I am married to bacon.
Goetta is my friend, ham is sort of the Meat Next Door, BBQ and I go too far back for there to be passion, pork tenderloin and I exchange long glances when we pass each other by the water cooler, the Pork Belly Mac and Cheese at Mayberry is on my Laminated Celebrity Card, and pork hocks and I have an understanding.
Chorizo is what calls me at 2 in the morning.
I don’t know of another pork product that can just reach is little unkosher cloven feet into my soul and grab me in such a primal, carnal way. I’ll grant that most pork sausage is good, but chorizo adds a tantalizing set of flavors that make me do a little happy dance whenever I see it. And while Mexican chorizo you can find at many good supermarkets, it’s the Spanish stuff that finds me drooling so often. It’s not as hot-peppery as the Mexican, typically being seasoned with pimenton, a smoked paprika sprinkled throughout Spanish cuisine. This means that the sausage just seems to hit all the right notes – fat, smoke, pepper, fruit, salt, pig – it’s a bold yet harmonious complexity that I don’t think any other sausage has.
It’s great in scrambled eggs, and should I every acquire the motor skills necessary to fold an omlette, I’d stick some chorizo in. It’s nice chopped up on salads, where the acidity of the vinaigrette can be balanced by the sausage. It gives off this earthen red color, too, when you stir some into leftover polenta or, if you’re feeling especially indulgent, mashed potatoes.
And seriously. I would snort pimenton were it not chemically akin to a munition.
Anyway, I have two recipes here I’ve prepared in the last week or so. They are significant for several reasons:
1. Both come from sources I really respect
2. Both involve chorizo in sort of a “Major supporting role.” Think Scottie Pippen in the early 90s, or the film career of Jennifer Connolly
3. Both, when prepared with just a bit of care, are awesome. They take advantage of their ingredients, they’re easy to make, and manage to taste both comforting and exotic at the same time.
4. Both recipes involve an important “tweak,” which is what I really want to talk about here.
The first recipe is my favorite chicken stew, a chicken fricassee from Patricia Wells “Provence Cookbook.” Over the years it’s become my go-to chicken stew, yielding tender chicken, and a rich, deep-red broth that heightens the flavor without distracting your palette. The author (A noted food writer, cooking teacher, and expert on French Quisine) notes that the recipe itself is Catalan, hailing from the fertile region around Barcelona, wedged between the Mediterranean, the rich soil of Southern France, and the Saffron of Valencia.
I LOVE the way this dish smells and tastes. But the problem has always been, it’s never thick enough. Despite flouring the chicken and allowing the colorful broth to simmer, I wind up with something more akin to a soup.
So I borrowed a tip from most beef stew recipes and thickened the broth – this is what I come up with:
Chicken Fricasee with Chorizo and Peppers
(adapted from The Provence Cookbook)
1 3-4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 T butter
3 T olive oil
2 onions, julienned
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken stock
2 ripe, red tomatoes
1 T tomato paste
2 each red and green peppers, cut into thin strips
8 oz chorizo, cut into bite-sized pieces (pref Spanish chorizo, but Mexican is fine, too)
Salt and pepper to taste
Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper
Combine butter and oil in a large skillet, brown the chicken on both sides until the poultry turns an even brown color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
Place the onions and garlic in the fat and cook on low heat, for about 3 minutes. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add stock, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until the chicken has cooked through and thoroughly absorbed the sauce.
Add Peppers and choirzo, Re-cover, and simmer for about another ten minutes..
Wells stops here. And, in fact, if you do, the dish will taste wonderful. My only problem is how thin the sauce is. My option is to remove the chicken from the pot, again, bring the sauce to a boil and reduce it by about half. Reintroduce the chicken and serve.
The second recipe is one made by Mark Bittman recently on his New York Times web-video series, The Minimalist. (Btw, this is some of the most instructive and entertaining culinary videography around, I highly suggest you check it out) - Chickpeas with Spinach and Chorizo.
The recipe, as presented, is straightforward and will taste great if you make it as stated. You can even leave out the sherry and you’ll be fine. Basically you’re rinsing and drying canned chickpeas, sauteing them for a moment with Spanish chorizo, adding spinach. You can, if you want, coat the pan in bread crumbs and place under a broiler.
But, also, I go about things a bit differently.
Because the recipe seems to call for really, really crisp chickpeas, I think it’s easier to oil them up, and place them on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for ten minutes. I cook the chorizo in the pan, remove, and add the spinach. I think this two-step, while creating just a little bit of extra hassle, better reaches the result. But it’s a matter of taste, perhaps.
(Yes, this was taken when I followed the instructions precisely. Except for using the Mexican stuff. Oh well.)
Recipes are not useless. I would have never in my life thought of adding chorizo and spinach to chickpeas, for example. But sometimes they involve value judgments – compromises between time and effort, between texture and flavor, or a simply stylistic decision as to a result. This is why I think it’s important to think of a recipe as a template – the start of a conversation that goes on over years, with each attempt bringing its own nuance.
I mean, I’m not so arrogant as to assume that I can improve any recipe just by staring down a cookbook. It doesn’t work that way. I have SO much respect for who actually train as a chef or make a living tinkering with food in ways much more profound than what I do – I always try to be mindful of the fact that there are REAL professionals with REAL talent at work out there whose opinion and advice I happen to take seriously.
That said… if I want to add more chorizo… I’m adding more chorizo.