By now, you’ve probably come across chorizo. It is a bestselling cold meat/salami-type item at most upmarket grocers and gourmet stores. It is an integral part of tapas. It turns up on menus as far apart as Bombay’s Fourth Pasta Lane and Delhi’s Cyber Hub. Fancy restaurants make hot dogs with it. Even in Jaipur, not exactly India’s gourmet capital, my hotel offered me eggs and chorizo for breakfast.
But first: what exactly is chorizo? Well, speaking as somebody who loves it but is not terribly well-informed about its provenance, here’s my answer: it is a name given to two entirely different kinds of spiced pork sausages from the Iberian Peninsula.
There are chorizo sausages, fiery red torpedoes that burst with flavour when you fry them. And there’s the large sausage, which you slice like salami and serve cold. Both have broadly similar flavours but the difference is the familiar one between sausages and salamis.
Rice and spice: Goans have made chorise pulao for generations. It does not call for additional oil, and cardiologists are thankful for it.
There’s chorizo in Spain, where they claim to have invented it and that is why it turns up in tapas. But some of the best chorizo I have eaten has been in Portugal (where they make similar claims about its invention). And as chorizo has travelled, its trajectory has followed the path taken by its colonial inventors. The Spanish took it to South and Central America and to the Philippines, while the Portuguese took to Africa and, most notably, to Goa (but more about that later).
Ramon Saito, the chef at the Gurgaon Leela, is a proud Spaniard and his family background is butchery. Though he does brilliant tapas at the Leela’s bar, he doesn’t use much chorizo. I asked him why this should be so. His answer was that as the son of a butcher, he only used artisanal sausages (ie those made by hand) and had no time for the industrial chorizo available in India.
Ramon says that the best part of the pig (ideally acorn-fed or reared on some exotic diet) goes into things like the famous Spanish ham (often from the leg) or the lomo (from the loin). But the rest of it is coarsely chopped (never, ever, minced) and mixed with salt, pepper, garlic and pimento (which gives the chorizo its colour).
It goes into casings (made, like all sausage casings, from the pig’s intestines) and is ready to cook. Every butcher has his own recipe and Ramon’s father used bay leaf as his secret ingredient. The salami-style chorizo goes into larger casings and is then kept in the drying room for a minimum of a month so that the spices cure it enough to be eaten without cooking.
The Portuguese follow the same basic recipe with one important difference: they often use vinegar. And so, when they took their chorizo to their colonies, it was the vinegary version that travelled with them.
My friend, the chef Cyrus Todiwala, has his own version of why the Portuguese were able to conquer Goa. According to him the Portuguese would put chunks of pork and fistfuls of garlic into barrels that they would then fill with vinegar. The vinegar prevented the meat from spoiling and garlic provided the sailors with important nutrients. So, while other navies ran out of food or were felled by disease, the Portuguese made it around the Cape of Good Hope and arrived first in Cochin and then in Goa.
They chose Goa as an encampment (and later, a colony) because the locals liked pork (while the Muslims who greeted them on the Kerala coast were appalled by the thought of pork). It was the food of the ships plus a few other spices (including the peri peri chilli, which the Portuguese had found in the New World) that gave rise to vindaloo which is still made the same way: pork, spices, garlic and vinegar.
Julia Desa, the chef-owner of Delhi’s Tres and the capital city’s most accomplished Goan chef, says that the Goa chorise, the local version of chorizo, is a solider, stubbier cousin of vindaloo. It follows many of the same principles, she says: lots of vinegar, garlic, spices and pork. The best way to think of it, she suggests, is as an European chorizo that adapted to the tropics after a very long sea voyage.
Anyone who has been to Goa will be familiar with ‘Goan’ sausage. My colleague, Rachel Lopez, says that Goans like her get very angry when she hears them described as ‘Goan’ sausages. Either you call them chorise, which you pronounce Cho-reez, or you call them Goa sausage, she says: "To think of them as Goan sausage would imply they were stuffed with Goans." (In fact, the opposite is usually true.)
(From left to right) Julia Desa, the chef-owner of Delhi’s Tres, says that you can’t ever make the real thing without Goan toddy vinegar which is hard to find outside of Goa; Ramon Saito, the chef at the Gurgaon Leela, says his father, a butcher, used bay leaf as his secret ingredient for chorizo; Manu Chandra seems to make his version of chorizo rice with Goa sausage because he knows how to sourcehis chorise.
As Goans, Julia and Rachel are proud of their sausages and treat their making as an integral part of Goan tradition. Julia says that you can’t ever make the real thing without Goan toddy vinegar, which is hard to find outside of Goa and that, she says, is why it is virtually impossible to find a regular supply of Goa sausages in Delhi or Calcutta.
