I love sausage. I love virtually every sausage. And, when I’m in Mexico, proudly wearing the red, green and white on my heart, chorizo is my choice of sausage. I think, made well, that chopped-up, chunky combo of pork, fat, chiles, cumin, coriander, plus, usually, at least two or three other spices, makes Mexican chorizo one of the top links in the world’s sausage chain.
In San Miguel, my first choice (and that of a few hundred other people) for chorizo has always been Embutidos La Gorda 4, a butcher shop in Celaya that, each Tuesday, brings its meats to a stall in the Tianguis Municipale in San Miguel de Allende. La Gorda 4’s Chorizo Mexicano, in fact, won a tasting contest organized back in 2015 putting it up against, not only a lot of Mexican competition, but Argentinean and Spanish style chorizo as well.
I ate…maybe savoured is a better word…maybe devoured even better…a Mexican chorizo recently, however, that made me question my allegiance to La Gorda 4’s tasty tubes. Interestingly, it wasn’t in San Miguel. More interestingly, it wasn’t even in Mexico.
I was in Toronto, at an almost impossible to get into…“we’re currently not taking reservations”…sizzlingly hot restaurant called Quetzal. I was possibly the only one there over 40. I was probably the only one there over 50. I was definitely the only one over 70. The chef at Quetzal is from…get ready for this…León. Yes, our León, that León just down the road from SMA.
The chef’s name is Julio Guajardo and on Quetzal’s menu is a dish that combines three classic Mexican sausages: longaniza ahumada, chorizo verde and chorizo toluqueño. The third sausage, as they say in Toronto, where warm woolen footwear is often compulsory, knocked my socks off.
I’m not sure what it was…the grind was finer, there was a little less fat, the chiles were a touch sweeter…the fine details of exactly what you like about a dish is the toughest part of being a food critic. Anyway, this was an attitude-changing moment in my chorizo-chasing history. I was ready to explore nuevas avenidas.
Chef Guajardo calls his chorizo “toluqueño” which implies that it originated in Toluca, the town southwest of Mexico’s capital that is most famous for its chorizo verde, one of the other three sausages in the dish on Quetzal’s Mexico-inspired menu.
So when I got back to my town, my San Miguel, that town I adore so much, I started to research…no, make that just search…for a chorizo toluqueño. I got nothing…nada…I couldn’t find a single source for Toluca-style chorizo at any carniceria or mercado except the one I already knew about, Tacos Beto, that, like La Gorda 4, makes a once-a-week appearance at San Miguel’s tianguis.
Tacos Beto is an always-crowded food stand staffed by big shouldered guys in caps usually worn by small shouldered boys in ice cream parlors. The stall is more about chorizo verde than chorizo marrón. And it’s where San Miguel restaurants like Garambulla source their cecina, the air-dried beef from Toluca.
It had been a while since I’d tried Tacos Beta’s chorizo toluqueño so up I went to the Tuesday market and had one of the guys haul a couple of links down from the line, went home and threw one in a pan.
It was good, very good, but it wasn’t at all like the chorizo tolequeño from Quetzal. It had a deeper (but not hotter) chili flavor that masked some of the other tastes. And it had a lot of something that I don’t think the Quetzal version had any of: nuts. With either my eyes or tongue, I think I identified almonds, peanuts, pecans and a generous amount of expensive pine nuts.
I made one more trek, traipsing around from butcher to butcher in the northwest corner of town, an area I don’t get to often, then gave up. A Quetzal-style chorizo tolequeño was not to be in my future. Or was it?
Many years ago I became dismayed with the Italian sausage selections in this town and decided to ask Don Day’s Wife if she would personally make some Italian sausage for our pasta dishes. Asking turned to begging until one day I awoke to the smell of fennel seeds being toasted. Don Day’s Wife’s salchicha italiana was superb, so good that it finished first in a local taste-off.
Why, I thought, couldn’t I ask Don Day’s Wife to make chorizo toluqueño? Asking became begging. Then begging became pleading. But with no success and, actually, I had to admit there was a good reason. Don Day’s Wife will eat it but rarely, if ever, does she get excited about chorizo.
“Too fatty! Too spicy! Too vinegary!”, are her most frequent gripes.
I was thinking of any other people I could possibly persuade to make my chorizo when I had this revelation: Why not get off my bony ass and do it myself.
I hauled the books down from the shelf, scanned what was available at the library, checked what I could get cheap from Amazon.
There was an e-book by a couple of Swedish guys with the catchy title, “How to make and serve delicious homemade chorizo, bratwurst, sobresada, and more”. Alas, the only chorizo recipe was for a dried Spanish style.
I found a Spanish-language audio book called “La Maquina de Hacer Chorizos”. Again, all the chorizos were Spanish.
I ended up with exactly one recipe for chorizo toluqueño. It was in my dog-eared copy of “Authentic Mexican” by Rick Bayless. It was a very good start but it was still only one man’s idea. I wanted more to work from.
I Googled chorizo toluqueño and got one and only one real hit for a recipe. It was on the Food Network website and came from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, the chefs who put Mexican food on the map in Los Angeles in the same way that Rick Bayless did in Chicago.
