Iberian 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 say “chourico” (pronounced sho-ree-zoo), the musky smoked sausage of Portugal, and those few who have even heard of it usually mistake it for its Mexican or smokier Spanish counterparts. Well, I’m tired of this culinary confusion, and I’m not going to take it anymore.
I was weaned on chourico (sometimes called linguica), 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). At dinner, whole meals were orchestrated around it: favas guisadas com chourico (fava bean and sausage stew), cozido a Portuguesa (Portuguese boiled dinner), and the volatile chourico a 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 chourico merely a chorizo knockoff--a Portuguese Payless to a Spanish Manolo Blahnik?
To settle the matter once, I called Herminio Lopes, owner of Lopes Sausage Co. in Newark, N.J. Besides making some of the best chourico I have ever tasted, he plays both sides of the Iberian border by also selling Spanish chorizo.
According to Lopes, both sausages are made with pork shoulder, paprika, garlic, black pepper and salt, but an astonishing 20% of chorizo’s spice is paprika. Chourico, 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 a lot of dishes.
Feeling a superiority dance coming, I called back and asked a clerk which sausage is more popular.
“In terms of sales, chourico,” 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 is none other than the White House. (Was that a swagger I heard in his voice?) Apparently, Bill Clinton had eaten some of Lopes’ 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 OK, Mr. President. My campaign to put a chourico in every pot has just begun."*
Tortilha com Chourico
Serves 6 to 8 as a main course
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound Portuguese chourico, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 pound waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup diced roasted red peppers
7 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in an ovenproof 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add chourico and saute until lightly browned, about 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Adjust the heat to medium-low and add onions and potatoes. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until onions are golden brown and potatoes are fork tender, 20-25 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add roasted red peppers and chourico.
Beat eggs until fluffy. Season with remaining 3/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Pour over chourico mixture and toss to coat. Wipe out pan and add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to same skillet and heat over medium heat, then pour in egg mixture. Using a rubber spatula, quickly stir to briefly cook eggs, then shake the pan to settle filling. Run spatula around sides of pan to release tortilha. Adjust heat to medium-high and cook until edges are set, 3-4 minutes. Place skillet under broiler and cook until top is browned and no puddles remain, 1-2 minutes. Use a spatula to release tortilha from pan and place on a large platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.
For Portuguese sausage--Brasil Mania, Torrance, (310) 212-6040; El Camaguey Market, Los Angeles, (310) 839-4037; Lopes Sausage Company, Newark, N.J., (973) 344-3063; Supermercado Brazil, Culver City, (310) 837-4291.