Rachel says her relatives recall "that Goan families used to make their own sausages in the past using their own pigs. You made the chorise and smoked it for days over the main stove, which used to be a wood or coal fire".
The Goans don’t make salami but they do have two kinds of sausage: there is the rosary sausage, so called because it consists of tight little beads of sausage tied together like a rosary. And there’s another kind that looks like a normal sausage and can be fried in the same way.
Goans with memories of sausage-making at home usually talk about the rosary. Rachel says: "The dry, red rosary comes tied in strings of 50 or 100 and you can cut as much as you want. You boil them so that they rehydrate and soften.
Then you unstring them and add to a slit pao for a snack. A lot of bright red oil seeps out in the boiling. Only an idiot would throw it out. Goans use it to flavour other dishes and my folks always have a saucer of the stuff in the freezer."
Like many Goans, Julia is slightly sniffy about the sausages you get in packets. But Rachel seems resigned to their popularity: "They are oilier, crumblier, darker and have a slightly more piquant flavour. These commonly go into a goa pork sausage chilli fry – a stir-fry with sliced onions, potatoes and green chillies."
You will find chorizo rice on more and more menus these days but most restaurants use industrial chorizo imported from Spain. Only Manu Chandra seems to make his version with Goa sausage because he knows how to source his chorise. (It’s on the Monkey Bar menu, I think.)
Goans, of course, have been making a chorise pulao at home for generations and Rachel says they keep "adding the chorise oil to the rice as it boils and adding cooked sausage and more masalas (most commonly whole peppercorns). Most recipes do not call for additional oil, for which cardiologists are thankful."
If you do like chorizo, what should you do? Well, the Goan stuff is hard to get and I can’t work up much enthusiasm about the European chorizo that gets imported to India. But if you do go to Europe, you should have no difficulty finding good quality chorizo. Spanish cold meats are now so wildly trendy that even the French sell jamon Iberico and chorizo in preference to their own charcuterie.
Or you can simply buy artisanal chorizo in India. For many decades now the Oberoi group has been making small batches of its own chorizo for sale in its delis and use in its restaurants. Quality tended to wobble in the past but over the last few years, they have turned out a consistently good product.
I spoke to Gitanjali Verma who oversees the charcuterie section as executive sous chef and she explained how passionate the Oberoi was about buying good- quality pork from Australia and Holland and then chopping it themselves to make the best chorizo available in the Indian market.
Some artisanal sausage-makers are also now experimenting with various kinds of chorizo but few, if any, of their products have made it to the market. Ramon tells me that he has found a butcher in the NCR who has agreed to try and make chorizo to Ramon’s family recipe. But the Leela will buy the entire production!
The rest of us, I guess, will have to wait. But it is only a matter of time before somebody starts importing good quality chorizo, or our own sausage-makers get in on the act. As a starting point, they could look for toddy vinegar and make Goa sausages. That’s one kind of chorizo we can call our own!
Goan Pork sausages
(Recipe from the mother of Julia Desa, chef-owner, Tres)
Boneless pork with lean and fatty meat – 2 kg
Rock salt – 100 gms
Salt petre – 5 gms
To grind into a fine paste with local vinegar on stone grinder
Dry red chillies – 100 gms
Cumin seeds – 5 gms
Peppercorns – 15 gms
Cloves – 10 gms
Garlic flakes – 100 gms
Turmeric, one-inch pieces – 4 nos
Ginger, two-inch piece – 4 nos
Cinnamon, one-inch piece – 6 nos
Local vinegar – 200 ml
Palm feni – 100 ml
Casing – as required
* Take the meat and wash it well and remove the skin completely
* Then cut it into small cubes, apply 50 gms salt and put it in a perforated container under weight for four hours
* Keep a container under the same to collect all the water that gets drained out
* After four hours, remove the meat, apply the remaining salt and salt petre and keep it under weight for 24 to 48 hours
* Every 12 hours, turn the meat and keep it under weight
* After 48 hours, remove the meat and dry it with a clean cloth and keep it in a dry large vessel
* Mix and marinate the meat with the ground masala, adding the palm feni a little at a time. If any vinegar is left add that also and mix very well
* Keep it for 24 hours in the marinade
* After 24 hours, fill the meat in the casing and tie it with a twine after every two inches
* Sun dry for about three days or leave it over a wood fire for three to four days until it gets dry
How to cook the sausages
* Cut the required number of sausages from the skin and wash.
* Then take some water and cook until tender
* Once ¾ done, add small potatoes and small onions
* Check for seasoning and serve with Goan pao or poie
* You can also cook the meat with onions, tomatoes and potatoes and top it over a poie
* Add a fried egg on it and it is absolutely divine
From HT Brunch, February 15
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