The official end of the Chorizo Crawl – wrapping things up
The chorizo crawl started in July when I learned that most Mexican markets had butcher shops that made their own chorizo. I didn’t know much about Mexican chorizo and it interested me to learn the differences.
This is a recap of the 16 markets I visited ... ranking 23 Mexican chorizos (8 dry, 15 fresh), one upscale fresh chorizo (probably Spanish), 2 Salvadoran chorizos, 3 longanizas & 5 carne secas (Mexican beef jerky).
The food gods were looking out for me. The first few markets I tried had the best chorizo and remained at the top of the list.
If I had tried the bottom of the list first, the crawl never would have started. If I had tried the commercial brand El Mexicano, I would never have been interested at all. Based on El Mexicano I would have thought all chorizo was fear factor food.
That being said, this turned out to be less about the chorizo than the markets themselves. Each had something unique and delicious. It was a revelation and I learned so much.
Some had house-made tortillas. In others, a little restaurant was tucked in the back. Some had vendors in front selling tamales, raspados, fruit with chili and other snacks.
I found a great new snack ... carne seca (Mexican beef jerky with deep roast beef flavor, juicy with lime marinade and NO chemicals).
Many markets made their own salsas, mole, guacamole, tamales, pan dulce and aqua frescas. Some markets had groceries aimed at specific countries like Brazil or El Salvador. Some specialized in tequila or beer. Some made their own cheese. There were containers of thick crema and others filled with cerviche.
The food was interesting delicious and VERY inexpensive. Hand-made chorizo was about $3 - $4 a pound. Bags with stacks of still-warm tortillas were 60 cents.
The baked goods averaged about 25 cents each and I had some items that rivaled the more well-know bakeries in the area ... a 25 cent bun, light and fragrant with cinnamon, a 35 cent piece of rich pound cake with plump raisins, a 25 cent scone-like pan dulce that was better than most of the area scones ... the list really could go on.
Many carnaceria make two types of chorizo ... fresh and dried. The best chorizo not only had chile but hints of cinnamon. They were lovely.
If you are looking for the best Mexican chorizo in the Bay Area, don’t read this.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters is walking into those mom and pop markets near your home and looking closely. It is amazing what you can find. And if one place makes a mediocre sausage, bread, tamale, etc ... another might have an incredible version. The same market with a miserable chorizo might make a mind-blowing great carne seca.
Four days ago a place I ignored turned out to have a secret garden and wonderful restaurant hidden behind one of the least promising store fronts I have ever seen. It not only had the best enchilada suiza I’ve ever had, it has a lovely back patio, shaded by trees with a running fountain.
So, if you read this post, use it for ideas for what might be in your own backyard. There’s probably something incredible on the other side of the plainest door.
Although I didn’t try the chorizo at Rincon Latino, it gets an honorary second place because I don’t think there has ever been a post by Gordon where I didn’t agree with what he wrote. Although he preferred Rincon Latino to Valley Produce, since he only recently tried two of the Valley Produce chorizos, I’m leaving Valley Produce in first place. It makes a delicious hot chorizo that Gordon hasn’t tried yet
Following the market name is the type of sausage: fresh Mexican chorizo, dry Mexican chorizo, Salvadoran chorizo or longaniza. More markets carry carne seca, but I only sampled it at the markets indicated. .
1. Valley Produce (3 fresh / 1 Salvadoran
)2. Rincon Latino (1 fresh)
3. Mi Tierra Supermercado (1 dry, 1 fresh)
4. La Guarecita (1 fresh)
5. Super Mercado La Raza (1 dry)
6. La Tapatia Market & Deli (1 fresh, 1 dry, longaniza, carne seca)
7. El Porvenir (1 fresh, 1 dry)
8. The other La Raza (1 dry, carne seca)
9. Cazadores Market (1 fresh)
10. Evergreen Market (1 fresh)
11. Mi Ranchito Market (1 fresh, 1 dry, carne seca)
12. La Loma #11 (1 fresh)
13. La Loma #5 (1 dry, 1 fresh, carne seca)
14. El Mercadito San Juan (1 fresh, 1 dry)
15. Dead last with no question about the placing: El Mexicano (1 fresh, so to speak)
MARKETS WITH NO MEXICAN CHORIZO, BUT OTHER SAUSAGE
Joya de Ceren (longaniza / Salvadoran chorizo, carne seca)
2 Amigos Meat Market (longaniza)
1. Joya de Ceren
2. 2 Amigos
3. La Tapatia
SALVADORAN CHORIZO RANKINGS
1. Joya de Ceren
2. Valley Produce
CARNE SECA RANKINGS
1, The Other La Raza Market (really good stuff)
2. La Loma #5
3. Joya de Ceran
4. La Tapatia Market
5. Mi Ranchito Market
Hidden City Café – this restaurant had a weekend brunch special with the VERY upscale Hobb’s chorizo. It was delicous, but I think it is fresh Spanish chorizo so really can’t be compared to the rest. I don’t think any of the upscale sausage makers make Mexican chorizo, only Spanish.
