“In every respectable household in Spain, they make as many chorizos as there are days in the year: 350 for their own consumption and 50 more for days when they have guests.” 

Alexandre Dumas

Arguably Spain’s most widely-known and easily-found meat product, chorizo is a dish synonymous with the words red and sausage. But that doesn’t quite cut it for me. First of all which chorizo? Which region? Which country? Smoked, cured, fresh, fermented?? Chorizo is a style of pork sausage, not a protected denominación de origen like Manchego cheese, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena or Melton Mowbray pork pies, so when we talk of loving Spanish chorizo we need to delve a little deeper.

The origins:

Chorizo as we know and love it these days – that bright red sexy beast that pops out at you, the buyer, from the aisles, throwing exotic shade over the salmon-pink hams and pale raw sausages – is really an invention from the 16th century. There were sausages in Spain before that of course, but the red comes from paprika, pimentón, which was imported into the country along with potatoes, tobacco, peppers and chocolate.

Regionally speaking it is believed to have first popped up in its fiery red state in the sun-blasted savannah-esque region of Extremadura, which, appropriately, is the homeland of most of the famed conquistadors. A medieval foodie called Néstor Luján mentions a menu in 1576 that contained the word ‘churico’, which may way be alluding to the chorizo. Quevedo then talks of chorizos negros in 1624, and the 16th century ‘Manual for women that contains many diverse and very good recipes’, catchy title, contains a recipe to make chorizos: ‘chopped pork and fat, sifted flour, chopped garlic, ground clove, white wine and salt.’

In conclusion chorizo seems to be a colonial-tinged revved up sausage that became something worth writing about in the 16th century and hasn’t stopped since.

The dish:

So then what is the chorizo of today? Well it depends which one and where you are.

The traditional Spanish chorizo has the following process and ingredients.

Ingredients: minced pork meat, pork fat or pancetta, garlic, sweet paprika, salt.

Process: Keeping all the ingredients nice and cold prior, you simply mix everything well and quickly – so it remains cool – until it’s one big orange-coloured mass. Then put everything into the fridge for at least 12 hours. The following day you are ready to fill the skins and make them into sausages. Finally they are placed into a dry, cool place for at least a month – my friends’ families in Extremadura usually leave them for 4 months – so that they cure. That’s it.

So that’s the classic version which can be nicely cured like a salami and either sliced and eaten cold…like a salami, or chopped up and fried and added to dishes for a flavour bomb. Then there are the less cured and fresh versions which are great for eating like the British bangers, fried on the grill or plopped into slow-cooked stews whereupon their flavours and oils leak out.

Then we have Mexican chorizo, more common in the USA, which contains chillies that add a punch of real spiciness. In Argentina and Uruguay the ‘chorizo criollo’, which is a fresh sausage, is more prevalent; and throughout the rest of South America in one way or another chorizo makes an appearance, whether smoked (in Venezuela), called chuquisaqueño (in Bolivia) or lingüiça (in Brazil). Closer to home, Portugal has its own very similar version, chouriço. 

In Spain you’ll find many regional varieties – mostly of size and length – and other types such as chorizo patatera (includes bits of potato), chorizo de Pamplona (also contains beef), or chorizo de León (smoked).

The beauty of chorizo, especially the cured and sliced variety, is that it often comes free with your drink in many places in Spain. So, even if you don’t order it off the menu you may well get some anyway!

Where I eat:

Madrid – Casa Toni (Calle de la Cruz, 14) for grilled plates, Montanera Selecta/Ruta del Jamón (Calle Lope de Vega, 1) for sliced.

Pontevedra – El Pitillo (Rua Alta, 3) for ‘al infierno’, covered in liquor and flamed cooked at your table.

Any good Spanish festival will have grilled chorizo.

What I drink with it:

Fruit forward, slightly aged reds will do wonders when pairing with the spiced fat of the sausage. A nice Spanish Syrah (or spicy red grape blend) for example Venta d’Aubert Ventus from VT Bajo Aragón.

What I listen to:

Electric Love – Børns

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