Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chorizo

One of my favorite seasonings is Mexican chorizo, Supremo brand, to be exact. I saw it at Han Ah Reum in the dairy/fresh noodle/Latino products section and thought I'd give it a try. Unlike Spanish chorizo, the Mexican version is not cured and needs to be cooked before eating. The Supremo brand of chorizo is a dark orange color and strongly flavored with what I believe is achiote/annatto. Both the flavor and aroma are unusual and quite delicious. These days, I always try to have a pack in my freezer. When I need some tangy flavoring to add to a quick pasta dish, for example, I just cut off a link or two and chop it up while still frozen and saute it with onions as the flavor base for my sauce.

Saturday, I thought I'd make up some macaroni and cheese for dinner, as it was cold and it would give me a good reason to turn on the oven. As I dug through the pantry for some flavoring ideas, my eye hit upon a can of Campbell's Condensed Southwest Style Pepper Jack Soup. Now, I'm not a big fan of canned, condensed soups, since homemade is so much more flavorful, so I'm not quite sure how this can made it into the house. But I thought, hell, it's creamy and cheesy, so I'll use it as a substitute for the white sauce. Suddenly we were heading Southwest. Then I remembered the chorizo.

I chopped up half an onion and tossed it in a dry skillet with two chorizo links that had been diced (there's plenty of fat in the chorizo, so no need to add more), put a lid on it, and cooked it down at low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion was soft and the chorizo took on a dark, dry, crumbly appearance. I tossed in a handful of fresh chopped cilantro, stirred well, then took the meat off the heat.

Then I cooked a pound of small shell-shaped pasta to barely al dente. After draining, I put the pasta back on low heat and added the can of soup, about half a can of milk, plus about 6 oz of coarsely chopped sharp white cheddar (we always have a stick of Cracker Barrel on hand). After the cheese melted, I put in the chorizo mixture and stirred it all well, adding 3 chopped green onions, both light and dark parts.

This got poured into a lightly greased 9 x 13 baking dish and topped with some unseasoned breadcrumbs and shredded parmesan cheese. I baked it at 325F for about 45 minutes, long enough for the macaroni to absorb pretty much all of the sauce.

It came out tender and creamy-textured, although there was no sauce, with a crisp crust on both the top and the part touching the baking pan. The soup actually didn't have that familiar Campbell's taste, and was pretty much undetectable as such. But spicy! And the chorizo lent the dish a deep savoriness. Coupled with a salad of baby greens with a salsa vinaigrette, this experimental version of macaroni and cheese hit the spot.

And it allowed me to warm up the house for a bit, too.