Here are the chorizo details with links to original posts. I really don’t expect anyone to read all this but it is a summary in one place.
ON THE CHORIZO TRAIL .... CARNECERIA EN VALLE & RINCON LATINO
Posted by Gordon Wing
The chorizo from C e Valle is a pretty lean sausage with a medium leaning toward fine grind. The green chorizo has bits of jalapeno showing but isn't that spicy ... tastes like it has cilantro also - a pleasant greenish taste - nice acid finish. The regular mild chorizo smells wonderful as you cook it....the smell of sweet spices? The pleasant mild flavor doesn't quite taste the way it smells but is enjoyable nevertheless. Not too oily. The links are tied with bits of corn husk - very classy.
The chorizo from Rincon Latino had a rougher texture that I enjoyed - it was also richer than the C e Valle chorizo. Seasonings are on the mild side but this chorizo still is pretty savory. This was my favorite of the three that I tasted tonight.
CHORIZO CRAWL - VALLEY PRODUCE (PINOLE) – JALEPENO, CENTRAL AMERICAN, ALL-BEEF, MILD & HOT CHORIZO
The grind on the chorio was medium. Unlike most fresh chorizo, these are not fatty, with only a speck of redi chile oil from some of the links.
Central American: These were round little sausgages, the size of small meatballs, tied off with corn husks. The color of an American sausage, inside there was a red tint from a little spice. They were chewy and mild. The casing did not pull away from the sausage.
Jalepeno (chorizo verde): These are more elegant that the first time I tried them a year ago. A lovely basil green, they had a fresh pepper taste with only a mild spiciness.
All beef: This was the only sausage not tied with corn husks, but in the more traditional long continuous coil. There was lots of cinnamin flavor here with a hint of clove.
Mild: I really liked this. I can’t say why. There was very little spice. It oozed a little red chile oil, but it was just a satisfying sausage.
Hot: This was hot and complex, a lovely sausage. The corn husk was dyed red. The spice didn’t just have heat but also flavor. The heat was tingly, not under done and not searing. Bravo.
CHORIZO CRAWL - MI TIERRA SUPERMERCADO (RICHMOND)
Fresh: Fat, juicy, mouth-tingly spicy with little flecks of red pepper, the medium grind chorizo oozes a 1/2 inch of red oil while frying.
Dry: Medium grind and packed with porky pleasure. It is deep red with respectful heat, a touch of cinnamon taste and some pepper seeds. Not as oily as the fresh, but enough to keep it juicily delicious. There’s just enough oil to fry an egg.
CHORIZO CRAWL - LA GUARECITA (SAN PABLO) & HOMAGE TO A CHILE VERDE BURRITO
Fresh: An elegant, delicate brick-red, fine-grind chorizo in a micro-thin casing with enough spice to give it flavor and color but not excessive heat.
CHORIZO CRAWL – SUPER MERCADO LA RAZA (RICHMOND)
Dry chorizo: - A mild medium grind chorizo that surprised me. It looked like it would be fatty, but didn’t release excessive fat. The meat flavor was first with background hints of chile, cinnamon and vinegar ... but only the slightest suggestion. It was a brown, well, sausage-colored chorizo. It has a nice balance both in spice and fat... enough for juiciness and not over oily. This is a pleasant chorizo.
VALLEJO - LA TAPATIA MARKET & DELI - $1.25 CARNITAS TACO WITH 2 SALSAS, PICKLED CARROTS, HOT CHIPS & ALL-U-CAN-EAT GUACAMOLE
They make their own fresh chorizo. The dry chorizo and the longaniza is made elsewhere. High rank in list is for the fresh chorizo only. Skip the dry and the longaniza.
Fresh chorizo: The medium grind, brick red chorizo links were the most fiery of all the chorizos sampled to date. These were chile seeds with attitude and they spilled out of the frying sausage into the golden colored oil with dabs of red ... the heat was not coming from red powdered chile. It was not overly oily, but juicy, porky ... and HOT!
Dry chorizo: Mushy links that are a fine grind with absolutely no character ... no spice, no nothing. They tasted like Jimmy Dean sausages. The only spice seemed to be salt.
Longaniza: This came in a long coil and was even hotter than the chorizo, but that’s all it had was heat and was not too interesting.
Carne seca: There were two types ... lime and chile. The chile wasn’t available on any visits. The lime was disapointing. There was not enough lime or beef flavor and the meat was too shard-like.
CHORIZO CRAWL - EL PORVENIR PRODUCE MARKET, CARNICERIA & PANEDRIA
The fresh version won the higher ranking. I wouldn’t by the dry again.
Fresh: Major heat ... major ... maybe some habanero in there. Very fine grind with a strong vinegar taste. Not too oily with a nice dark brick red color.
Dry chorizo: - Fine grind with a dry sawdust like texture. It was a dark brick red, no spice, just heat with papery peper flakes and strong vinegar taste. They are the only market that refrigerates the dry chorizo instead of hanging it from a rack.
CHORIZO CRAWL – THE OTHER LA RAZA MARKET – CARNE SECA (HOUSE-MADE BEEF JERKY)
Dry chorizo only: - Uncooked the meat was the color of orange-red winter squash. It was a medium grind and a little chewy, but in a good way. The casing was a little thicker than most. It had a mild taste with notes of cinnamon, chili and vinegar. It was not overly fatty and there was just enough oil to fry some potatoes.
Carne seca: It had a deep roast beef flavor and tasted of the lime marinade. The first I tried and the best.
CHORIZO CRAWL – CAZADORES MARKET (RICHMOND & SAN PABLO) – TEQUILA & FREE-RANGE ROOSTER WINE
Fresh chorizo only – Raw, it was very soft and coral-colored slipping out of the casing. It was a medium grind spicy chorizo getting most of the spice from cayenne. It was juicy, the juice golden with flecks of red chile. No cinnamon, but not bad and slightly above average.
CHORIZO CRAWL - EVERGREEN PRODUCE #2 (SAN PABLO) – POLISH CHEESECAKE & PAN DE ESTILO MICHOACAN TINGUINDIN
Fresh chroizo only: It is a medium-fine grind cinnamon colored chorizo with a very vinegary, muted cinnamon flavor. It was on the dry side, yet still juicy. It didn’t release too much oil. The casing was very fragile. This was not hot, probably using powdered chili California for the flavoring.
CHORIZO CRAWL – MI RANCHITO MARKET / NUEVO DONYO CARNECERIA (SAN PABLO)
Fresh chorizo - A mild medium grind coral-colored chorizo that was a little chewy, bordering on grisly and while it was pleasant enough there was no heat or spice. The casing was one of the most fragile, and fell apart as soon as a piece was cut from the link. Not too much fat when frying.
Dry chorizo: - This kielbasa-colored, mild, medium-grind chorizo was better than the fresh. There was a tiny bit of heat and it was pleasantly meaty. There are just much better versions nearby. Not much oil released.
Carne seca: It smelled like ammonia and was thrown away
CHORIZO CRAWL - SAN PABLO - LA LOMA (# 5 & #11) – ROMPOPE EMPANADAS & BIRRIA DE RES
La Loma #11
Fresh chorizo only: - A mild medium-grind deep coral-colored chorizo that didn’t release excessive fat. Meaty with no unidentified gristle and the porky taste wasn’t assertive. Only a whisper of chile ... too low a whisper and no cinnamon or vingar. Not a complex chorizo.
La Loma #5
Fresh chorizo – Raw, it had the soft consistency of liverwurst with a pumpkin colored sausage. It had the most porcine flavor with a touch of bitterness. The spice didn’t add any flavor, only mouth burn. Trying to place the familiar flavor, the raw soft raw texture came to mind ... aha! ... liver ... this had a liverwurst flavor to it. Not awful, but not a flavor I want in chorizo. Juicy, not overly oily, it released some pretty chile colored juices.
Dry chorizo: - Almost identical to the fresh version. The porky/liver taste was subdued, the other flavors intensified a bit, including the bitterness. There’s just enough oil to fry an egg.
Carne seca – deep beefy flavor, not lime marinade like La Raza. A little thicker, drier and chewier. Brittle, shard-like
CHORIZO CRAWL - EL MERCADITO SAN JUAN (RICHMOND) - FRESH JUICES, HOUSE-MADE SALSAS & QUESO FRESCO
Fresh: No apparent spice, and probably heavy on the organ meat since there was a liver flavor and texture to it. It left a lot of oil in the frying pan.
Dry: Deep brown and irregularily stuffed in the casing with some sections skinnier than others, this also lacked spice. While better cold with a more meaty, almost beefy taste there was a sawdust texture.
CHORIZO CRAWL LONGANIZA DIGRESSION - JOYA DE CEREN & 2 AMIGOS MEAT MARKET (RICHMOND
2 Amigos Meat
This deep brown coiled sausage released a little maple colored juice. This was a more solid, meaty sausage than the chorizo. Tart, sour and salty ... in a good way ... the mild heat was a background note. It reminded me more of kielbasa. No identifiable spice.
Joya de Ceren
They make Salvadoran chorizo tied with corn husks and Mexican longaniza. No Mexican chorizo yet. This is a new market.
The longaniza is deep red and meaty. There is lots of hot pepper seeds in it. It is a medium grind and chewy. It was better and had more character than the 2 Amigos version.
The Joya de Ceren chorizo is plump, mild and juicy with a taste I couldn’t place until I had a piece cold. It tastes like excellent meatloaf. It didn’t release a lot of the golden-colored juices when it was fried. Much better than the Salvadoran chorizo at Valley Produce. I really like this. It was a medium grind, American breakfast sausage colored. There’s lots of flavor going on here.
Carne seca: juicy but not as beefy flavored as some It had a crumbly texture.
HOBB’S CHORIZO, NIMAN RANCH LAMB HASH, CARNITAS @ HIDDEN CITY CAFE IN POINT RICHMOND
This is a whole different class of chorizo that has no resemblance to its humbler Mexican cousins. This is not a chorizo meant to be crumbled and scrambled in eggs, but grilled and served like sausage aside the eggs or in a nice bun.
The casing is not incidental. It is part of the whole with a lovely snap.
The solid chorizo is meaty with amazing, subtle spicing. At first I thought there was none. I’m not sure how they do this but the heat is very background so that even those who don’t like heat would not be offended. But it has a floral, habenero quality to it so that spice lovers would be happy.
When I had the rest cold for dinner, like some Mexican chorizos I noticed a little vinegar taste. It’s a sausage symphony with the spicing contributing to the whole flavor composition, not at all flashy. As burnt out on chorizo as I am, I could eat a couple of these easy.
CHORIZO CRAWL - PORK SALIVARY GLANDS, LYMPH NODES & FAT (CHEEKS
El Mexicano is a commercial brand. Here’s the ingredieant list: Pork salivary glands, lymph nodes & fat (cheeks), paprika, soy flour, vinegar, salt, spices red pepper, garlic, sodium nitrate.
It tasted it. The casing was made from plastic, so had to be removed. The red chorizo squooshed out. It was soft like pate or a soft liverwurst. There were long stringy pieces in it ... lymph nodes perhaps? It releases quite a bit of thin plasma-red liquid. After reading the ingredient list and looking at this soft mess ... like an idiot I tasted it. I think they left the saliva in the glands it had that awful, soft sliminess to it.
I figure maybe if I reduce it and cook it down it can be salvaged ... no it gets softer and more unctuous ... ick, ick, ick, ick, ick. I really can’t tell you what it tastes like other than saliva with spices because the gag factor kept coming in play.
This is NOT chorizo. And if you have ever been unfortunate enough to buy it ... it is NOT chorizo. Go to a good Mexican carneceria and get some good chorizo. The worst chorizo I tried was so superior to this ... even the worst market chorizo was edible.
OTHER UNTRIED MARKETS
I burnt out on chorizo so there were a few markets I didn’t try. Some don’t carry chorizo like yet ANOTHER market with Raza in the name ... Mi Raza, 1045 23rd Street. This is a newish market that doesn’t even have shelves in some areas, just groceries stacked on the floor.
