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Spanish Chorizo – The Beginning

In Fermented sausage,Making salami,Salami on February 13, 2011 by fred

Spanish Chorizo for sale in Barcelona

Travelling to Spain this last summer I discovered a wonderful thing — the chorizo I was familiar with in Southern California but was never impressed with was a far cry from the Spanish chorizo available in nearly every store and restaurant in Spain.  The difference is astounding, and before describing the process I went through to make my own, I’ll outline the differences.

  • The most glaring difference is the processing — Spanish chorizo is a fermented sausage, unlike what I now know is called Mexican chorizo, which is cooked.  Being cooked, the Mexican chorizo I’ve had tends to be greasy because you nearly always reheat it causing the fat to heat up and run out all over the place.  Spanish chorizo is like a salami so the fat in it is solid and less conspicuous.
  • Spanish chorizo demands smoked paprika be in the ingredients list (notice how red the meat is in the picture).  This can be augmented, but it should be a large portion the spice mixture.  Mexican chorizo is more chili pepper based, typically with cumin and some paprika.  As you can see from this page of Mexican chorizo recipes, the recipes are all over the map but all lack smoked paprika.
  • Finally, the grind.  I think every Mexican chorizo I’ve ever had consisted of finely ground meat surrounded by liquid fat.  Many times the meat would come out of the casing due to a lack of binding, which in turned dried the meat out during the cooking process.  Spanish chorizo however is a mixture of large chunks of meat surrounded by meat paste, even moreso than a sopressata. Hopefully, I’ve peaked your interest by now so on to the preperation.

I started with my reference books, and although I haven’t mentioned it yet because it seems like I’ve written about nothing but smoked and cooked meats at this point, but my go-to book for fermented sausages is “The Alchemist’s Book of Salami and Other Fermented Sausages” by William R. Mende.

Bill’s explanations are technical but clear.  His advice is well researched and includes information about fermenting sausages I’ve not found anywhere else.  Plus, he’s a really nice guy still doing this in his kitchen in Pennsylvania.  I highly recommend anyone making fermented sausage at home add his book to their library.

The second book I used was Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie book because I remembered they had their own Spanish Chorizo recipe in it.  Using the two books, I’d make something that was my own based on what I had in Spain.  Next post I’ll talk about my first attempt.

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The Alchemist

In Fermented sausage,Links,Making salami on December 7, 2010 by fred

The Alchemist

This is a great how-to book for making your own salami.

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Chill Your Meat

To keep the ground meat cold, I put ice blocks in a stainless metal pan and top it with another pan

Grinding Meat – Keeping it Cool

on December 7, 2010 by fred

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Spices are mixed in, ready to stuff!

Spanish Chorizo – The Finished Farce

Tagged: on December 7, 2010 by fred

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I diced up extra pork back fat to add to the meat farce.

I diced up extra pork back fat to add to the meat farce.

Spanish Chorizo – diced fat

Tagged: on December 7, 2010 by fred

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New blog theme

In News on December 6, 2010 by fred

New blog theme in hopes of making posts quick and easy! Gotta clean it up though!

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Smoking Whole Meats – The 28 Pound Ham

In Smoking Whole Meats on September 29, 2010 by fred

There are two agonizing periods of time when curing and smoking any meat — drying, and bringing the meat to final temperature.  Not because they are difficult but because they take hours longer than you think they should. 

The idea behind drying the meat’s surface before smoking it is simple — smoke doesn’t easily stick to wet meat, so by drying the meat’s surface and creating a pellicle (when the surface of the meat has a film look to it) the smoke will stick and penetrate further into the meat.  

Wrapped in Cheesecloth and Drying in the Smoker

When it’s time to take the meat out of the brine, however, I typically forget that a lot of time is required for this step.  In Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie they recommend placing a large piece of meat (like a whole ham) on a rack in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  Rytek Kutas’ method in his book Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing is to dry the ham in the smoker at 120 degrees with vents wide open and no smoke for 12 hours.   That’s after you’ve dried out the smoker for an hour prior using the same method.   Either way, it seems like a lost day of making meat.

