
  • Chouriço de ossos
  • Cacholeira
  • 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.
  • Morecela
  • Paia
  • Paiola
  • Paiote
  • Salpicão
  • Tripa enfarinhada

Mexican chorizo

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.

Caribbean

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.

South America

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.

Argentine chorizo sandwich

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.

Goan chouriço

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.

  1. Dry chouriço is aged in the sun the longest (3+ months)
  2. Wet chouriço has been aged for about a month
  3. 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.

Philippines longganisa

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.

Update me when site is updated

35 comments for “Chorizo – You Strain My Brain

  1. May 10, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    This is such an unfair post!!! You got me craving chourico now, especially the one cooked over brandy!!! Really delicious!!! So which one did you pick and what did you make with it! Just to torture me all the more lol Excellent research here!

  2. May 10, 2010 at 1:32 AM

    I love chorizo!! I didn’t know that there were so many variaties & diffrent ones all over the world!!

    Thanks for the updates! I was just searching on the internet for the diffrent types! You helped me a lot, as always!

    Bye from Brussels!

  3. admin
    May 10, 2010 at 5:41 AM

    Ruth – Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to do that to you. I think what I was making was a stuffed pepper and it called for chorizo In this case, the recipe was Mexican, but in my ignorance, I thought that Spanish was the only option. That butcher threw me for a loop.

    Sophie – Glad to help – can’t wait to see what you make with the sausage.

    Lori – I too was amazed, I suspected a few regional differences, but the extent was surprising. I also think there’s probably a lot more varieties than I listed for Latin America, but my research materials petered out pretty quickly.

    5 Star – Glad to help, it is neat to see all the options.

    Lisa – there’s something about chorizo for breakfast that makes it special. If you have not tired Portugese, I think I remembered a special one that was suppose to be good vegetarian.

    Taste of Beirut – My pleasure, when I started looking into the sausages the first thing that amazed me was the number of varieties and the second that there was no single source – I by no means remedied that one but at least have more info in one place than most – makes me feel much better.

  4. May 10, 2010 at 6:21 AM

    Such an eye-opening post for me! First, I’m not sure that I’ve had real Spanish chorizo before although I’ve always longed to try it. In Brazil, I was never impressed with the sausages we could get in the south, much too fatty for me. Plus as you mentioned here, it was fresh, not dried. I knew that the Spanish variety was dried so I knew that what we were getting there couldn’t be completely authentic. However now I see that there are so many different varieties. I’d have to go for the dried myself especially after what we had in Brazil. A friend from there used to rave about the chorizo in Argentina, but I never had the opportunity to try it.

  5. May 10, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    I’m so glad that you did a post on different kinds of chorizo! Excellent info! The other week when I posted about the grilled cheese with etorki and chorizo I was actually thinking of putting an explanation in about the different kinds but my focus was on cheese :) When I have a free moment, I will edit the post to link back to this, thanks!

  6. May 10, 2010 at 2:21 PM

    I can never remember which is which regarding Mexican vs Spanish chorizo, and I never even knew a Goan version existed! And, I’ll just go ahead and admit to really liking vegan chorizo (soyrizo) on breakfast tacos.

  7. May 10, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    I chuckled when I started reading your post! I had the exact same thing happen to me and for a few seconds I was speechless! Then I remembered I was making something Spanish (rice dish) and the usage of my tongue came back!
    Thanks so much for all the info on chorizo it is so valuable! (I would have never done all this homework, so glad you did it instead!)

  8. May 11, 2010 at 1:27 AM

    Need to make this into some handy guide so that the next time I go and get chorizo, and when the butcher asked, I have a pocket guide (from oysterfoodandculture.com) to refer to…:D …very informative but my brain will fail me at the butcher shop… :O

  9. May 11, 2010 at 6:09 AM

    Love, love Colombian chorizo!!!!This post is amazing!!!

  10. May 11, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    …and then there is ‘chistorra’, long and thin, and from the Basque region of Spain. And probably other versions. Having a Spanish grandmother, I grew up eating chorizo but I could not fill 2 sentences of fact.

    I love the fresh sausage from Argentina also referred to as chorizo. I was surprised to see the flavors that differentiate it are more mid-Eastern than mediterranean.

    Very interesting post.

  11. May 11, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    I didn’t know there are so many different kinds of chorizo. Think of Chorizo, I always thought about Mexica. :-) THanks for all the details and information.

  12. May 11, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    Does not matter which kind you are serving me, all I have to say is they are all tasty and bless the person who invented them :)

  13. May 11, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    A class about chorizo and the chart is perfect in the Latin American section.
    Chorizo is always eaten grilled or cooked with sweet wine.
    Longaniza is always eaten directly as an appetizer and it’s cured.
    Speaking about them, I need to have dinner :)

    Cheers,

    Gera

  14. May 11, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    I had no idea…thank god for this post. I thought chorizo was just Spanish! You saved me from potential embarrassment. I tend to get way too confident in what I know, and talk like I know shit….clearly I don’t! I LOOOVE chorizo…but some brands can be too oily!

  15. May 12, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    I don’t know if you saw it, but I just gave you a standing ovation for the chart. You know me. I’m a strong proponent of total nerdity. It’s very useful, LouAnn.

    Also, I don’t know if you saw it, but I just gave you the evil eye for making crave the stuff.

  16. May 12, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    Thanks for this post! I know nothing about chorizo.

  17. May 12, 2010 at 3:13 PM

    Well I had no idea how ignorant I have been on the whole chorizo topic! I knew about Spanish – love it (iberico!!!) with manchego, and mexican, but didn’t realize the Goan kind existed. Shall we plan a trip to sample?