Rancho Market (23rd & Lincoln) Very un-Mexican with Asian owners and American groceries.
Martinez Meat (658 23rd) is a mainly a small carneceria with a few groceries. They look promising. On the weekend they make menudo, I think, and people bring in their own pots to be filled.
Mercado Latino (1811 23rd) is new with a banner “under new management. They have a nice looking butcher shop in back.
La Rosa Market (781 23rd) a few doors away from Serrano’s Bakery is endearing to me. It is run buy two woman who speak absolutely no English. I suspect there is a Central American slant since they sell baked goods from a Salvadoran Bakery. The pan dulce is the least expensive in the area ... 5 for $1. The pink iced cookies were good, like a Stella Dora cookie. Hidden in the back cooler was a tray dried longaniza that looked home-made. Unfortunatley I was burnt out on sausage at this point.
There are probably a bunch more markets in the area I missed. There seems to be a market in this area every few blocks.
This link was the initial recap which mentions a few other markets that don’t sell chorizo.
Chorizo Crawl Recap – What’s your favorite chorizo?
Links to general questions
Tell me about Mexican chorizo, por favor
What do you know about longaniza?
I don’t know if Latinos know how lucky they are to have each of these little markets ... as lucky as local Asians who still have many small mom and pop markets.
Each little market has personality and is unique, offering some treasure that the others don’t. So much more interesting, tasty and less expensive than the American supermarkets.
It reminds me of my hometown when I was growing up with the bakeries and butcher shops that only exist in memory replaced by the large generic chains and Walmart ... and even Walmart can’t beat the prices at mercados.
Yesterday I was standing in front of the biggest selection of chorizo I have ever seen. I was in C-Town, a "super mercado" in Fair Haven, CT. About 20 commercial, packaged brands. The hispanic stocker could see I needed help and dragged me down to where the hard salami was. This was actually all pretty funny. I ended up picking a chorizo that, visually, looked good... Cumbia brand, made in NJ and that I hadn't tried before. It is relatively firm, but I haven't tried it yet.
While I find the information, here, invaluable it is not helping me with the commercial brands and I have yet to seek out a local fresh source, if they exist.
What can anyone say about off-the-shelf packaged brands? I don't want to wade thorugh a tasting of them all. At this point I have tried about four and see a great variation in heat and density.
Which prompts another question: What's a good (brand of), spicy chorizo? Some I've had were good but some were not spicy and some are more salami-like than what I want. Can any generalizations be made about where chorizo comes from or the countries name/style that is included on the packaging? Gaspar's "Chourico", "Hot Portugese" (made in Dartmouth,MA), is another example. The one I tried, labeled as such, seemed fairly dense and not too hot. I usually want more crumbly and hot.
Most commercial brands of chorizo are still regional, so you might want to post your inquiry on the New England board. California has a few commercial brands of Portuguese style chorizo which aren't likely to be sold in your area.
This topic addressed the vagaries of Mexican chorizo which is a) mostly fresh and b) spiced differently than Portuguese or Spanish sausages.
There are other related topics (mainly in Home Cooking, SFBA, LA boards) cataloging the HORROR that is commercial, California made, Mexican style chorizo. These brands were founded by immigrants who used the absolute cheapest ingredients available, mainly lymph nodes and salivary glands. The spicing is rather mundane and non-specific to any region of Mexico.
WRT commercial Mexican style chorizo, read the label first and avoid products containing the above parts like the plague. Some Mexican brands make a 'longaniza' (not to be confused with Portuguese/Spanish) that is slightly aged/dried and doesn't contain nodes/glands. If no commercial brands in your area look promising, check out the store made products or make it yourself with finely ground pork sausage (easy).
EDIT - the Farmer John brand was founded in California, but since being purchased by Hormel may be available nationwide (maybe under a different brand). Look for 'premium' chorizo which contains no glands or nodes, unfortunately they added a 'traditional' (HAH) product with glands and nodes.
Brava, rw, brava! What a great run! Before you shared your discovery, somehow my own peripheral vision never spotted the links hanging on the wall behind the carniceria counters. Now I see them everywhere, though I've not bought any yet to do my experimentation. But some day I will, thanks to you.