Color is Developing

Due to my anxiousness, I have discovered that drying the larger pieces of meat for just three hours in the smoker at 120 degrees will produce a sufficient pellicle.  This may also have to do with the relative humidity of Southern California.  What I believe I’m sacrificing in shortening the drying time is the depth of smoke penetration into the meat.  I will follow one of the two methods above next time for comparison, but the three hour drying time produced a fine piece of smoked meat and I don’t believe anyone tasting the ham noticed the difference.

So, that’s my thinking on shortening the drying time.  Here are the preliminary steps:

  1. Turn on your smoker to 120 degrees with vents wide open to allow it to cook off any condensation inside.
  2. Pat the meat dry with paper towels, making sure to get as much visible liquid off the surface as possible
  3. Before you dry a whole piece of meat, it’s advantageous to wrap it in something that makes hanging it easier or possible.  You can purchase stockinettes from Butcher-Packer.com or SausageMaker.com.  These are fine for average size hams and other whole meats. 
  4. Do a quick soak in vinegar to make the stockinette easier to remove after smoking and drop the meat inside. 
  5. In the case of the 28 pounder, it wasn’t going to fit into a ready-made stockinette so I wrapped it with two pieces of cheesecloth (dipped in vinegar) for complete coverage and trussed it with butcher’s twine.  If your ham fits in one piece of cheesecloth, all the better.  I created a handle on one end with twine and hooked my ham hook through it so I could hang it in the smoker to dry. 
  6. Put your thermometer probe in the meat before or right after hanging it in the smoker.  I generally run the cord through the vent. 

Three hours later I was ready to introduce smoke.  Since the smoking process dries the air inside the smoker considerably and can potentially dry out your meat, it’s good to have a pan or bowl of water inside your smoker to keep the relative humidity up.  I use a one-quart stainless bowl full of tap water, but whatever fits in your smoker is fine.  

All smokers should have at least one dampener (adjustable vent).  Now that we are no longer trying to encourage moisture to escape and I want to keep smoke inside, I turned my dampener down to 1/4 open. 

Bring on the smoke!  I use the Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker, so adding smoke is as simple as putting biscuits in the tube and setting the digital controller to four hours.  I reset the oven controller to four hours at the same time and up the temperature to 150 degrees.  10 minutes after the oven reaches 150, I check to make sure it didn’t go past 160.  Once I’m confident the temp is under 160 I leave it to smoke. 

Smokey and Ready for the Oven

Because this is such a large piece of meat, I return four hours later and reset the smoker timer and the oven timer for another four hours, check on the internal temperature and make sure the water resevoir is full.   After eight hours of smoke, I’m confident smoke has penetrated sufficiently into the meat. 

The final phase begins — we need to bring the meat up to a safe internal temperature by cooking it.  The type of meat and how you plan to serve the meat determines what temperature you should end at.  In the case of ham, if you plan to heat it up before serving it you could partially cook it now and finish cooking it before serving. 

Unwrapped and fresh out of the Oven

A partially cooked ham is cooked to 138 degrees which is sufficient to kill trichanae.  It can then be cooled and cooked later to 155-160 degrees depending on your taste and it will have more moisture in the meat because of this process.

If planning on serving the ham right away or in my case giving it away to friends, it’s best to fully cook the ham to 155-160 degrees.  Either method should be completed at the lowest temperature possible. 

The First Slices

My oven can be set to 170 degrees, so when done smoking I just threw the ham into the pre-heated oven on a cookie sheet (nothing else was large enough) and let it cook for another 12-14 hours.  Don’t forget your water pan and remember, this is the second agonizing time — bringing the meat up to its final internal temperature.  It takes FOREVER.  Bringing a large piece of meat up to 155-160 degrees when it’s in a 170 degree oven is time consuming.  Managing to do it in your oven (if your oven can be set low enough) seems to be the easiest way.

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