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Spotlight on Sausage: Chorizo

I t seems like every culture makes sausage, and Spain, with its long history of raising pigs and curing hams, offers an interesting array of sausages. Chorizo is a pork sausage, either fresh or smoked, originating in the Iberian Peninsula. Famous throughout Spain, and in Portugal, where it is called chouriço, this spicy sausage owes its existence to the chile pepper of the Americas.

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In the 1500s Spanish explorers returned from the Americas with chile peppers, from which pimentón, perhaps better known as paprika, is made. It was discovered that adding pimentón to sausages helped to preserve them and also improved their flavor. Along with white wine and garlic, pimentón is a basic ingredient for making chorizo, and it is what gives chorizo its distinctive red coloring and flavor. The Spanish returned the favor of the chile pepper by introducing the pig to the New World, and Mexico makes its own version of fresh chorizo as a result of this cultural exchange.

Chorizo can refer to either fresh sausage, in which case it should be cooked before consumption, or a smoked and cured sausage that is fully cooked and ready to be eaten. Also the spices will vary. There is sweet paprika and hot paprika, and both are used to make chorizo either sweet or spicy. Traditionally, the sausage will be encased in natural intestines, though some are made now with artificial casings. Size and ingredients vary from region to region of Spain.

Cooking
The fresh, uncooked type of chorizo must be cooked before eating. If the chorizo has an artificial casing, remove it before cooking. The pork inside the casing will break up much like ground beef. Be mindful of the amount of oil used in the pan, since fresh chorizo has lots of spicy fat that will be released as it cooks. Indeed, many recipes will not call for any oil to be added to the pan. Fresh chorizo cooked this way can be used as a filling for tacos, burritos, or a topping for pizza. But fresh chorizo is especially good with scrambled eggs.

The smoked, cured chorizo is fully cooked, so can be grilled until a little charred, and served in hefty chunks with bread, like hot dogs. In Spain it is commonly sliced thin and served on a tapas plate. Try it sautéed with peppers and onions, in paella, or sliced into a bean stew.

The Portuguese style of chouriço is smoked like its Spanish cousin. Traditionally it is cooked in a specialized clay dish with a clay “rack” on top. Alcohol is poured into the bottom of the dish, the chouriço link, sliced partly through, is placed on the top of the grid. The alcohol is then lit and the resulting fire chars the sausage on the outside. It’s like a mini table grill. Portuguese chouriço is also a vital ingredient in caldo verde (literally green soup), which consists of thinly sliced kale, or sometimes collard greens, in a creamy potato- enriched stock, and chunks of chouriço floating throughout.

Whichever way you slice it, chorizo is a spicy addition to any meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner.