Meat markets, restaurants perfect centuries-old art of sausage
Making chorizo is an old art that began centuries ago in Spain and took root in Mexico after the Spanish invaded the country in the 16th century.
But about the only resemblance between Spanish and Mexican chorizo is the vibrant red color. Spanish chorizo is made from cured chopped pork and sometimes beef, blended with paprika and other spices, stuffed into casings, fermented and smoked. It’s then air-cured for several weeks. The texture is firm, like salami.
Mexican chorizo, which has become a staple at restaurants and taquerias here, is made with raw, ground pork, additional pork fat and blended with chili peppers and other spices. It’s cooked loosely or stuffed into casings, and the texture resembles ground hamburger. The heat factor depends on how many chili peppers go into the recipe.
Although often served with eggs, chorizo can be added to queso, tacos, enchiladas, beans, rice or atop pizza. The possibilities are endless. Here are some of the area’s most popular chorizo makers.
Oaxaca Meat Market
Blanca Cajas opened this traditional Mexican butcher shop, grocery store and taqueria in 2008. Cajas is from Ecuador, but her menu features Oaxacan dishes like Tamales Oaxaqueño — a pork mixture covered with tender masa, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. The meat counter in the very back stretches the width of the store and houses a variety of fresh meats, including spicy chorizo. Meat market manager Adrian Lopez prepares the mixture each morning. He starts with a heaping amount of freshly ground pork and adds a blend of spices containing salt, dry and raw garlic, onions, vinegar, chili powder and paprika. Next, he stirs in more garlic, chili powder, cumin, lime juice, vegetable oil and soy sauce. Once blended, the mixture is officially chorizo. Oaxaca packs a portion into a large container to sell by the pound and puts the rest into casings, forming links.
4339 FM 517 E., Dickinson
Apache Mexican Cuisine
The chorizo recipe served at this 57-year-old restaurant is known only to one man — Miguel Lopez, the owner. The 150-year-old recipe was invented by Matias Ochoa, the father of Lopez’s, father-in-law, Ildelfonso Ochoa, who was from Morelos, Coahuila in Mexico. Lopez revealed two of the three kinds of peppers he uses: guajillo and cascabel. After grinding them in a molcajete, he adds paprika, garlic, onion, cloves, vinegar and other secret ingredients into the ground pork. He prepares the chorizo in bulk and goes through 15 to 20 pounds a week, making sure that the flavor is consistently the same. Popular dishes containing the prized mixture are Choriqueso — chorizo mixed with white Mexican cheese and mushrooms— and Huevos con Chorizo — chorizo mixed with eggs, served with beans, potatoes and tortillas. Galveston resident and police officer J.W. Jennings, who has been eating at Apache since he was a kid, is particularly fond of the Huevos con Chorizo with Lopez’s homemade hot sauce.
511 20th St., Galveston
In just three short years, Rosa Martinez has developed quite a following at her El Nopalito restaurant, where she cooks up authentic Mex-Mex and Tex-Mex dishes. Originally from Los Ramones, Mexico, Martinez starts with 10 pounds of fresh ground pork and adds black pepper, salt, garlic powder, Mexican oregano, paprika and two types of chili powder: ancho and guajillo. Once it’s ready, it goes into several recipes and also is sold by the pound for customers who request it. Known for her chorizo and egg breakfast items, the Surprise Burrito is a popular favorite. The Surprise is a blend of eggs, potatoes, beans, bacon and cheese. But more often than not, patrons will ask her to add chorizo to the burrito. If they want it extra spicy, they will order it “a la Mexicana” meaning Rosa will add jalapeños, onions and tomatoes. Nopalitos con Chorizo — cactus with chorizo — is an off-menu item, but available upon request.
614 42nd St., Galveston
La Michoacana Meat Market
In 1975, Rafael Ortega traveled from Michoacán, Mexico for the purpose of finding work in U.S. meat packing plants. He had no money and didn’t speak English. By 1986, he was a U.S. citizen and opened a small grocery store in Houston to serve the Hispanic community. Today, the Ortega family has more than 140 stores in Texas and one in Oklahoma. There are two stores locally: Galveston and Texas City. The combination grocery store, taqueria and meat market offers a wide variety of items, including chorizo. The pork is ground fresh and turned into the tasty sausage by adding generous amounts of La Michoacana’s special seasoning containing garlic, vinegar, corn oil, spices, onion, salt and paprika. Texas City meat market manager Alfonso Paz blends up to 130 pounds a week the market sells loose by the pound or in links. The markets also offer longaniza, a low-fat version, which is drier, darker in color and less spicy.
2525 25th Ave. N., Texas City and 3301 Broadway, Galveston