Chorizo, and a butcher’s instructions.

From M., 10 December 2009, Ways with chorizo?

Q: I have some good looking chorizo sausage but my butcher advised me to cook them slowly (due to their density). Since my electric cooktop has no such setting, do you have any ideas on how to cook this form of sausage?

A: Hey M., thanks for your question. You actually raised two issues – what are the different types of chorizo, and how can one cook sausages fully without a “slow” setting?

First, the chorizo identification issue. There exist two kinds of chorizo – the Iberian type (Spanish and Portuguese regions feature an array of these), and the Latin American type. They are completely different. Iberian chorizo is a fermented cured pork sausage with large bits of pork fat, flavored with paprika or, in the case of Spanish chorizos, pimenton. If the chorizo is very hard and dry you are to slice it for tapas; if it is softer, you may cut it into chunks and cook those, or cook the sausage whole.

Latin American chorizo, not frequently found in Europe, tends to be a fresh ground beef or pork sausage, flavored with paprika and dried chiles. Although it often is packed in casings or plastic, the normal practice is to remove the sausage from the casing and fry it as one would loose sausage or ground beef (mince), but you also may cook it in the casings.

As you are writing from Australia I am not certain which type of chorizo you are using. If your chorizo looks more like a pepperoni or a small cured salami, then it is the Iberian type; if it resembles an fresh uncooked sausage, like a banger, then it is more the Latin American type (see pictures). Because you said the sausage is dense, I assume it’s the Iberian type.

Onto the cooking issue. When your butcher advised you to cook chorizo “slowly” due to their density, he simply meant that you should cook the whole sausages over low heat, not high. So turn the heat down. Incidentally, this should be your standard practice when cooking any sausage in a casing. If you cook fresh sausages over a gentle heat, you won’t burst the casings and lose all the juice. Cured sausages are not juicy by definition/necessity, but you still want them to be cooked through before they burn on the outside, and low and slow is the way to go.

Now, are you saying your electric cooktop only has one fixed high heat setting? If so, then think of your cooktop like a small grill, and cook the way you would over a small grill – meaning that you cook small, uniform pieces of food, or turn items frequently to avoid burning. And learn which parts of the pan are coolest and which are hottest – believe it or not, most pans have hotter and cooler spots – and move the food from place to place depending on your needs.

Generally, you are not meant to serve Iberian chorizo whole as it is pretty intense. For a tapa, cut it into 2 cm chunks. Place a skillet over heat – if adjustable, use a medium high setting – and, when hot, add a little olive oil, just enough to film the pan. Place the chunks in the pan and turn from time to time until the skin browns and the chunks are hot through to the center.

If you want to cook them whole, turn the heat down if you have adjustable heat. If you only have one heat setting, again – think of your cooktop like a small grill – you will need to turn the sausages frequently to ensure that they do not burn due to the heat. La Brindisa market in London seems to grill chorizo whole before slicing and serving on soft rolls with rocket and it’s one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat.


image sources: http://www.foodsubs.com/Photos/mexicanchorizo.jpg
image source: http://www.ustimes5.com/truly_10.jpg
image source: http://www.tienda.com/food/products/cz-10.html
image source: http://www.sausagelinks.co.uk/images/Brindisa-sandwich.jpg

One thought on “Chorizo, and a butcher’s instructions.

  1. Pingback: Knowing your chorizo, understanding the butcher’s instructions, and more. « The Upstart Kitchen

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