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A Brief Introduction To Chorizo



By Dorine Houston


Chorizo is pork sausage of Hispanic origin. It is pronounced choREEtho in Spain and choREEso in Hispanic America. Different countries have different recipes. The first difference for a chef in the US to keep in mind is that Mexican chorizo tastes nothing like the various chorizos from Spain.


Mexican chorizo is flavored with jalapeño peppers, and is generally raw and uncured; it must be cooked. Spanish (meaning only from Spain) chorizo is flavored with smoked paprika and is usually dry-cured; it does not need to be cooked.


This means that the flavor profiles are very different, so the first thing to consider when choosing a chorizo is whether the recipe is from Spain or Mexico. Using the appropriate national chorizo assures authentic flavor in the final product. Do not use Cantimpalos (from Spain) in a taco or burrito; never put Mexican chorizo in paella or cocido.


Spain has several kinds of chorizo with regiona. However, if a specific chorizo is not specified in a recipe published on Spain, the default choice is usually Cantimpalos, at least in central Spain. Cantimpalos chorizos are from Castilla la Vieja, from the ancient area around Salamanca. Cantimpalos chorizos are somewhat spicy (a bit less so than pepperoni) owing to the use of hot smoked paprika as a major flavoring element. A chorizo sandwich in an ordinary neighborhood bar in Madrid is made with Cantimpalos chorizo, and it is the kind chopped finely with the sautéed onion and garlic base for paella. It is added to the classic stews (pucheros, cocidos) of the Madrid region, including cocido madrileño.


In the US, chorizo de Cantimpalos is getting a little easier to find than in the past, and is easily ordered from tienda.com. There are also sources in Florida and California with which this writer is not as familiar.


Much more readily available in the US is chorizo de Palacios. Sticks of Palacios chorizos are very long and thin, barely a centimeter in diameter while Cantimpalos is usually about three centimeters in diameter. Palacios comes in mild and hot; the hot is quite a bit spicier than Cantimpalos, and the mild much less so. Note that in Spanish, the words for “hot” distinguish between spicy hot (picante) and temperature hot (caliente). The spicy Palacios is clearly marked on the wrapping. Do not choose it for a recipe published in Spain unless specified. The mild choice is the default when Cantimpalos is not used.  (Keep in mind that pepper heat is a characteristic of Mexican food, but not of Spanish food.) 


Not all Spanish sausages are chorizos. A more general word for sausage is salchicha; another is salchichón. The distinguishing characteristic of chorizo is that it must contain paprika; by definition in Spanish food regulations, chorizo must contain pork, paprika and garlic.


Another popular chorizo in Spain is Pamplona, whose distinctive characteristic is that the pork is much more finely ground than for Cantimpalos. Salamanca has another popular chorizo called Salamanca. Other popular chorizos come from Burgos, La Rioja, Potes (de Cantabria), Leon and Asturias.


On the other hand, butifarra is a white sausage, and considered a salchichón, not a chorizo. Morcilla is a black blood sausage or salchicha. Lomo embutido is cured pork loin and is not minced or ground at all.


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