When you first hear the word chorizo, you think "that sounds sexy, but I have no idea what it is!" It's actually a sausage from Spain. But what makes chorizo so special, so different from other sausages? Every nation has their famous food and their famous sausage. England has blood sausages, Poland has kielbasa, Germany has bratwurst, and Spain, well they have chorizo -- a beautiful bright red sausage packed with flavor.
Spanish chorizo is typically a cured pork sausage seasoned with pimentón a.k.a. smoked paprika (the rusty red powder made from ground, smoked, dried red peppers). The sausage comes in sweet and hot versions (depending on the hotness level of the paprika used) and can be eaten thinly sliced as a tapas (Spanish appetizers) or cooked into main dishes. Spain also has chorizo fresco (fresh), which requires cooking before eating.
Portugal, Brazil, and Puerto Rico also have their versions of chorizo. All are very similar to the original Spanish version in that they are cured sausages, which can be enjoyed as they are. In Portuguese, chorizo is spelled chouriço (pronounced with an "s" sound). Mexico also makes chorizo sausage, but theirs is only the fresh kind, plus it doesn't include paprika, but instead has pepper flakes. (Spanish pronounce the "z" in chorizo as a "th" or "ts" sound, Latin Americans pronounce the "z.")
Cooking with chorizo is amazing. It adds so much flavor to recipes. Enjoy the cured sausage in appetizers, rice dishes (like paella), and soups. For the fresh sausage, choose to grill, braise, or fry them. Or remove the sausage meat from their casings, saute the crumbles, and use as a filling for tacos or as a topping for omelets. There are so many possibilities!
Before cooking with chorizo, make sure to read the recipe carefully to see which type of sausage is called for. If the recipe specifies Spanish cured chorizo, do not substitute Mexican chorizo and vice-versa. Mexican chorizo needs to be fully cooked before it can be eaten. Some recipes, though, can be adapted for either. For example the traditional Spanish tortilla (an omelet of eggs and thinly sliced potatoes) sometimes includes slices of cured chorizo, but you can make the same recipe with cooked, crumbled fresh chorizo and still achieve a delicious dish.
Don't be afraid to give chorizo a try. Now you can find it in supermarkets as well as specialty Spanish, Mexican, and international markets. Start cooking with chorizo and you'll discover that these sausages have wonderful flavor and many culinary uses.