Unlike the Spanish style of chorizo, which is cured and sliced like a traditional sausage, Mexican chorizo is a raw ground pork sausage, often uncased, that must be cooked before you eat it. Bright red, fatty, spiked with vinegar and hot chile peppers, and intensely flavorful, I’ve come to think of it as Mexican bacon. It improves almost everything it touches, providing a greasy, spicy, porky hit to almost anything you can think of.
I have taken to adding crispy-fried Mexican chorizo to almost every Mexican dish I make, from refried beans to tacos to chili to meatloaf. In Mexico, one of my favorite things to have for breakfast is chorizo con papas, finely diced potatoes, sauteed until soft, with finely-ground chorizo mixed in and fried until crispy. If you’re feeling like that’s not breakfast-y enough, you can also scramble in an egg. Folded into tacos, there’s nothing quite like spicy, crunchy ground pork to start your day, as well as take the edge off the tequila stomach you may have incurred the night before.
In Maine, however, authentic Mexican chorizo can be somewhat difficult to come by. The major supermarkets don’t carry it. Whole Foods only has the Spanish stuff. La Bodega Latina, the Dominican grocery store on Congress Street, carries an uncooked chorizo, but it has a bit of a peculiar texture, and isn’t my favorite. Until now, my source for Mexican chorizo has been the Wal-Mart in Scarborough, of all places. (Actually, Wal-Mart is a bit of a hub for a lot of Mexican products that you either won’t find elsewhere, or that are too expensive in regular supermarkets, like corn husks for tamales, and bulk dried chiles. I do not fully understand the reasons for this.) I have been making occasional trips there to stock up on cheap Mexican chorizo, sold for a dollar per pound in long, plastic sleeves. It’s not bad, but it’s not wonderful, either: It’s mushy and ground a little too finely, and hard to get crisp, unless you are willing to fry it forever. It’s certainly not something you should use in recipes featuring chorizo as a primary ingredient.
So, rather than keep searching, I’ve taken it upon myself to make my own Mexican chorizo, from scratch. Like learning to make corn tortillas, once you have your own fresh chorizo recipe in your arsenal, you’ll always have some on hand, the next time a recipe calls for some. Our recipe uses a boneless pork shoulder, with a little pure pork fat ground back in.
A moment for a round of applause for the butcher counter at Whole Foods: In addition to a gorgeous selection of meat, featuring anything you could possibly want, including a perfectly reasonable selection of smoked meats, the meat counter there is also staffed by some of the friendliest meat cutters I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to. I’ve never presented them with a request they couldn’t accommodate, even when those requests are a little off-the-wall and, well, gross. They’ve hooked me up with whole bags of chicken skins, pounds of sliced pork fat, and anything else I could imagine, often for next to no money. So, scoot yourself right past the $4 organic portobello mushrooms, the $14 pasta salad, the $8 chocolate, the barbecue-flavored soy crispettes, and the lukewarm barbecue bar, and use Whole Foods exclusively for what it does best: Meat.
Make sure your meat, grinding blades, grinder, and all bowls are as cold as possible. Pork fat can gum up your grinder, but not if you work with chilled meat. After grinding, let the chorizo rest overnight in the refrigerator before using or freezing; the flavors will intensify, and the ground chiles will mellow and work through the meat. This recipe will provide you with a little more than two pounds of ground chorizo, which you can pan fry until crispy and sprinkle liberally on everything you eat from here on out.
Fresh Mexican Chorizo
Makes about two and a half pounds. Adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless.
- 1 1/2 pound lean boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 8 ounces pork fat
- 12 medium dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves ground
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon each dry thyme and marjoram
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- In a food processor, grind chiles and all spices. Add vinegar and about a cup of water (or more) to make a paste. Strain mixture into a large bowl.
- Cut pork and fat into one inch cubes, and toss with spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer on a plate, and freeze for 15 minutes or until meat is firm, but not frozen. Freeze all bowls, utensils, grinding blades, and anything else that will touch meat, as well.
- Grind the seasoned meat and pork fat coarsely. If you have a bowl with some leftover spice mixture, add the ground meat back to this bowl, and mix with your hands, to get as much of the spice mixture incorporated into the meat as possible. Cover, and refrigerate overnight before serving.