Ingredient Introduction #5 – Chorizo

Have you ever looked at the meat section of a grocery store? I mean, REALLY looked at it?

It’s more than chicken legs and ground beef. Well, I guess that depends on the grocery store.

But, if you haven’t walked up to, and really investigated, the selection in the cases at places like Whole Foods and The Fresh Market, you’re missing out.

Consider it a wonderland that should have a full-time tribe of Oompa-Loompas. It’s a meaty magnet that pulls you in and forces you to think, and realize that there really are options out there: multiple cuts of steak and chicken, roasts and chops, and a sausage spread that could rival Jimmy Dean’s freezer.

The end of that list was the first to get me thinking.

Believe me, I’ve made my fair share of “sausages and peppers” – I’m part Italian. And as a “Yankee,” I’ve even mastered (in my opinon), that Southern staple – biscuits and (sausage) gravy.

At The Fresh Market, I found andouille (French), bangers (British), and chorizo (Spanish/Mexican). See, you’ve been globe-trotting and you didn’t even leave the sausage section of a grocery store!

I’ve always wanted to work with chorizo – so I went for it.

Chorizo comes in two common varieties: Spanish, which is cured like salami or pepperoni, and Mexican, which is raw and must be cooked first.

Since you can technically eat the Spanish variety as-is, I wanted to go for the Mexican version… so I could cook with it.

The links are just like Italian sausage or bratwurst. They’re smooshy, and stay together thanks to a thin casing.

Chorizo gets its signature smoky/spicy flavor and red hot hue from Ancho chile powder (ground, dried poblanos), but paprika is sometimes substituted. The meat is usually ground pork.

The best (and most common) way to use this is to remove the chorizo from its casing. I’ve heard that the casing is edible, but sometimes it’s actually plastic, so I say get rid of it.

That’s an easy thing to do. Make a slit with a sharp knife and squeeze it out into a hot pan.

Keep in mind, there will be a big release of orangey-red grease. I like to look at it as chile oil. It’s packed with spices (and color) and keeps you from adding oil later.

For my first dish, I played on one of my favorites: shrimp and grits. My partner in cuisine crime can rock your world with his creamy, cheesy, comforting take on it.

As you know, I never do anything the traditional way… here’s more proof.

I morphed shrimp and grits and sausage gravy into one creation. Before reaching its final destination, the dish had a layover in Italy, where it picked up some polenta.

Here’s what you need:
3 links of Mexican chorizo
Shrimp (I used 20 for the 2 of us)
I box of polenta
3 cherry peppers (seeded and diced), and juice
1/8 tsp. paprika, plus a pinch
1 pinch of garlic powder
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. flour
1 cup of grated cheese (I used cheddar & pepper jack)
1 1/2 cups of milk

In a big, non-stick pan over medium-high heat, release the chorizo from its casing and start crushing it up with a wooden spoon. It’ll cook quickly, so keep crushing. You want little bits of sausage.

While it’s cooking, toss your peeled shrimp with a good sprinkle of paprika, garlic powder and salt.

Once the chorizo is brown, use a slotted spoon to carry it to a paper-towel lined plate.

Let it drain.

And boy, will it drain. It’ll look like a puddle of acid rain.

Put the shrimp into the oil that came from the chorizo. Cook for about 1 minute or 2 on each side. The shrimp will get a nice crust on them. Remove to a paper towel.

Add the onion to the pan, and stir to pick-up the remaining oil.

Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add a pinch of salt. Add the garlic, stir, and let cook till you smell it… about a minute.

Add 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, and as it melts, top it with 1 tbsp. of flour. Let that cook for about 2 minutes to get rid of the flour flavor. Then add 1 cup of milk. Raise the heat just a bit and whisk it. Add 1 tsp. paprika, and a big pinch of salt. When it thickens, add the sausage, and stir. Leave it on low.

Make the polenta according to the instructions on the package (boil water, add polenta, whisk until thick and creamy). Add the cheese, 1 tbsp. of butter, diced cherry peppers and a splash of the liquid from the jar. Give it a big pinch of salt.

