Homemade Mexican Chorizo–with a Secret

I love the idea of Mexican chorizo (not to be confused with dry-cured Spanish or Portuguese chorizo), which is a raw, loose sausage made with ground pork loaded with hot or mild chile powder, herbs, spices, and garlic. You can spot it at a meat counter by its distinctive red color.

But in my experience, the idea nearly always surpassed the reality. The store-bought variety, even from top-notch markets, is grotesquely red, strangely mushy or dry as dust, and has too fine a grind and an odd, unpleasant flavor.

The only exception I’ve found is the chorizo I recently purchased from Chop Butchery & Charcuterie at the City Market in Portland, Oregon. At Chop, they make their own fresh chorizo, pack it into casings, and call it Spanish-Style Chorizo. At about $2 a sausage, it’s on the pricey side, but better than any store-bought chorizo I’ve sampled elsewhere over the years. It contains ground pork shoulder (with varying amount of fat from batch to batch), paprika, cumin, brown sugar, red wine, and vinegar. Nevertheless, while this quality chorizo has good flavor, it is not the juicy sausage I hunger for.

Unable to buy the chorizo of my dreams, I decide to make it myself. But I immediately run into a problem. I cannot find ground pork with enough fat content to produce a juicy sausage. The resulting chorizo comes out as dry as some of the commercial varieties I sampled. Then I notice that the chicken sausage at the grocery store contains apples. Is that the secret ingredient? It seems like a good way to add moisture, so I try it. The resulting sausage is a bit more moist, but not what I call juicy.

Out of ideas, I am ready to admit defeat–except for the continuing allure of a spicy, chile-infused sausage that I can use to good advantage in a wide variety of dishes.

So I do some research. From as near as I can figure reading the backs of various packages of ground pork and pork sausage, it appears that ground pork contains somewhere around 25% fat, while pork sausage contains between 35% and 50%. As it turns out, that 10%-25% difference makes all the difference. You can both see and feel the difference in the raw state. The extra fat makes fresh pork sausage very sticky.

If you want to grind your own chorizo, you will need fatty pork shoulder and additional pork fatback. Start with 2/3 pork shoulder and 1/3 fatback by weight. Grind the pork and fatback together, and then fry a small nugget of the mixture to determine if the ratio of lean meat to fat is on the money. If too lean, the nugget will be dry. If that’s the case, add additional ground fatback. When you hit the magic proportion of fat, the sausage will be juicy. Fat is the secret. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

Difficult, because you won’t be able to find the fatback, especially if you don’t live near a specialty butcher. Grocery stores rarely stock it. And since I’m spending the summer on the Olympic Peninsula this year, in a funky village far from specialty grocers and fatback, I try the only remaining wildly crazy thing I can think of.

I grab a package of mild Italian pork sausage and get to work. I squeeze the sausage meat into a mixing bowl, add an array of chile powders, herbs, and spices, fry a bit to check the flavor, add more chile powder, herbs, and spices, and so on until I achieve what to my palate is the most perfect Mexican chorizo in the world. Or at least in my world.

When you bite into this sausage, the first thing you will notice is how tender and juicy it is, with that lush mouth feel that makes pork sausage so addictive. Then the flavor kicks in, first smoky paprika with just enough spicy heat, and then the subtle background notes of oregano, cumin, and cinnamon. Garlic is there too and contributes to the savoriness.

Once you have this addictive sausage on hand in the fridge, you will find a host of ways to use it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Ten Quick & Easy Ways to Use Homemade Mexican Chorizo

  • Add to egg and new potato scramble.
  • Add to new potato, red bell pepper, and onion hash.
  • Add to steamed clams or mussels.
  • Add to quesadillas.
  • Add to tacos or tostados.
  • Add to chicken braise.
  • Add to seafood chowder.
  • Add to lentil or bean soup.
  • Add to breakfast strata.
  • Use as flatbread topping.

Homemade Mexican Chorizo

This fragrant, spicy sausage will rock your world. Be sure to use high-quality pork sausage and paprika for optimum flavor. A day or two mellowing in the fridge will only do this sausage good.

NOTE   While not strictly necessary, heating the spices and herbs in oil and then combining with the wine and garlic, makes it easier to evenly incorporate the flavorings into the sausage.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika or other ground chile (such as ancho chile, pasilla chile, guajillo chile, or New Mexico chile)
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons dry white or red wine (or apple cider)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 pound mild Italian pork sausage or very fatty ground pork (or grind your own using 2/3 pork shoulder and 1/3 pork fatback)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil, for sautéing

  1. In a small saute pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat, and add the hot paprika, sweet paprika, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon. Heat, stirring continuously, for 1-2 minutes, until mixture is fragrant. Remove from the heat, and stir in the wine and garlic. Let cool.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, use your hands to thoroughly combine the pork sausage, paprika mixture, salt, and pepper.
  3. To test the seasoning, add a small amount of oil to a small saute pan and heat. Add a small glob of sausage, flatten, and saute until cooked through, turning once. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Taste for seasoning, and then adjust the raw sausage mixture accordingly.
  4. Scoop the chorizo mixture into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to a week.
  5. To cook the sausage, in a sauté pan, over brisk heat, heat the oil, and then pinch marble-sized pieces of sausage into the pan. With a flexible spatula, turn the pieces frequently to brown the sausage evenly. With a slotted spatula, remove sausage from the pan, drain briefly on paper towels and use as desired.

Makes 1 pound; serves 3-4.


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If you have read this far, please leave a comment. Include your blog URL and CommentLuv will automatically link back to your most recent blog post. Let’s get cooking! …Susan

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Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.

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  1. says

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  2. Elisa says

    I put this together last night, and didn’t cook any of it until today. I cooked up a tiny bit this morning (with my eggs) and it was delightful. I am thinking it will make a good tamale filling. I will make the tamales tonight and let you know how they taste. Thank you for posting this recipe. I will be making my own chorizo from now on. 😀

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Thanks Gary! Yes, I considered that and almost tried it. The smoky flavor would be great I think. If you try it, please let us know how it worked.

  3. says

    I’m so happy you shared this tip and recipe. I’ve been so dissappointed with the Mexican Chorizo I’ve found at my local grocery chain. They never seem to have any substance once you cook it up. As much as I watch cooking shows and enjoy cooking, it certainly never occurred to me to make my own sausage. I will definitely be trying this recipe!
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    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Awesome Chris! I was hoping that I am not the only one disappointed in the Mexican chorizo available conmmercially. Would love to know what you think of my solution after you try it. :-)


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