My sausage is suffering from an identity crisis, and it irks me. Mention chorizo, and what springs to mind are pungent Mexican links filled with ground meat that’s redolent of garlic and chile powder. But mention chouriço (pronounced sho-ree-zoo), the musky smoked sausage of Portugal, and “Isn’t that just another kind of Spanish chorizo?” usually follows. Well, I’m tired of this culinary confusion, and I’m not going to take it anymore.
I was weaned on chouriço (sometimes called linguiça), as every good Portuguese child should be. The sausage held sway at every meal. At breakfast, it was served instead of bacon. At lunch it insinuated itself into soups and tortilhas (frittatas). And at dinner whole meals were orchestrated around it: favas guisadas com chouriço (fava bean and sausage stew), cozido à Portuguesa (Portuguese boiled dinner), and the inflammable chouriço à bombeiro — sausage that had been doused with brandy and set afire at the table with a great whoosh. Accompanying it were fat, orangish batatas fritas, potato wedges that had been fried in corn oil infused with the sausage’s flavor and color. All that was needed to begin was a quick prayer, then a nod from my father.
But after a lifetime of insensitive comments from others, I began having doubts: Was chouriço merely a chorizo knock-off — a Portuguese Payless to a Spanish Manolo Blanhik?
To settle the matter once and for all, I called Herminio Lopes, owner of Lopes Sausage Company in Newark, NJ. Besides making some of the best chouriço I have ever tasted, he plays both sides of the Iberian border by also selling Spanish chorizo.
Clockwise from top left: Sausages at Lopes Sausage Co.; Herminio Lopes; pork being cut at Lopes; more sausages at Lopes. Photo © Bryan Anselm for the NY Times
According to Lopes, both sausages are made with pork shoulder, paprika, garlic, black pepper, and salt, but an astonishing 20 percent of Spanish chorizo’s weight is paprika. Chouriço, on the other hand, has considerably less paprika and much more garlic and black pepper. In addition, lots of Portuguese red wine is splashed in to round out the flavor. In short, it’s got a bigger bite that can hold its own in lots of dishes.
Feeling a superiority dance coming, I called back and asked a clerk which sausage is more popular.
“In terms of sales, chouriço,” she said.
Yes! Portugal rules, even if no one knew it but me. But my smug self-satisfaction was short-lived. Lopes got on the line and told me that one of his biggest chorizo customers was none other than the White House. (Was that swagger I heard in his voice?) Apparently, Bill Clinton had some of Lopes’s chorizo at a fundraiser in 1996, and from then on he ordered 50 to 60 pounds a month, used to impress world leaders. When George W. Bush took office, he kept the chorizo coming. All I have to say is, “That’s okay, Washington. My campaign to put a chouriço in every pot has just begun.” Originally published October 25, 2003
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Lopes Sausage Co.
304 Walnut St., Newark, NJ 07105
(They ship nationwide)
Portuguese Sausage Frittata