Just before you’re ready to serve, add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk to the gravy and stir.

Top the polenta with the chorizo gravy and shrimp. Yum!

This screamed “sophisticated, yet homey.” The creamy polenta has the heat from the peppers and the briney bite from their juice. Look at the color – vibrant yellow, with hints of ruby red.

The chorizo gravy is mild in spice, but high on flavor. I love the texture pairing of the smooth shrimp and the ground sausage.

If you want more gravy, add another 1/2 cup of milk while you’re cooking. I didn’t want the polenta to look like a buoy in a sea of sauce.

Here’s a note. Start loving spicy cherry peppers.

They’re amazing. Chef Anne Burrell introduced me to them on her show. She makes Chicken Scarpiello with them, and it’s like a kiss and a kick-in-the-butt at the same time.

They’re spicy, soft, and just delicious. The brine tickles and tingles your tongue with heat and the tart taste of vinegar. Keep them on hand. To cut some of the edge, remove the seeds.

Okay, back to the chorizo.

For my second dish, I went the breakfast route. C’mon, who doesn’t love sausage and eggs? Throw in some potatoes and you’ve got a perfect plate.

This time, I cut the ends off the chorizo casing and squeezed out the sauage like a rope. I browned it, then broke it up.

I wanted to have larger pieces this time, to really stand out.

Once again, I removed the sausage with a slotted spoon and let it drain.

In that same pan, I added a diced red onion, and a pinch of salt. Swirl it around, then add 1 tbsp. of unsalted butter, then add the potatoes. I thinly-sliced 3 big red potatoes. I didn’t pre-cook them.

That’s why they’re so thin – they cook faster. I loved using red potatoes here, because they kept their shape.

As they cook, sprinkle on some black pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Then flip. Keep doing this, while adding small bits of butter.

While they do their thing, prepare your eggs. I did 3 eggs, (my partner in cuisine crime isn’t a big fan) and a bit of milk. Hold the salt till they’re cooking. Salting the eggs early on can fool around with their texture.

The potatoes soak up oil the chorizo left behind. Once they’re done, sprinkle on some paprika, toss and pour on the plate.

Then, lower the heat, and add your eggs. They’ll take in any leftover chorizo oil. As soon as they start to thicken, remove them from the heat.

Stir, and add the sausage. Stir. Put it back over the heat, stir. You’re done. Too much heat will ruin your eggs, always remember that.

The creamy eggs hold onto to the big bites of chorizo. The potatoes have the same smoky/spicy kick that you get from the sausage. Perfect harmony. This is what marriage should look like.

Here’s why I’m a big fan of chorizo: I love the color. The flavor is mild. It’s versatile.

I wouldn’t suggest breakfast with Italian sausage (Okay, maybe), and I wouldn’t advise you to use breakfast sausage at dinner. But, chorizo worked both ways and didn’t require any major changes to make it happen.

Truthfully, I was expecting the chorizo to be spicier. I anticipated a kick, like the kind I get from cherry peppers. What’s nice about the subtle spice, is the fact that everyone can eat it. People who don’t like too much heat will enjoy this. I promise.

Oh, and chorizo freezes beautifully. In fact, I still have one in the freezer – woo hoo!

Tip: Start loving polenta (a dish made from coarse or medium ground corn meal).

It’s easy to make, it’s really not bad for you (in moderation), and you can use it many ways. It’s a great base in it’s soft (see above) and solid forms. Right now, the leftovers are sitting in my fridge in a plastic container. I’ll take it out like a brick, cut it into small squares, and fry in a bit of oil. Top it with a hunk of chorizo and a bit of aioli (fancy, flavorful mayo), and boom – an instant appetizer.



6 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike Jannise says:

    OK…I am definitely trying the chorizo, eggs, potato breakfast dish…and thanks for making me hungry now!

    1. Let me know when you do it! I must be doing something right if it made you hungry…

  2. Kim Deal says:

    Dang, I’m hungry now!

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