There is something so mysterious and a bit terrifying about meat. Of course maybe that’s just me. As a food science student I’ve visited quite a few food production facilities (sorry if that term takes the magic out of your food), and I just can’t get over the artistry that goes into meat products. Remember my enthusiasm for Parmigiano Reggiano during my trip to Italy? Well that was matched only by the tour at Salumifico La Rocca, a large family salami business. I mean really—these people were masters of their craft. Think aged salamis hanging everywhere and the fastest, most charming workers butchering, grinding, curing, stuffing, tying, smoking, etc. and you’ll be a smidgeon of the way there.
I think it’s the fact that meats are absolutely incredible from a biological and chemical perspective. The different muscle fibers, the fat pockets—everything serves a specific purpose and lends wildly different flavors and textures depending on proportion. Not to mention the way meat reacts to heat, time, salt…you name it and anything could happen. Think about the flavors you taste in aged sausages. Or the aroma from a cooking steak. Everything is so complex and wonderful. This is some real Harry Potter stuff guys.
So I have recently taken it upon myself to try to master meat one dish at a time. I hand-ground meat! And made chorizo! Plus guess what? It was freaking terrific, and it may be the best thing I have made for this site so far. Pretty unbelievable, right?
I’m here to give you the tools for success in order to chow down on this chorizo ASAP. It all begins with grinding!
The very most important rule (and really the only rule you need) for grinding meat is to keep everything as cold as possible. The reason is because of the fat in the meat. Temperature heavily influences mobility of molecules. You can really see this with fat the most. Even a small difference in temperature will dramatically change the texture of a fat. Think about butter in the fridge versus on your counter. Colder temperatures slow down the movement of the fat molecules and cause them to pack closely together. This creates a solid fat pocket.
When you’re grinding meat, this solid fat in the meat is very important. The muscle tissue and the fat act as one unit as the chunks of meat are pushed through the grinder. Once the meat increases in temperature and the fat begins to get a bit more loosey goosey, the solid streams of meat coming out of the grinder start to smear and stick to each other. All of a sudden that perfectly ground meat becomes rather messy and less attractive. Read: keep everything very cold and work quickly! Want to see what happens when you don’t follow these instructions? This! At the end of the run, I let the last of the meat rise in temp slightly and pushed it through the grinder.
Sorry to break your NYE resolutions, but whether you grind your own meat or not, this dip is going to have to ride on a chip to your mouth this very minute. I could go on with mouth-watering ideas, but I bet you’re getting pretty anxious and impatient here for these recipes. Without further ado…
Homemade Mexican Chorizo
Adapted from Honest Cooking
Makes 20 ounces
**Disclaimer: This is Mexican chorizo, not Spanish chorizo. Spanish chorizo is aged which renders it hard and microbiologically safe. Mexican chorizo is fresh pork with a spice blend, so you need to fully cook it prior to eating it!
1.10 pounds pork shoulder (or ground pork if you don’t want to grind your own and skip steps 1-4)
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
5 whole cloves
5 whole peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
Unusual supplies you’ll need: meat grinder, mortar and pestle, plastic gloves, saran wrap
- Pre-chill two medium/large bowls in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Your pork shoulder should also be in the fridge before you’re ready to use it.
- Cut the pork shoulder into 1 inch chunks with a sharp knife. Put them in one of the chilled bowls as you cut. Return to the fridge until you’re ready to grind it.
- Clean and prep your grinder. I have an old-school crank grinder, but a food processor works well too. Once clean, wipe/brush your grinder with vegetable oil to prevent initial sticking.
- Work in batches with the pork keeping the pork chunks in the fridge until you use them to keep it as cold as possible. Add a few handfuls to the grinder and grind meat into the second chilled bowl. Try to have a few fat-heavy pieces with the mainly meat pieces in each batch. You want to have well-distributed fat throughout the sausage. Continue grinding until all meat is ground. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- In a mortar and pestle, grind the cumin seed, coriander seed, cloves, and peppercorns. Break up the bay leaves and add them to the spices in the mortar and pestle. Grind until you have a fine powder. Add the remaining spices and grind/mix until everything is combined. Lay out a large square of saran wrap on the counter to wrap your chorizo once it is mixed.
- Take the bowl of ground pork out of the fridge and add half of the spice mix from the mortar and pestle and the vinegar to the bowl of ground pork. Put plastic gloves on and work everything into the pork. Add more of the spice mix as you work it into the pork until all of the spice mix is added and everything is well combined.
- With your hands still gloved, pick up the ground pork mix and place it on the saran wrap square. Shape into a log shape. Take the gloves off and tightly wrap the pork mix by rolling the log up in the saran wrap. Twist the ends up and refrigerate overnight before you use it.
- Fully cook the chorizo before using it. It will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge or several weeks in the freezer.
Chorizo Queso Dip
Barely adapted from Gimme Some Oven
8 ounces chorizo (see above)
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (don’t use store-bought shredded cheese because it has extra starch and cellulose coating the cheese that keeps it from sticking—that will mess up your dip)
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
½ cup diced tomatoes, drained
½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Over medium/high heat, heat the tablespoon of oil. Add the chorizo when hot and cook until crispy, about 10 minutes. Use a spoon to break up the chorizo while it’s cooking. It should be crumbly. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the cornstarch and quickly whisk it into the butter until combined. Let cook for 1 minute, continuing to whisk, in order to activate the thickening power in the starch.
- Add the evaporated milk and whisk all together. Add half of the shredded white cheddar cheese and all of the cream cheese. Stir together until combined and melted. Add the rest of the cheese and continue to stir while it melts.
- Stir the green chiles and tomatoes into the cheese mix. Reserve two teaspoons of the cooked chorizo and add the rest to the cheese mix. Stir to combine. Taste and season with salt—start with ¼ teaspoon and add more until you are happy with the salt level.
- Pour the queso into your desired serving bowl and top with the reserved chorizo. Serve immediately with tortilla chips (and/or a margarita!). Alternatively, refrigerate the queso dip in a sealed contained for up to 2 days. Heat in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds, before serving from the fridge.
**Shout out to my mom for being the best hand model ever when I’m with her and to my brother for getting the best gifts. Like that crazy-beautiful mortar and pestle!**