© 2021 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Searching For The Origin Of The Chorizo

Wikimedia Commons

Most everyone knows, but I will say it for the un-baptized…chorizo is a kind of sausage. The first time I remember seeing chorizo was back in my hometown of Diamond Lake, Illinois in 1965 or so. It was around that time that many Mexican families began to immigrate to the area. They worked very hard founding a close knit neighborhood, which eventually became part of the broader patchwork quilt that epitomizes so much of North America now.

The chorizo I saw then was in a little groceria called "El Barrio". We entered the store and I must admit my 

unsophisticated midwestern nose was more than a little daunted by the foreign smells. A score of dried chilies hung in festively colored bags. To my untrained eye, they looked like licorice, tree bark and misshapen inedible ornaments. Cheeses I’d never heard of lay marked and gleaming white in a cooler. The fragrance of cumin seemed to conquer all else! My mother bought a burstingly plump package of chorizo. She explained how wonderful it would be when her Mexican friend ‘Linda’ from the restaurant where they both worked cooked us scrambled eggs in tortillas with it. Mama was from New York City and nothing seemed foreign or odd to her when it came to the foods of the world. 

Finding the origin of a particular kind of sausage is daunting detective work! Mostly because humans have been preserving meat for sustenance for so long! In the aftermath of the European Black Plague sausages began to pick up in popularity. People realized that fresh meat could stay fresh only so long. They were loathe to throw it out, of course: Starvation was real and all too common during that time. By using techniques such as curing, salting, smoking and drying…. meat could be made to last much longer.

Catalonia is the probable birth home of chorizo though without the contributions of peppers from Central and South America they would not have the distinctive peppers of modern chorizo. So we have that going for us...

When the Spanish invaded Mexico they brought pigs and eventually chorizo became emblematic of Mexican foods as well, which led to my experience with Linda's eggs or as she intoned for me, “huevos con chorizo”. I decided I  liked Linda as much as the huevos.

The Spanish version of Chorizo is different from Mexico's primarily due to Spain’s much longer aging process. Spanish Chorizo is more like salami; harder and smokier, while the Mexican sausage that is generally enjoyed is akin to a fresh Italian sausage; juicier and spicierI incorporate a Mexican adobo paste in my recipe for chorizo. I work it into dishes like my "Caldo Gallego Soup" and "No Roux Black Bean Gumbo".

A few years ago we flew to Boston to cook a charity dinner. Five other chefs from all over the country joined me on a six-course dinner. Guests paid $600.00 per plate, so this was an upscale event, to say the least. One of the chefs was the late-great Frenchman, Jean-Louis Palladin. 

Jean-Louis cooked a course of cod with white beans; a white bean consommé, and he topped the fish with a dried crust of cooked chorizo. You may be surprised that such a famous French master would cook with this lusty sausage of Spanish and Mexican heritage. 

I think Linda would have loved it.

Norman Van Aken has been described as legendary, visionary and a trailblazer. He is known as “the founding father of New World Cuisine,” a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors. He is also known internationally for introducing the concept of “Fusion” to the culinary world.