The New Champion: Chorizo

Mike Cook

Chorizo is the new bacon. Once upon a time, the guaranteed method of punching up a meal and increasing gustatory lust was to add bacon. Why not? What could be more delicious than the salty, fatty flavor of bacon?

Meet the contender: Chorizo. Chorizo is a spicy sausage that has invaded menus everywhere and is looking to beat out bacon in the hearts of meat lovers everywhere. Before the bout, let's study this culinary immigrant. There is more than one kind of chorizo.

Mexican chorizo is now the most common in this area. It may come in links, like a bratwurst or Italian sausage, but can also come loose, without casing. It is what's known as a fresh sausage, and thus has to be cooked before it can be eaten. Mexican chorizo is heavy on garlic and chipotle flavors, and usually relies on ancho chile powder for heat. All the various Central and South American countries have their own versions of chorizo. They are more similar to Mexican chorizo than different, though, and here in the States it's hard to tell how accurately we've translated those differences anyway.

There is another type of chorizo that's radically different, however. That's Spanish chorizo. This is usually found as a dry cured sausage, like a salami, that can be sliced and eaten without cooking. It's a common ingredient in paella. Ancho chiles also give this chorizo its heat, but Spanish chorizo also has lots of Spanish paprika, which tends to make it smokier and deeper in flavor.

Together, these two major types of chorizo have staged a culinary coup. You don't have to go to a specialty grocery store anymore. Shoppers has Mexican, Argentinian, and Salvadorean chorizos. Whole Foods has Spanish, as does the Italian deli near my house. You can find Spanish chorizo on the menus at Tapas Teatro and Tapas Adela, to name just two tapas restaurants that carry it, and Centro has a spreadable chorizo that I would eat with a spoon if decorum allowed me to. Mexican chorizo is at every Mexican restaurant now from the casual Ruben's Crepes and Mexican Food to the fancy Blue Agave.

But to challenge bacon, chorizo can't limit itself to Spanish and Mexican restaurants. It hasn't. It's conquered brunch menus everywhere; from the Metropolitan to Waterfront Hotel (they even make their own). I had a chouriço (a Portuguese variety) sandwich for dinner at Thames Street Oyster House. Pazo sells it in a cold potato salad and Alewife sautés it with mussels. Chorizo is looking at bacon with a smirk and declaring "Anything you can do, I can do better."

No matter who your money goes to in this battle of the meats, there's no doubt chorizo is a true contender. In fact, there is one true proof that chorizo has made it into the ranks of food royalty and can go toe to toe with bacon any day. Imitation is the purest form of flattery, and only the greatest meats earn imitation versions. Golden West, which serves chorizo in a nacho salad and on Frito pie, also offers a soy chorizo.

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