About 10 months ago, I moved to a taco-free neighborhood. Not only does this mean no already-made tacos, it means no tortillas, no chorizo, nothing. I’ve been feeling pretty deprived, so I decided to take matters into my own hands — today, chorizo; tomorrow, the world. There are two kinds of chorizo: the Spanish-style stuff, which is dried and smoked and can be eaten as is, and the Mexican kind, which is fresh and needs cooking. I decided to tackle the Mexican variety.
I started with pork shoulder, as it’s a flavorful cut of meat that benefits from the grinding process (which softens its too-chewy texture), and added fatback to make it even juicier. (If you can’t find fatback, belly works too, or even bacon, though it’ll add a smoky note.) For seasoning, I decided to go pretty classic with achiote paste, cumin, chiles, Mexican oregano and garlic, along with salt and sugar for balance.
One of the keys to making delicious, juicy sausage (of any kind) is to make sure everything remains super cold throughout. If the meat warms up too much, its fat will melt, leaving you with crumbly, dry meat. Freezing the meat before you grind it also makes the grinder’s job easier, so you’ll end up with evenly ground meat. So toss the meat in the spices and pop it in the freezer. (Use this time to think about how good the eventual tacos will be.)
Mix your achiote paste with some vinegar and set that in the freezer, too. (Achiote paste, a seasoning blend native to the Yucatan, gives chorizo its characteristic red color and warm heat.) Set up your grinder with its fine plate (see instructions here), and nestle a bowl in some ice water to catch the meat as it comes out. Working quickly, grind the meat, then freeze it for another 20 minutes. Next, add the achiote and vinegar to the bowl. Now — and this seems counterintuitive, because if you’ve ever made meatballs or meatloaf, you know you’re not supposed to overwork the meat — knead the meat thoroughly, for a couple minutes by hand or 1 minute by stand mixer. Kneading is what separates sausage from seasoned ground meat, so it’s not a step to skip.
At this point you have a couple of options. You can encase the meat (instructions can be found here), but since it’s chorizo (and is almost always served loose), I decided not to bother.
I fried it in a pan, bundled it in some toasty corn tortillas with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of cabbage, and ate it quite happily. I suspect you’ll do the same.
Super Food Nerds is a column written in alternating installments by Rupa (food and beverage editor, culinary staff) and Jonathan (research librarian, same place). Each post will be dedicated to a particular topic — how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus the best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.