On The Range: Chorizo

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On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

In Spain, as well as throughout Latin America, the dining public is big on pig.

How big? Well, it is estimated that the entire chorizo production of Spain is 65,000 tons annually, more than the weight of 10,800 adult male African elephants or 406 Boeing 747s--which is equally hard to fathom unless you're into that kind of comparison.

Much of this sausage is made from fresh pork mixed with garlic, herbs, and paprika, then cold-smoked and cured over a number of months. The finished product is thin-sliced, similar to Italian proscuitto, and served as one of the star ingredients in Spain's numerous tapas bars.

But here's the real question: What's the difference between Spanish chorizos and Mexican?

Writing in her book The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy notes that while the Spanish sausages are made with a higher proportion of smoked pork and thus can be eaten as is, Mexican chorizo is commonly made from unsmoked meat and must therefore be cooked--and that the spices can vary by region. She adds in an aside that "Cortes was sometimes called the first choricero in Mexico. It is said that he introduced the first pigs into the valley of Toluca, where they thrived, and that someone was always employed to make the pigs run so they wouldn't develop too much fat."

Hmm...guess he introduced the idea of personal trainers, too.

In his book The New Texas Cuisine, Stephan Pyles agrees that chorizo is found in Latin markets everywhere, but reports that "unfortunately, the quality can be as variable as the number of markets, and sometimes the meat can be gristly and of inferior quality--I've always had better luck making my own sausage meat." His recipe calls for a mixture of lean ground beef and pork butt, seasoned with garlic, white wine vinegar, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper, lard or cooking oil, and cinnamon. This last ingredient adds a slight touch of earthy sweetness to the savory sausage.

Homey dishes such as chorizo and beans will also get you through the worst natural disasters. In Latin Chic, authors Carolina Buia and Isabel C Gonzalez include a recipe that was developed after Hurricane Andrew ripped through Miami in the early 1990's. Looking around the kitchen, they discovered some cans of cannelli beans, chorizo, and beer, and "with the electricity down, we cooked everything outside in our paellera, a gigantic outdoor skillet that runs on gas and is used for making paella."

The presence of numerous pinatas, bright colors, beer signs, and celebrity photographs make Gonzalez Restaurant in Oak Cliff seem like party central. Yet here, chorizo is served in its classic Tex-Mex breakfast incarnation with scrambled eggs, refried beans, and potatoes. What really makes lunch or dinner special are the house-made flour tortillas, thick as pancakes.

These large tortillas are served with a variety of entrees,by the way. Don't know how many of them would stack up to a jumbo jet.

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