Spanish chorizo is made from coarsely chopped pork and pork fat, seasoned with smoked pimentón (paprika) and salt. It is generally classed as either picante (spicy) or dulce (sweet), depending upon the type of smoked paprika used. A general rule of thumb is that long, thin chorizos are sweet, and short chorizos are spicy, although this is not always the case.
While the basic ingredients of Spanish chorizo are more or less the same all over Spain—pork, pimentón (the smoked Spanish paprika), garlic and vinegar—there are various different types of this delicious Spanish sausage, depending on the length of curing and the use it is intended for.
There are typically two varieties of chorizo. There is a firm, cured chorizo to be sliced and eaten as a snack or tapas and a softer one for use in cooking. The lean to fat ration in the initial preparation determines the uses of the chorizo. Ones to be used in cooking have more fat, to flavor stews and prevent drying out when grilled. Chorizo for slicing is leaner and cured for a slightly longer time so that it is firm and slices well.
Another choice to be made is whether the chorizo is smoked or not. Spanish chorizo already has a gently smoky aroma from the pimentón spice, but in the wetter climate of Northern Spain the chorizo was typically smoked during the curing process to help the preservation process and this tradition continues today, even though industrial drying rooms mean that the smoke is no longer essential for preservation.
At the top of the chorizo family tree is the Chorizo Iberico de Bellota. Like the famous hams, it is made from the meat of Iberian pigs who have roamed free among the oak trees and enjoyed an acorn diet in their finishing period,sort of like their last meal before the gallows. This meat has a unique sweetness and richness.
Many of Spain’s signature dishes are made with chorizo such as Fabada Asturiana. A little care and a little experience is needed when cooking with chorizo as some varieties will release a copious amount of fat when fried. I tend to fry the chorizo separately and drain off much of the fat before adding the meat to the dish otherwise what you are making will be swimming in grease.