As a cook, a chef, a food writer and now a chef instructor, I have never felt guarded about sharing what I know. There are few secrets in cooking, gastronomy being a mixture of science, culture and personal preference. My personal philosophy has always been that I am only as good as what I can teach, my satisfaction found in those moments when an expression of delight comes over someone’s face as they watch tortillas poof beautifully over a skillet or when pillowy tamales line up next to each other, perfectly even in size.
Seeing students achieve a skill previously thought of as outside of their reach is far better than most things I can put on a plate. And yet, there has been one recipe I’ve refused to share, even with my own father, for more than a decade.
Made in-house, yes, but made correctly? No.
In what now seems like an idiotic attachment to a set of instructions written on a scrap of paper, I refused to give my father, or anyone else, my Sonoran chorizo recipe. Instead, I would make batches of the sauce, process it into jelly jars and ship it to Michigan, where he lives, rather than share my secret list of ingredients.
Holding fast to the coveted recipe for all that time was symptomatic of the years I spent in restaurant kitchens where chorizo was quickly thrown together and tasted metallic from stale chile powders, overly pungent with cumin and sharp red wine vinegar and billed as “chef’s housemade Mexican chorizo.”
Never is the true flavor of a chile found in a powder. It requires making a paste of lovingly cleaned dry chiles, brought back to softness by simmering, never boiling, to remove any metallic harshness in their flavor.
Mexican chorizo is made by mixing pork and that thick chile paste by hand along with floral Mexican oregano, just enough vinegar to enhance the flavors, and then resting everything to allow the flavors to fully bloom.
More Sonoran specialties:How to make traditional Sonoran tamales
What is Chorizo?
Mexican and Spanish chorizos are beautifully symbiotic foods that could not exist without the lands on either side of the Atlantic. The west provided the pimentón, paprika that turns an otherwise pink sausage blood red. The east provided the pigs.
Spanish chorizo typically consists of coarsely ground pork dotted with large pieces of pig fat, heavily seasoned with pimentón, salt and garlic and stuffed into natural intestinal casings. Many other spices can be added, depending on the maker, from bay leaf to cumin and red wine vinegar. The sausage is then smoked until cooked through.
Mexican chorizo, though sometimes stuffed into casings, is usually left loose to be used as so-called “fresh sausage, meaning it requires cooking before eating. Since it is usually removed from the casing before cooking, stuffing it into sausage casings to begin with is a completely optional step.
Legendary burritos:How to make classic Sonoran burros de machaca
A secret recipe for Sonoran chorizo
As you might have guessed based on this preamble that I’m finally letting go of my super-secret Sonoran chorizo recipe. Guarding it benefits no one.
This chorizo recipe has a uniquely Sonoran combination of chiles. I use chile colorado, also known as chile de sarta in Sonora, layered with chile ancho for depth and just a touch of chipotle for smoke. The chile heat is balanced with spices and vinegar.
Three things should be noted here. First, the chipotle used is not en adobo, the sauced chipotle sold canned, but rather the dry smoked version.
Secondly, chile puree when combined with vinegar will stain everything permanently if left in contact for too long. This includes blender jars, spatulas, counters and hands, so I recommend using glass containers that resist staining and food-safe disposable gloves.
Third, if desired, you can add a sprinkle of finely crushed chiltepin, a fiery pepper indigenous to the Sonoran region. When mixed into the chorizo as it cures, they add a nice, spicy kick.
Use this recipe as a starting point and adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste. You might just end up with a recipe you’ll want to guard for years to come.
Culinary coach:Chef Minerva Orduño Rincón is here to share Sonoran-style Mexican food
Recipe: Homemade Chorizo
This particular recipe is meant to produce a large quantity of chorizo or the ready-to-use paste for seasoning it. Why make so much? Because the one thing that comes close to being as good as a freezer full of tamales, is a freezer full of good chorizo. When dividing up your chorizo to freeze in smaller portions, quart-sized disposable or silicone bags work well.
Makes: 6 pounds of chorizo or 3 cups of chorizo seasoning paste
Time: 1 hour
- 4 oz chile colorado (Anaheim or California chile)
- 2 oz chile ancho
- 1 chile chipotle
- 1 head of garlic, peeled
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon dry marjoram
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorn
- 1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- Pinch whole cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- 6 pounds ground pork (15 to 20% fat ratio)
- Clean the chiles by removing the stems, opening and removing ribs and seeds. For the chipotle, remove only the stem. Rinse chiles well.
- Place cleaned chiles, garlic, Mexican oregano, dry thyme and dry marjoram in a saucepot and add enough water to just cover. Cook at a gentle simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until the chiles are pliable and soft. Strain and reserve cooking liquid.
- While chiles simmer, place a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add black peppercorns, coriander and cumin and toast, stirring constantly until fragrant. Remove from heat to cool, then finely grind in a blender or spice grinder.
- Working in batches, place softened chiles in a blender and add just enough cooking liquid to cover. Puree until very smooth and shiny in appearance. Be sure to vent the top of the blender when working to allow steam to escape.
- Once all the chiles have been pureed, add them to a large glass bowl and mix with ground spices, salt and distilled white vinegar. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
- Once cooled, the puree should be similar in consistency to room temperature butter, spreading easily but holding its shape. If the paste is too thick, mix in cold water, one teaspoon at a time. At this point, the sauce is ready to be mixed into finished chorizo, or stored in glass containers in the freezer for up to six months.
- To make chorizo, mix ground pork and chile paste until evenly incorporated. Gloved hands work well for this, as does the paddle attachment in a stand mixer. Process until the color is consistent throughout.
- To achieve the best flavor, cover or wrap the chorizo and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 48 hours before cooking or freezing.