Don Day thanks Mike MacLaverty and Marshall Postnikoff for some of the photos in today’s blog.
I think it’s safe to already call it a tradition. It’s the one day a year that a dozen overgrown men sit around and get too much sun, drink to much beer and eat too many sausages.
Last year was the inaugural event. And last year the subject was a very sensitive one. A subject dear to the hearts of almost every red-blooded male. The subject being honored and compared was a food cherished all over the world. Our task was to choose the best Italian sausage available in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
This year the task was even tougher. Don Day had chosen chorizo for the contest. The reason was simple. Don Day thinks that there is no meat product in Mexico that is more distinctly Mexican than chorizo.
The problem with chorizo is there’s so much of it to choose from. Last year when the search was for the very best Italian sausage in San Miguel, Don Day only had eight contenders for the title. This year, he could have had 80.
Don Day’s amigo Pedrito agreed to help him search out the finest examples and we spent an entire Tuesday trudging, trecking, tramping and traipsing around town picking up contenders. We chose chorizo from the Tuesday Market. We chose chorizo from supermercados. And we chose chorizo from carnicerias.
We found chorizo that was Spanish in style. We found Argentinean style chorizo. We found dry examples and we found fresh. We bought chorizo for as little as 28 pesos a kilo and we bought chorizo for as much as 140 pesos a kilo.
By the time Don Day arrived home, Don Day’s fingers were lily white from the knuckles down. Along with a fat pig’s leg and the fruit and vegetables he’d also bought, the bag weighed in on Don Day’s Wife’s bathroom scale at 38 pounds.
The Gentlemen Who Lunch gathered for the competition on Cactus Jack’s rooftop. Like all rooftops should be, it’s equipped with a clay, charcoal-fed barbecue that we knew would be perfect for cooking all of the chorizo. Don Day brought grilled onions and peppers and picked up some baguettes at Cumpanio. Jack made a perfect potato salad and filled the coolers with as much beer as humanly possible.
Chorizo was born on the Iberian Peninsula and the basis of Spanish and Portuguese chorizo is pork, smoked paprika and white wine. When chorizo immigrated to Mexico it went through some changes. Instead of being a dried sausage like salami, it became a fresh sausage. The pork was ground rather than chopped and more pork fat was included. Due to the cost of imported paprika, other spices were substituted and because of the cost of wine, it was usually replaced by vinegar.
Mexican is the spiciest of all chorizos and the most important spices in Mexican chorizo are dried chile peppers. Ancho seems to be the favorite of most recipes I searched on Google. But pasilla, guajillo and chipotle were also on quite a few lists of ingredients. The dried chiles not only give Mexican chorizo its unique taste, they give it its bright cranberry color that grandkids love.
In virtually every Mexican chorizo recipe I researched, I also found an incredibly large variety of spices. Cumin, oregano, thyme, marjoram, bay, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, peppercorns, paprika, cayenne, chili powder, achiote and allspice all appeared at different times and, usually, at least five or six from the list were included.
The only other two common ingredients except for the pork and spices were onions and vinegar.
Jack had the embers glowing by the time the gentlemen arrived. We gave the guys a beer, a scoresheet and a pencil and we put them to work. There was no talent, bikini and evening dress segment in the competition, none of the winners had to tell the audience how they were going to solve world hunger, we just wanted to know which sausage tasted best. Cactus Jack would do the cooking. Don Day would parade each one out on a platter. The guys would award a score between 0 and 100 to each chorizo, have another beer, and would help me write this blog by adding a few comments.
Now Don Day could individually go through all of the chorizo that was consumed (there was 23.2 pounds split between 12 guys) but knows that you’ll never last til the end of the blog and find out who the winner is if I do. So, just the highlights.
There were eleven chorizo; however, after ten, we were afraid someone might explode if we continued so Don Day’s hands made the sign of the T. There were three Spanish, one Argentinean and six Mexican style left in the running. Some of the chorizo were made in Mexico City, some in Queretaro, some in Celaya, some in San Miguel de Allende and some were from the chorizo capital of Mexico, Toluca.
There was a wide range in how fine the grind was and, even though chorizo is typically a rough ground meat, the chorizo that were finer received more compliments for texture.
The amount of vinegar used in each sausage had a major effect on the scores; two of the contestants were found to be just too vinegary (note to self: should have put another Miss America reference in here). Another had too much salt according to a few of the comments. Sweetness was an interesting factor; the judges had positive comments about the ones with more sweet spices. The amount of heat or piquancy was mentioned often but seemed to have little effect on the scores.
What it finally got down to was two chorizo with considerably higher scores than the rest.
The runner up for the best chorizo in San Miguel de Allende and the one that will wear the crown if for any reason the winner is unable to continue this year’s reign (such as appearing in lesbian porn films) hailed from the supermarket Soriano. Its full name is San Rafael Chorizo Fino Estilo Espanol. What did the judges like about it? Well, as the name says, this chorizo was fine ground and fine ground generally did better than rough. What really nailed it for San Rafael though was one word, smoky, with some even comparing it to bacon (and, as we know, guys like bacon even more than they like labrador retrievers). Don Day would guess that San Rafael had more smoked paprika than any other chorizo and that was what was swaying the judges.
The winner of the best chorizo in San Miguel de Allende (if you now turn up the volume on your computer to the highest level you should be able to hear Bert Parks singing) was from Celaya, a town close to San Miguel that, until the discovery of this sausage had only been famous in Don Day’s mind for its watertower and strip bars. It was made by Embutidos La Gorda 4, a butcher shop that each Tuesday sells its meats in the Tianguis Municipale in San Miguel.
The sausage that won the event was La Gorda 4‘s signature sausage and is simply called Chorizo Mexicano. What did the guys like about it? Well just about everything. The grind, the texture, the sweetness, the amount of heat, the amount of fat (a lot), the color, the juiciness. The simple two words “excellent flavor” appeared on two scoresheets and that really summed up La Gorda 4‘s chorizo.
La Gorda 4 is always the busiest meat seller at the Tuesday market. Until the chorizo pageant, Don Day never knew why. Getting down the aisle and past Gorda 4‘s stand is an almost impossibility. Behind the counter there’s usually four people crazily dodging each other, with the guy who orchestrates the whirling dervishes obviously the more senior (though he still looks south of 30). There are three other chorizos usually available at La Gorda 4‘s Tuesday Market stand, Mexican with habanero, Mexican with chipotle and Spanish style. Don Day has, of course, now tried them all and considers them all worthy of wearing a crown.
As Don Day always likes to do, he has saved the best news until last. The guys’ second choice in chorizo, San Rafael Spanish style, sells for 139 pesos a kilo. The guys’ first choice, Gorda 4‘s Mexican Chorizo sells for 28 pesos a kilo. Now what could be better about a sausage than that? Don Day thinks absolutely nothing.
La Gorda 4 is located on the northern edge of the Tianguis Municipale, about 50 metres in from the northeast corner, in San Miguel de Allende Mexico. In Celaya, their shop is located at Anenecuilco #102 in Colonia Emiliano Zapata.