Their recipe was almost identical to Rick Bayless’ but I decided to use Mary Sue and Susan’s because it included pasilla chiles (I can’t get enough of their sweet, raisiny taste) and it used pork shoulder which is Don Day’s Wife’s preferred cut for sausage. You can check out their original recipe at https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/chorizo-toluqueno-recipe-1970074
I then had to guess how to alter the recipe to make it more like the chorizo that Julio Guajardo makes at Quetzal and more like the sausages that I want to eat. Here are the tweaks I made:
1. Mary Sue and Susan’s recipe calls for a 2:1 meat to fat ratio; I changed that to 4:1 because I find that most people (including me) find chorizo far too fatty.
2. I added cumin because I thought I detected cumin in Quetzal’s chorizo.
3. I used fresh rather than dried ginger simply because we had some.
4. Now I’m never quite sure if vinegar is used to help meld the flavors or to act as a preservative but I do know that Don Day’s Wife’s second biggest complaint about all Mexican sausage is “too vinegary”. I therefore replaced Mary Sue and Susan’s cider vinegar with red wine and used a little more than they do because I thought the mix needed a touch more liquid.
5. I cut back a little on the amount of ancho chiles to reduce the heat and so that chile wouldn’t overpower the overall taste.
6. I quickly sautéed the ginger and garlic to remove the bitterness whereas Mary Sue and Susan left their garlic raw.
7. At the suggestion of my sous…or perhaps executive chef is more appropriate…Don Day’s Wife, I used our mini-chopper rather than a sieve to mix the spices.
8. Don Day’s Wife was also worried about the amount of salt that Mary Sue and Ellen suggested so I cut that in half (it’s hard to take away salt but it’s easy to add).
9. I changed the meat grinder setting from rough to fine because that’s the way I like almost all my sausages. It also eliminates those lumps of fat that everybody hates surrepticiously sliding out from the corner of their mouth only to have them staring back at you from the side of the plate.
OK. That’s it. My recommended revisions. Now it was time to make my chorizo toluqueño my way and face the music with friends and family.
I decided for my chorizo to be worth my while, I had to make about two to three kilos and that’s what I did. You’ll get the full details here:
Don Day’s Chorizo Toluqueño recipe
Makes about six pounds. Takes about 40 minutes (except for the time it takes to and from the butcher).
To prepare at home
6 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and deveined
8 medium dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, and deveined
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
About a 1 inch x 1 inch piece of fresh ginger
4 tablespoons hot smokey paprika
2 tablespoons salt
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup of red wine
Water if necessary
At the butcher
2 kilos boneless pork shoulder
1/2 kilo pork fat
12 feet of hog intestines for casings
In a cast iron frypan on medium to high heat, toast all of the chiles. Pressing them down with a spatula helps to even out the surface coverage of each chile. After they start to lighten in color, flip them over. It only takes about a minute and a half each side.
Place the chiles and all of the whole spices in a grinder and pulverize. If you don’t have a dedicated spice grinder, you can use a coffee grinder but you will have to very thoroughly clean it before and after.
Finely chop the ginger and garlic and sauté it in olive oil in a non-stick pan until it just starts to turn golden. Add red wine and bring to a boil.
Mix all ingredients thoroughly in a mini chopper or blender and place in a large baggie. Add water if mixture is dry, to make a smooth paste.
Now we have a meat grinder and it has a sausage attachment but trying to get it to work is like trying to put a condom on in the heat of the moment after a second bottle of wine (that was a distant memory). So when we make sausage, our grinder never leaves the cupboard. Instead, I just take the baggie with the spice mix to my butcher, tell him the quantities and cuts of meat I want it ground with, the fineness of grind (he will have coarse, medium and fine plates) and how long I want each link. I’m not sure if every San Miguel butcher will do this for you but I’ve never been turned down.
The next day I picked up my chorizo toluqueño at the carniceria but I still had one more quandary. In my favorite of all Mexican food books, Tacopedia, Déborah Holtz and Juan Carlis Mena say, “It’s important that the meat cures in the right conditions for at least 20 days…because the flavors need time to blend perfectly.”
I decided to let mine cure for 20 minutes. Though some of Mexico’s chorizo isn’t even refrigerated, I didn’t trust mine to age for three weeks, especially without any vinegar in the mix.
Besides I had to try at least one immediately. The rest I wrapped in cello, put in baggies and, apart from a couple of gift bags and enough for some stuffed calabacitas, it all went into the freezer.
And how was my homemade chorizo toluqueño? Well it’s always difficult to talk about your own creations but I will say I was very proud that my chorizo wasn’t vinegary, the chile taste and heat wasn’t overpowering, it wasn’t too crumbly and there were no nasty lumps, it wasn’t too fatty, and I thought there was a very pleasant blend of spicing.
And Don Day’s Wife’s opinion? Well I will first tell you she is a very polite woman but I will also tell you she said, “This is one of the best chorizos I’ve ever tasted.” How polite she was being I guess you can only tell by making some for yourself.
And how did mine compare to Quetzal’s chorizo toluqueño? Well after three weeks it’s hard to remember but, next month, I will be in Toronto again, and there might just be a side-by-side comparison. Wish my sausage luck.
You can find out more about Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger and their Border Grill restaurants at http://marysueandsusan.com/about.htm
Quetzal Restaurant can be found at quetzaltoronto.com
The San Miguel butcher who produced my chorizo was La Nueva Aurora at Durazno #24 in Fraccionamiento La Luz.