  18. May 13, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    Great info! Who knew there were so many different types of chorizo out there! I’ve known about longaniza, Mexican, and Portugese chorizo but the others are completely new to me! What incredible research you’ve done.

  19. May 13, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    I have to laugh – I had no idea. And I do spy a number of different kielbasas at the grocers!I love the tale of the non-pork sausage – which I prefer these days. But to invent it to avoid detection by the Inquisitors is fascinating. Off to the grocery store to see how many types of chorizo they have!

  20. May 14, 2010 at 6:28 AM

    I admit (now) I am pretty knowledgeable on this subject but it wasn’t always so. Mexican chorizo is very available in Los Angeles and I made some pretty awful chorizo and mussels once. Mexican chorizo can cook up into quite a mucky mess if you know what I mean. Anyway, one disaster and I took it upon myself to learn the differences and ended up on the same path you followed. This is good info. I copied your chart for my records. GREG

  21. May 14, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    This couldn’t have come at a better time! I made chorizo for my Dad last night and we were trying to figure out what kind it was. I thought it was Mexican but now reading this it may have been Spanish or Portugese – it was very smoky in flavor. And really good. It was my Dad’s first time eating it and he loved it.

  22. May 16, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    thanks for this post I am a chorizo fan I learnt many thanks
    Pierre in Paris

  23. admin
    May 16, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Lori – I knew mostly about Spanish and Mexican but did not really put all the puzzle pieces together until I did this post. So much to learn.

    5 Star – Glad to help!

    Lisa – The possibilities are great, but I want to do a taste comparison to understand the differences.

    Taste of Beirut – So glad I am not alone.

    Tigerfish – Anything to help! =)

    Erica – So glad you liked it! After your amazing posts, specifically that yummy peanut sauce, I felt like I owed you =)

    Joa – I could have dedicated an entire post on the fantastic sausages of Spain but I managed to restrain myself, so much to learn.

    Angie – Like you I had no idea how truly global it is.

    Chef E – I’m with you, bless the person who invented them.

    Gera – You’re making me very hungry!

    Sophia – So glad you’ve been spared =) I agree that the quality is a bit all over the board, and it would be nice to know the good brands to select from – sounds like a good follow on post.

    Leela – Woohoo to the standing ovation – I do tend to let my inner geek unlease sometimes. Sorry about the cravings, I was chomping on gum to resist the urge to run and get snacks while writing this post.

    Sook – My pleasure.

    Gastro – My thoughts exactly! A global trip with a follow on book on this single topic seem to be in order.

    Lisa – Glad to help!

    Claudia – So you’re telling me that going with kielbasa might not have saved me? =)

    Sippity – Its nice to be able to understand the nuances and use the chorizo more appropriately – I had been thinking it was rather generic, but no more.

    Reeni – So cool, love it when the timing works out like that.

    Pierre – My pleasure.

  24. May 16, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    The Indian version is totally new to me. Leave it to you to always expand my food brain encyclopedia. ;)

  25. May 17, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    Wow I didn’t know there are that many sausages! Chorizo is a kind of sausage, right? In Turkey, we have ‘sucuk’ which is made of dried minced meat(beef), fat, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, and sumac. These are filled into dried cattle intestines and wait to dry for some days. It’s generally fried at breakfast with eggs or used in white bean dishes. More about sucuk (sujuk) can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sujuk.

  26. May 17, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    Oh my head is spinning. I had no idea there were so many variations on the chorizo theme!

  27. May 18, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Superb as always. I’ve only ever tried the Spanish version – I think I’ll have to go for Mex next.

  28. admin
    May 18, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    Carolyn – Ha =) I’m always learning from you, nice to mix things up

    Zerrin – Chorizo is indeed a type of sausage, primarily pork, but they do make it with other proteins. Your version sounds delicious and you know I love sumac! I’ll have to see if I can find any around here.

    Spud – You and me both!

    Kitchen Butterfly – ah, thanks! Mexican will be quite a change from the Spanish.

  29. May 19, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    This calls for a tasting party! Perhaps the different meats with Spanish and Latin cheeses to see what’s the best. :)

  30. May 20, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    ah, one of my favorite sausages ever. I still have daytime dreams about chorizitos cooked in red wine tapas in Barcelona…yums.

  31. May 20, 2010 at 8:16 PM

    what an amzing post, I love how you gave information for each region’s chorizo…yum I prefer mexican chorizo, but locally made in south texas..is that wierd??..hey I’m a mexican/texan great info

    sweetlife

  32. May 24, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    I love it so much, that we often drive over to Spain to buy chorizo. The local market we go to has several different kinds and I am doing my duty by trying all of them! I found the Portuguese ones less spicy,just like you said.

  33. admin
    May 24, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    Duo – I agree a tasting party is definitely in order.

    Brenda – ah, I’m with you.
    Sweetlife – Not weird at all, there is some fantatic chorizo from around there. Glad you liked the info.

    Crystal – Wow, to have all those options so close at hand – Crystal, someday I hope to have it all so available. What a treat.

  34. May 25, 2010 at 2:34 AM

    Love this post! My knowledge of chorizo has grown so much deeper after this read. I have never seen Iberian chorizo, what a luxury and you bet I’m going to have to look out for those links. Galicean chorizos paring well with wakame? Interesting, and since wakame is a staple in my house, I’m going to try this suggestion.
    I see why this strains your brain, everyone is using the same word for different styles. You mapping of distinct styles via origin certainly help to navigate through this topic. Thanks!

  35. June 9, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    I love chorizo, especially spicy Spanish chorizo. I’ve never heard of Indian chorizo, I’ll definitely be looking for it at the Indian market and ask my hubby’s aunts about this product. Can’t wait to try!

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