16 Oct 13 How chorizo became a British staple
Open the nation’s fridges and what do you find? Alongside the ubiquitous two-pinter of semi-skimmed, crumb-infested butter and fast-ageing bag of carrots you will, as likely as not, discover a pack of super-flexible, ultra-tasty chorizo sausage.
One of a number of food products that has crept into people’s lives by stealth, it is a symbol of how far we have come from the dark, ration-book days of our parents or grandparents, when a fridge itself was a symbol of jet-age affluence.
Today, asked by Olive magazine what product, unheard of 10 years ago, they could not live without, 42 per cent of people named the paprika-infused, spicy Spanish sausage – a key staple that can enliven any child’s dull lunchbox or rescue a miserable-looking stir fry.
I can remember the days of struggling to track down chorizo for a recipe I wanted to try out. But I can also remember my mother in the late Eighties, on holiday in Scotland, having to go to the chemist to buy olive oil to make a salad dressing.
Hummus, prosecco, anchovies, olives, even garlic, were items of unimaginable exoticism a generation back, ingredients viewed with suspicion by many consumers – probably proof of being a Britain-hating Marxist, or certainly the sort of bounder who’d pass the port to the right.
Now, thanks to the rise of package holidays and the ceaseless, rolling cooking programmes on television, this continental fare is part of our daily diet. The easyJet generation who grew up with Jamie telling them to tear and share is more likely to have squash and ricotta rotolo than Heinz ravioli in its shopping baskets.
Chorizo, however, has become more embedded an essential than most. Waitrose now has 17 different varieties on its shelves and sold five times more chorizo in 2012 than in 2008. “It is hugely popular with customers,” says Adam Kennedy, the deli buyer at the supermarket.
Leeds-based Asda sells tons of the stuff: diced, sliced and raw, with sales up 10 per cent this year. It even sells a chorizo pork pie – “a little bit of spice in our golden pastry”, the packaging boasts.
Earlier this year, Kantar Worldpanel, which closely monitors supermarket sales, said that sliced continental meats were now bought by over half of British households, and the simple pack of sliced turkey was at risk of being overtaken by chorizo.
The TV chefs have no doubt helped. If you open a book by Jamie, Nigel or Nigella you will struggle to find many dishes incorporating a Cumberland sausage or black pudding, but they are all stuffed with ideas about what to do with chorizo.
So what is the secret of its appeal? The most distinctive aspect of chorizo is of course its red colour, which leaches out into any dish it is added to. This comes from Spanish paprika or pimenton, an ingredient which only arrived in Europe from America after the Conquistadors.
But it is the flavour that has won the sausage its legions of fans, according to Jose Pizarro, who runs a couple of fashionable Spanish restaurants in south London. “The British love to discover new things,” he says. “And the flavour is just incredible – all that smokiness, and garlic and spice. Also, it is so flexible. It can go in almost any dish.”
That is part of chorizo’s charm: you can buy it cured and sliced, as an alternative to salami to put in a sandwich. Or you can buy it raw, either sweetly garlicky or fiery hot, to be fried or grilled and scattered on a salad, added to an omelette or slow-cooked in a casserole. “Chorizo is not a sausage,” says Pizarro. “It is a way of life.”….