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