Spanish Sausages – The Secrets
Simply by tasting any of the many varieties of Spanish sausage, warm, romantic and flamboyant images are conjured up: The intense Spanish sun, the seductiveness of flamenco and the passion of the people and the music.
The most famous of the Spanish sausage , the chorizo, captures each of these images with every mouthful. Its vibrant red colouring although synonymous with the passion and heat of the country, is a result of the fine balance and exact use of local herbs and spices which make up this truly typical delight.
Spanish sausages can be hot and fiery, sweet and mild, earthy, peppery, succulent, complex or simple.
Whatever the variety, behind each mouthful lies an old and honest side of Spain which is steeped in tradition and family values.
The art of making the perfect Spanish sausage began in the home, with recipes and special touches being passed down through the generations. The secret of the Spanish sausage, lies not only in the ingredients or family variations, but poured into each one is the Spanish lust for life, the energy and vibrancy of the people, the love of the family and enjoyment of outdoor living which is just impossible to recreate.
Traditionally, entire Spanish families would gather together to make their years supply of sausages during the annual matanza or humane pig sacrifice. Young and old would gather to take part in this celebration and the resulting products would last a whole year. While nowadays, not really necessary, this tradition is still carried out and you can really taste the difference!
Each member of the family has an important role, from the making of the breadcrumbs and the shredding of the fat to the filling and tying of the sausages. It is not uncommon to see up to ten people round the table. Great grandmothers and young infants alike are all involved in the process. A tiny but important part of the atmosphere which is filled with fun, laughter, love and tradition goes into each and every sausage made. It is this warmth of family life and friendship that truly makes the Spanish sausage so special.
The amount of planning and preparation which goes into producing the sausages is truly amazing. Preparation for the chorizo for example begins as early as August when in villages everywhere you can see strings of sweet red peppers hanging form balconies and terraces to slowly dry out ready for use in some three to four months time.
The Spanish morcilla or black pudding has various stages of the making beginning a day in advance with the peeling, chopping and cooking of an enormous amount of onions. Then comes the mixing of fresh pigs blood which is always done by hand on the first morning of the matanza in preparation for the final putting together of ingredients later that evening.
Each sausage always follows a basic recipe but they are adapted by families to suit their own tastes and these personal touches are passed down and continued through the generations. The black pudding although based on a few simple ingredients, blood, onions and bread, always varies slightly from family to family. Some people add pine nuts while others add walnuts. Rice, cinnamon or anis can also be added. However it is made, the end result is always a succulent, melt in the mouth treat packed with warm earthy flavours and spices. Of course regular tasting along the way (usually by the male members of the family!) together with a drop or two of the local “tinto” is essential in creating the perfect pudding.
Back to the famous chorizo, some like theirs hot and others prefer the sweet mild version. So while there is the fiery chorizo packed full of cayenne pepper and garlic, equally popular is the use of sweet paprika along with sun dried red peppers to create a more delicately flavoured chorizo.
Presentation and use of the final result can vary from place to place too. They are traditionally tied in 10-15 cm lengths and then hung to cure when at last they can be enjoyed in sliced with bread and olive oil. The chorizo cured for less time is ideal in cooking and delicious in a pot of lentils and tomatoes for a spicy winter warmer. There are also the rich, hot miniature ones ideal for cooking on the barbeque and enjoyed on a warm summers evening.
The salchichon is another great cured sausage at its best served with cheese and bread for a lovely tapas dish. This cured pork sausage is usually long and thin containing whole peppercorns and sometimes a hint of cloves or cinnamon. It is traditionally hung in the dark during the beginning of the curing process and in some places it is smoked before being air dried. The end result is a mild delicately spiced sausage which melts in the mouth.
Not all Spanish sausages though are cured, the Spanish salchicha is similar to the salchichon in appearance but contains parsley and usually white pepper. This long, thin fresh pork sausage is best rolled up, skewered with a sprig of thyme or rosemary and cooked over a barbecue or open fire.
Sometimes known as “Butifarra” The famous Catalan sausage is plump, rich and juicy. Made from the best bits of pork it is delicious grilled or fried and its added herbs and spices make it not dissimilar to the British Cumberland sausage. Once fried, the sausage can be cut into chunks and conserved in olive oil.
Of course in the modern age as with everything else, things have moved on and sausages are produced not just on the family scale. The people behind the making of the modern day Spanish sausage however, have all experienced or indeed still do enjoy being part of the lively, passionate, family orientated and traditional practice of age old sausage making. So, to taste an authentic Spanish sausage is to enjoy a piece of the tradition, passion, warmth, freedom and romance of this beautiful country that is not likened to anything else.
Article written by Gayle Hartley. www.orceserranohams.com
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