Chorizo is a type of sausage with origins in the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal). It is common in its many versions across most of Latin America.
Iberian chorizo and Mexican chorizo share a name, and both are sausages, but that’s where the big similarities end. There are many differences between the two.
Pronunciation of the Word Chorizo
The pronunciation of word in Mexican Spanish is choh-REE-soh, with the z pronounced like an s. (Note: The Portuguese term for this sausage, pronounced in a similar way, is chouriço.)
In Castillian Spanish, chorizo is pronounced more like choh-REE-thoh, with the z having a sound like the th in think.
Composition of Chorizo
Chorizo is usually made from pork or beef, though chicken versions exist, as do more exotic renditions made from meats such as iguana or ostrich. As happens with many other charcuterie or “lunch meat” products, chorizo often includes parts of the animal that, because of their appearance or texture, would not otherwise be used.
Both the Mexican and Iberian versions of this sausage are made in a myriad of regional and cultural varieties, as well as in a range of quality levels, in their respective countries. What follows is merely a basic description that applies to the majority of these meat products.
Mexican chorizo is almost always made with ground fresh, raw pork. Additional pork fat is often added to the meat, and the mix also contains herbs and/or spices, chile peppers (for both flavor and color), and vinegar. The finish product is usually stuffed into short links in edible or inedible casings and “aged” by air drying for from anywhere to one day to a week. Try this easy recipe for Mexican chorizo or this other recipe for Mexican chorizo.
Iberian chorizo is commonly made more often pork, though beef is not unusual as well. It ingredients usually include smoked paprika, herbs, garlic, and white wine. The mix is stuffed into natural or artificial casings from short to quite long length, fermented, and slowly smoked; the smoking helps preserve the meat and contributes greatly to the product’s flavor. The final product is then air cured for several, if not many, weeks. Recipe for Spanish chorizo
Mexican chorizo must be cooked before eating. Its soft texture generally precludes its being sliced or eaten with the casing on, so this sausage is taken out of its casing—if it was even packaged into one—and fried before consuming or using in another recipe.
One usually fries Mexican chorizo in a skillet, separating the chunks with a fork or other utensil so that all the meat is evenly cooked and its ground character is apparent. Any excess grease is poured off before the meat is eaten. This grasa de chorizo is often used for other purposes, in a way similar to how bacon grease is prized for seasoning other dishes.
Even cooked chorizo is rarely eaten as-is; its strong, spicy flavor makes it a great element for combining (in relatively small quantities) with other ingredients. Chorizo with scrambled eggs is a common example, as is refried beans flavored with the sausage. See a list of more frequent uses of Mexican chorizo.
Spanish and Portuguese chorizo, having been cured or smoked, does not need to be cooked before consumption. Many varieties have a texture that is perfect for slicing and eating as a snack or appetizer (as in “tapas”). Softer, fattier kinds of Iberian sausage is perfect for adding flavor and texture to soups, stews, and other cooked concoctions.
The History of Chorizo
Neither type of modern day chorizo could have existed without the encounter between Europe and the New World that happened in the decades after 1492.
Pork has been a fundamental foodstuff in the Iberian Peninsula for many centuries, and curing meat in order to preserve it was developed out of necessity—but the modern version of chorizo sausages was not possible until the “discovery” of the Americas. One of Spanish chorizo’s most common ingredients, paprika or pimentón is actually a variety of dried and powdered chile pepper, and these peppers originated in the New World. This pepper, then, crucial to both the flavor and color of chorizo today, was brought back to Spain by early conquistadors and traders.
Chorizo, a pork product, did not exist in what is now Mexico before the Conquest. Legend has it that the conquistador Hernan Cortes was the one who started the first pig farming operation (in Central Mexico’s Toluca Valley, a chorizo-making center to this day). What is definitely true is that domestic pigs (as well as cattle, sheep, and goats) were brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. The availability of many different types of peppers for seasoning and the use of vinegar instead white wine (which was generally unavailable), shaped the development of today’s Mexican chorizo.
Today, the Mexican variety is made all over the country, though the area around Toluca (capital city of Mexico State) is the region most renowned for sausage making and, in recent decades, the development of chorizo verde, a green-colored sausage that owe their color to the inclusion of cilantro, tomatillos, and/or green chiles.