My first task was to put the chiles on to steam. Dad had me add a couple of cups of apple cider vinegar to the steamer pot before filling it with a mix of guajillo and ancho chiles. Their distinctive, warm, spicy scent began to stir childhood memories within minutes, enveloping me in warmth and comfort. I lifted the lid off the steamer, their rich deep-red color inviting me to photograph them.
Dad was at the kitchen chopping block, continuing to feed the pork butt chunks through the meat grinder of his KitchenAid stand mixer. I should have been paying closer attention to what he was doing, but the chiles had transfixed me.
Finally, I pulled myself away from the stove as the last bits of meat came through the grinder, and I had seconds to photograph it before this step was over, and we were on to the next.
I took Dad’s homemade chorizo for granted growing up. I remember the first time I ordered it at a restaurant. It was an overly greasy affair, suffering from an aggressive amount of chili that deadened the taste buds to any other ingredients in the dish. I have taken my chances and ordered it a few more times at various locations, but always, there is disappointment in the experience. Dad’s homemade chorizo completely spoiled me.
It took years for me to get the nerve up to ask Dad to teach me his recipe. Finally, in the summer of 2013, I asked him if he would teach it to me so I could blog it. I was n’t sure how he’d feel about my sharing his recipe with the world. Much to my surprise—and delight—he agreed, without hesitation.
Something extraordinary happens when you share the kitchen with someone who is proud to hand down a family recipe for the next generation to enjoy. Even with my nearly 20-minute delay (Dad hates tardiness) due to a mix-up in ingredients (I forgot one and bought the wrong kind of another) and my interrupting so I could snap a photo or ask a question, Dad remained cheerful throughout the cooking lesson. Aside from learning a treasured family recipe, my favorite part of spending the morning with Dad was learning a few things about him that I didn’t know before.
“Is this Nana’s recipe you’re teaching me?” I asked.
“No, your Tata’s.”
“And it is. I never asked your Nana for recipes and never paid attention when she was cooking. I took her cooking for granted.” I got the feeling from the suddenly solemn timbre of his voice that he regretted not paying more attention to his mother’s cooking. It made me all the more glad that I asked him to show me this recipe.
“Did Tata cook a lot, as you do?”
“No, not really. Your Tata would only cook something special if he were in the mood for something specific only he made.”
I found out my paternal grandfather’s specialty was blood sausage, and it’s one my father never got the opportunity to learn. I have no recollection of my grandfather in the kitchen other than flashes of us at the kitchen table, him entertaining me, drinking his beer, complete with lime and salted hand, while Nana cooked.
Luckily, I have many memories of my dad in the kitchen, chopping, standing over the stove with the ginormous handmade wooden paddle that he would use to stir the massive stockpot of slowly simmering carnitas and chicharrones. There were countless Christmas tamaladas (tamal-making sessions), with each of us girls assigned a task. And sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, when he’d just gotten home from work and was in the mood for breakfast, Dad would wake us and surprise us with from-scratch almond pancakes to share with him.
Fond memories. Lots of them. And they continue to accumulate when I get a call or text from Dad, casually mentioning that he has ribs on the barbecue or pork slow-roasting for pulled pork sandwiches, just in case I wanted to stop by for dinner.
What a question! Of course, I can stop by for dinner!
I think the passion I saw emanating from him when he was in the kitchen, cooking or serving us something he just finished making, or describing a recipe — plus the time spent helping Mom prepare the family meal — is why I learned to love to cook as much as I do. The satisfaction they got from preparing meals for the family is familiar to me. I feel it every time I prepare meals for family and friends.
And sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen cooking and tasting, I’m back in my parents’ kitchen. In my mind, I can see a younger version of Dad reaching for a spoon, tasting something he’s making, eyes closing for just a second, head shaking slightly as he says:
Damn! That’s good!”
Dad’s Mexican-Style Pork Chorizo
Mexican-style chorizo is different from the hard, cured Spanish-style slicing sausage. Mexican chorizo, a soft, raw sausage, is often cooked with skillet potatoes, added to refrigerated beans and soups, or simply browned and eaten in a taco, to name just a few ideas. This chorizo recipe is very flavorful, with mild to medium heat. If you want it spicier, add a handful of chiles de arbol (stems removed). Be sure to allow the chorizo to sit in the fridge for at least 48 hours before using it, to give the spices time to infuse the meat. Portion the chorizo into resealable quart-size freezer bags and freeze what you can’t use within a week. For the best results, place the meat grinder attachment and blade in the freezer for an hour before beginning the grinding process.
6 ounces whole dried guajillo chiles
2 ounces whole dried ancho chiles
6 to 12 chiles de arbol, optional for more heat
Apple cider vinegar
6 to 7 pounds pork butt (do not remove fat)
5 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Rinse the chiles in cold water. Fill the bottom of a 5- or 6-quart steamer pot with apple cider vinegar to just below the steam basket. Add the dried chiles to the steam basket, cover and steam until soft and pliable, about 40 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, stir the chiles, turning them to bring the bottom chiles to the top and top to the bottom — then cover and steam for 20 more minutes. Remove the steaming basket from the pot, and set it aside to allow the chiles to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, cut the meat into about 2-inch chunks (do not trim away fat). Run the cubed meat through a meat grinder. Place in an extra-large mixing bowl and set aside.
Remove the stems and seeds from the guajillo and ancho chiles and just the stems from the chiles de arbol, if using. Pour 1 ¾ cups of the steaming vinegar into a blender. Toss in the garlic cloves, spices and a third of the softened desired chiles. Press until smooth. Add the next third of the chiles plus two ladlefuls of the steaming vinegar. Press until smooth. Add remaining chiles plus enough steaming liquid to achieve a thick tomato-sauce consistency. If you run out of vinegar from the steamer, use additional apple cider vinegar. (If necessary, blend the chiles in batches.)
Combine the chili mixture with the ground pork, using your hands to incorporate well.
Heat a small frying pan on medium and pour in the olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, carefully drop in 3 tablespoons of the chorizo, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook the sausage until it’s lightly browned and slightly crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate; allow to cool for 2 minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning on remaining raw chorizo if needed.
Cover the chorizo bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours (preferably up to 7 days) before packaging it into smaller zip-top baggies for freezing. Meat can be kept in the freezer, well wrapped, indefinitely and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
How to use your homemade chorizo
To make a hash: Warm a pan over medium heat to cook the chorizo. Add the desired amount of sausage and cook, occasionally stirring, for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned and crispy to your liking. Remove the chorizo from the pan, leaving behind as much chorizo-flavored fat as possible, then cook the vegetables in the flavorful fat (add additional oil if needed). Add back the chorizo to incorporate and heat through.
To flavor a burger or make meatloaf: Use a mix of 50/50 ground beef to chorizo.
To make chorizo beans: Brown 1 cup of chorizo. Remove it from the pan, leaving behind as much fat as possible. Drain two 15.5-ounce cans of pinto beans, add to the pan and mash. Add water or broth to get the desired creaminess, then stir in the chorizo and simmer for 5 minutes.
Go here to see how to use this pork chorizo in a melted cheese.
Recipe is copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and is reprinted by permission from “Confessions of a Foodie.”
Arambula is the food section art director and designer. She blogs at confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.