If you’ve ever experimented with chorizo, the pork sausage cured with paprika and garlic, you know how persuasive its full aroma and deep clinging heat can be. You might have sliced it up and stirred it into paella, chopped it into little cubes that were swept up into an omelet or infused it in stew to give it a smoky edge. Its robust flavor and warm, tingly spice were distinctive, giving everything it touched the feel of Spanish cooking.
Sausages are often used as a background flavor. They give body to meat sauces, form the base for stuffings and, rich as they are, can be rendered for sautéing. But chorizo departs from most others in one aspect: its flavor is so powerful that it does not influence a dish subtly. It burns its imprint into its very foundation. It will streak scrambled eggs with its orange oils and make them so full and rich that you would not think of adding a single other ingredient. It can make a thin broth feel hearty, and can wrap sautéed potatoes with layers of roasted spices and garlic.
In many ways chorizo is a distillation of the core ingredients - peppers, garlic and pork - in Spanish cuisine, and in essence a distillation of its terroir. This came clear to me last spring as a friend and I approached Jabugo, a small village buried in a blanket of clouds about two hours northwest of Seville. Winding our way to the town, we took in lush hills speckled with pigs, freely roaming, their snouts foraging in thick grasses beneath gnarled holm oaks and cork oaks.
It is helpful to think of chorizo in terms of bacon or garlic: a pungent flavor that you can add at the beginning of cooking to scent the dish. Spanish cooks sometimes treat chorizo more like a bouquet garni, or a bouillon cube. Every region seems to have a simmered bean dish, and invariably chorizo is added to the beans as they simmer. The beans soak up the chorizo’s racy tang and garlic, and together they become smoky, faintly spicy and mellow. If you add other meats and a few vegetables, you have something not too far from cassoulet.
These all seem like natural pairings, but chorizo is perhaps best with something you might never think of, fish and shellfish. You can add it to the pan with cockles or clams as you steam them open. You can slip slices of it into grouper like cloves of garlic in a leg of lamb, as Daniel Orr, the chef at Guastavino, does before sautéeing it. Or you can simply render its fat and sprinkle the pungent orange juices over roasted cod. The chorizo adds background flavor and a kind of intangible body and definition to these dishes. It is too bad the Spanish do not have a word for umami….
Fried Eggs and Chorizo